Jamin Thompson is 11 years old and says he already knows what he wants to be when he grows up: a professional tennis player.
"But I have to get better," Thompson says.
His dream may be lofty, but through a new United States Tennis Association-sponsored program, Thompson can use a local resource to improve his skills. Thompson is in the first class of 30 top junior players who will receive instruction at the Baltimore Area Training Center.
The center opens tomorrow at the McDonogh School. The top juniors, their parents and four coaches will gather for what amounts to a grand experiment in American tennis.
"The USTA concept is to help attract good athletes to tennis, thereby producing good tennis players," said David Sullivan, the project administrator. "You build a tree, and win the U.S. Open. The odds of that happening in one area are astronomical."
To lessen the odds, the USTA has planted trees across the country. The training centers began sprouting up in 1987. They were the USTA's answer to foreign dominance at the U.S. Open. If training centers could produce champions from Sweden and West Germany, then surely, the concept could work in America.
There are more than 40 centers throughout the United States serving nearly 1,000 players. Plans call for the USTA eventually to oversee more than 100 centers for 2,000 players.
"This isn't like running a corporation, where you look for quarterly profits," Sullivan said. "Developing good young players is our measure of success."
Players -- ranging in age from 11 to 15 -- will receive instruction from four top area coaches -- Leroy Levi, Claude England, Steve Krulevitz and Terri Gaskill. A sports science program encompassing nutrition, physiology, medicine and psychology forms the core of the off-court program.
To meet the $7,000 yearly budget, players pay an entry fee of $150, with local fund raising closing the deficit. Eighteen training sessions will be spread over eight months, with the McDonogh School, Bare Hills Athletic Club and Orchard Tennis Club serving as practice sites.
"There is more involved than just getting out there and winning and losing," said Levi, the head coach. "You want to establish a certain pattern of play, be aware of what your opponents are doing, and counterpunching. Conditioning and mental toughness come into it."
Levi said the program is a supplement to local clinics and local coaching.
"We don't want to take anything away from the private coaches," he said. "We want to enhance what the kids are doing and add more to their overall game."
Tryouts were held in August, and more than 100 players showed up for the two-day session.
"I was pretty nervous at the tryout," said Randy Michaels, 14, of Ruxton. "But I knew the other people there. I knew I could get in."
Michaels survived the cut.
"It's an honor to be in the program," he said. "Also, the best coaches from the area are doing it, so I'm sure I'll get good instruction. I can hear every point of view."
Will Baltimore produce a future U.S. Open champion from this first class? Probably not. But a first step toward enriching the local talent pool has been taken.
"The most important thing is that the program is starting," Levi said.
"It will make up part of the pie, which the USTA is trying to augment. It will help in the development of the U.S. stars we hope to produce. There can never be any failure."