Since summer basketball is territory not usually covered by the etiquette books, it might help young players to note that there are certain things one simply doesn't do at the Nike/ABCD basketball camp. First, don't show up wearing, say, Reeboks. Loafers and black knee socks would be more acceptable than sneakers without the familiar Nike swoosh.
Second, don't scan the stands for college coaches. One hundred twenty of the best high school players in the nation attended the Nike/ABCD (for Academic Betterment and Career Development) camp in Indianapolis, which ended on July 9, and all of them seemed intent on ignoring the recruiters in attendance. There were 240 eyes looking at the ceiling, at the floor, at the free, spanking new Nike sneakers given to every player—looking everywhere, in fact, but at the dozens of familiar faces in the bleachers at the gymnasium of the National Institute for Fitness and Sport.
Bob Knight of Indiana sat next to Alabama's Wimp Sanderson, who was a few feet from Seton Hall's P.J. Carlesimo, who waved hello to Ohio State's Randy Ayers. Avondre Jones, rigidly adhering to etiquette rule No. 2, saw none of this, of course. Avondre is a 6'11" junior-to-be, a shot-blocking center from Artesia High in Lakewood, Calif., who has been compared with another Southern California product, Elden Campbell of the Los Angeles Lakers. Even Campbell and his teammates could scarcely ask for better treatment than what Avondre and the other schoolboy stars received in Indy.
Nike/ABCD is nothing if not a full-service camp. It offers academic and counseling sessions for the mind, basketball for the body and a stay-in-school-don't-do-drugs speech by hoop hysteric Dick Vitale for the soul. After spending the first morning of the five-day camp in a classroom—where he got tips on taking lecture notes and developing proper study habits—Avondre spent much of the afternoon above the rim, doing battle with Serge Zwikker, a 7'2" center from Marker Prep in Potomac, Md. It was a meeting of two players who would probably never face each other except in the summer, the kind of confrontation that college coaches love to see. "Playing at summer camps is fun because you get to play against the best," says Avondre, "and you get the best treatment."
July 14, 1991
To say the least. This summer Nike gave all its players plane fare, food and lodging at an Indianapolis hotel, and shirts, shorts and the all-important sneakers. Camp director and Nike promoter Sonny Vaccaro estimated the camp cost the company $200,000. "It's a pretty generous package," says Vaccaro. Indeed, a college would be subject to NCAA probation for dispensing even a fraction of such largesse to high school players. It's not that the rules are different for the camps; it's that there aren't any rules.
That soon could change. A summer storm is brewing, a fight over control of the camps, the places where college coaches evaluate many of the country's top prospects. The summer camp committee of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) has proposed legislation that would enable the NCAA to run its own camps. Under the plan, Division I coaches would only be allowed to attend the NCAA's camps. The committee hopes to have the proposal on the agenda at the next NCAA meeting in January, and if the proposal were to pass, it could be implemented as soon as next summer.
That might severely hurt not only the Nike camp but many others as well. Especially vulnerable are Howie Garfinkel's Five-Star camps in Honesdale, Pa., and Radford, Va.; Bill Cronauer's B/C All-Stars camp in Milledgeville, Ga.; and Dave Krider's All-American camp in Cincinnati. With the help of appearances by blue chippers, along with the scores of coaches there to recruit them, these camps lure hundreds of less talented campers, who pay as much as $350 a week to attend. When Nike's camp broke up last week, many of the players went on to other camps. For example, Othello Harrington, a 6'9" senior from Jackson, Miss., was headed for Krider's camp and then on to Cronauer's later in July.
"The summertime is the most unregulated aspect of basketball," says USC coach George Raveling, chairman of the NCAA recruiting committee and a moving force behind the NABC proposal to get the NCAA into the summer camp business. "The high school federations have no control because school isn't in session, and the NCAA is reluctant to get involved because we're talking about kids who aren't in college. It's no wonder you see increasing abuses taking place. When you leave all the doors unlocked and the windows open in the summer, some of the wrong people will get in the house."
The battle over the camps has intriguing personal overtones. Vaccaro believes that the NABC's action is directed specifically at him. As evidence he has several letters—copies of which he says were sent to him anonymously—written by Pac-10 commissioner Thomas Hansen and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to NCAA executive director Dick Schultz and NCAA president Judith Sweet. In one of the letters, from Hansen to Sweet, Hansen neatly summarizes the objections to the summer camps: "Youngsters are being given money, clothes, shoes, trips, etc. to play on various summer teams or attend camps. There is little question the shoe companies through their camps are influencing players to attend a college where the coach [has his team use] the right shoe."
Says Vaccaro, "Clearly they don't have a great deal of support from the coaches, so a few people are trying to get this done in the back rooms. Some people hear my name and think shady, think sleaze, and don't want me associated with college basketball. They probably still think I live in Las Vegas, when I haven't lived there for 10 years. Most of these people don't even know me."
Raveling, however, knows Vaccaro quite well. He was the best man at Vaccaro's wedding in 1984, but to say there's no love lost between the two would be an understatement. No one is sure what happened, but it's worth noting that Raveling now has a $175,000-a-year contract with LA Gear, which competes with Nike not only in the shoe stores but also on the summer basketball scene. LA Gear will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars this summer to fund basketball leagues, most notably the ARC and Slam 'n Jam leagues in Los Angeles. "All I want to know is, when did George get religion?" says Vaccaro. "He's worked at these camps. I had his son, Mark, play here [at Nike camp] as a favor to him. Now, suddenly, summer camps are evil."
Not even Vaccaro denies that the summer needs cleaning up. The notion of top schoolboy players meeting at the local playground during the summer for shirts-and-skins pickup games is about as antiquated as the two-hand set shot. The summer scene has been drained of its innocence and is now a morass of camps, leagues and tournaments in which far more is at stake than neighborhood bragging rights.
Now, the country's best 100 or so players can shop themselves, looking for the right combination of perks—anything from free equipment to all-expenses-paid trips—and exposure to college coaches. Further, before they get their first real taste of college recruiting, the players are part of another recruiting battle: the one between the spring leagues, summer leagues, all-star camps and tournaments for the premier talent. Among the dangers of an overheated summer are these:
•Overplaying. After Avondre's Artesia High team completed its final game of the season, he didn't get a chance to rest. He played in a Southern California spring league, then in a summer league and the Nike camp. Later this month he will play in the Las Vegas Invitational, a tournament for teams from all over the country. Avondre's schedule is leisurely, compared with the itineraries of some of his peers. According to recruiting maven Bob Gibbons, who selects players for the Nike camp, LSU sophomore Jamie Brandon played 102 games one summer. "They play too many games, attend too many camps, and spread themselves too thin," says Gibbons.
•Middlemen. Also known as street agents and by several other less flattering terms. They can be summer league coaches, coaches of traveling all-star teams, tournament directors—anyone who hangs around players in the summer. Richard (the Fixer) Perry, the twice-convicted sports gambling figure whose link to schoolboy legend Lloyd Daniels (SI, July 8) is part of the NCAA's investigation of the UNLV basketball program, once coached Daniels in a summer league in New York City. "It used to be that you could count on the parents and the high school coach being the main influences on a kid," says Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins. "Now when you want to talk to a kid's coach, you could be talking about any one of five or six guys."
•Inflated egos. Consider how hard it must be for 6'4" senior-to-be Jason Kidd, whom many observers consider the top college prospect in the country, to keep his ego in check. Last summer Kidd, who's in his third summer of star treatment, was flown every week from his home in Alameda, Calif., to play in an LA Gear-sponsored league in Los Angeles. Says Ernie Carr, a former Los Angeles-area high school coach who's now an assistant at UC Irvine, "Kids go to AAU tournaments in New Orleans or Kentucky, then the BCI [Basketball Congress International] tournaments at Arizona State or UNLV, then they come back to high school after that kind of summer, and all we're doing is going on a 20-mile bus ride to Compton. They start to think this summer stuff is more important than high school. Even worse, with all the free things they get, they start believing they're entitled to some form of payment. That's a dangerous mentality for a kid who's starting to get recruited by colleges."
Right now, though, it's the camps that are under siege. Vaccaro may be the main target of the proposed NCAA legislation, but he's far from the only one. Garfinkel has long been criticized for allowing college coaches to work at his Five-Star camps, thereby supposedly giving those coaches a recruiting advantage. In January the NCAA passed a rule that permitted Division I coaches to work only at camps run by member schools. Garfinkel tried to circumvent the regulation by selling majority ownership of his two camps to a college assistant, first to Jerry Wainwright of Wake Forest and then to Jamie Ciampaglia of Texas. Both deals fell through when the NCAA ruled that the coaches' schools could be held responsible for any NCAA violations that occurred at the camps.
"People don't realize that the Division I coaches who have worked at Five-Star were all hired as high school coaches," says Garfinkel. "Rick Pitino [of Kentucky], Bobby Cremins, Pete Gillen [of Xavier] weren't big names when I hired them; they were high school coaches. Now I'm not allowed to use them. I'm being penalized for being a good judge of coaching talent."
But it may have been Krider's camp last summer that triggered the coaches' call for reform. Krider and his partner, Bobby Kortsen, charged coaches $200 to attend the camp. (Most camps charge coaches no more than $50.) Several coaches, including Cremins, were so incensed when they arrived in Cincinnati and discovered what they would have to pay to attend the camp that they left immediately. This summer, Krider is charging $15.
"There's no doubt that our fees upset a few coaches last year, but we've changed that situation," says Krider, who is also sports editor of the LaPorte (Ind.) Herald-Argus. "But this is private enterprise. What right does the NCAA or the NABC have to meddle in that? These are high school kids in the summer. What does that have to do with college?"
Quite a bit. The NCAA is understandably concerned about any influence peddling that might arise in the summer. There's little doubt that people like Vaccaro have influence over players and can peddle it if they choose. In addition to his duties for Nike, Vaccaro is about to join a sports-marketing company called DIC Marketing, to which he helped deliver NBA rookies Billy Owens, Stacey Augmon and Dikembe Mutombo as clients. Owens played at the Nike camp while in high school, and Vaccaro signed Augmon's and Mutombo's college coaches, Jerry Tarkanian of UNLV and John Thompson of Georgetown, respectively, to $200,000-per-year sneaker contracts with Nike. Doesn't that create at least an appearance of impropriety?
Still, the summer camp legislation is far from a sure thing. For one, it's hard to imagine the dozens of coaches with Nike shoe contracts supporting legislation that would damage the Nike camp. Moreover, the NABC proposal may not even be a good idea. A handful of NCAA camps could not accommodate as many players as now attend camps across the country, which means some kids would be deprived of the chance to be evaluated by college coaches.
An alternative suggested by some camp directors is to have the NCAA license camps. That way, camps at which violations occurred would lose the right to have Division I coaches attend their sessions. Whatever happens, the battle seems sure to stay hot long after the summer is over.