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JULY MADNESS

Aug. 04, 1997
Aug. 04, 1997

Table of Contents
Aug. 4, 1997

College Basketball

JULY MADNESS

By Seth Davis FOR PLAYERS LIKE Richard Jefferson, TRYING TO CATCH THE EYE OF COLLEGE RECRUITERS MADE FOR A WILD MONTH

Van Coleman was operating on four hours of sleep when he pulled
his 1991 Mercury Sable, its odometer already past 150,000 miles,
into a parking garage at Indiana University-Purdue University in
Indianapolis. It was the morning of July 9, and Coleman, the
associate publisher of the college basketball recruiting
publication FutureStars, had spent most of the night driving
from Teaneck, N.J., site of the Adidas ABCD high school
basketball camp, to Indianapolis, where Nike was holding its
All-America camp concurrently. Coleman walked through the front
door of the National Institute for Fitness and Sport and was
immediately greeted by Ron Briscoe, a fellow recruiting
evaluator. "I've got one for you," Briscoe said excitedly. "Kid
from Arizona, number 154." A Nike representative handed Coleman
a roster listing the 200 players attending the camp, and he
dutifully inked a five-pointed star next to number 154.

This is an article from the Aug. 4, 1997 issue Original Layout

Inside the gym, where games and drills were simultaneously held
on three courts from morning to night, other college coaches
sidled up to Arizona State coach Bill Frieder, asking all sorts
of questions about the fresh face from Frieder's home state.
Florida coach Billy Donovan was overheard lamenting that he
didn't have more scholarships to give, "Otherwise, I'd be
spending a lot of time in Arizona," he said. Up in the bleachers
one Big East assistant was in full gush. "I love his game," he
said. "You can see it. He knows how to play."

Richard Jefferson, in uniform number 154, tried to tune out all
the attention, but it wasn't easy. July had finally arrived, and
for someone like him--an unknown player from a small-time
basketball state--there was much at stake. NCAA rules dictate
that Division I men's basketball coaches can evaluate high
school players as often as they like from July 8 to 31. The rest
of the year, however, the coaches' chances to see players in
action are severely limited: From Nov. 17 to March 15 they are
restricted to five "recruiting opportunities" (evaluations or
face-to-face contacts) per prospect and only one visit to a
recruit's high school. After the completion of his junior season
in February at Phoenix's Moon Valley High, Richard, a 6'8"
forward, was named one of the top five players in the state by
The Arizona Republic, but because he had played poorly during
the '96 summer evaluation period, he had drawn little interest
from colleges beyond his home region. This July, he knew, was
his last chance to establish a national reputation for himself,
and though he was inclined to attend college near home, he still
harbored the fantasy that he might be recruited by some of the
powerhouse schools in the East. Despite the fact that Richard
was playing well, however, he could not afford to let visions of
scholarships dance in his head. "If you don't come here with the
right mind-set, you'll get crushed," he said soon after his
arrival in Indianapolis. "And then nobody will know who you are."

Fortunately for Richard there were ample opportunities for him
to make a name for himself. The NCAA has steadily scaled back
its Division I recruiting calendar over the last 10 years, and
with more and more players looking to take advantage of the
November signing period that was established in 1982, the summer
amateur basketball circuit has grown astonishingly. This past
spring, recruiting maven Bob Gibbons published a list of 96
camps and tournaments nationwide at which Division I prospects
would be participating in July--and those were only the ones
Gibbons deemed to be "main events." "It's like everything else.
It's getting too big," says Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins.
"But what can you do? We have to go where the players are."

Because Richard felt he needed as much exposure as possible, he
loaded up his schedule for the month. He had to pay his own way
to Indianapolis, but from there his Phoenix-based AAU team, the
Arizona Stars, paid most of the expenses for the rest of his
travel. He went first to Carson, Calif., for an all-star camp
run by David Pump, who is a consultant with Adidas. From Carson,
Richard returned home to Phoenix for two days of rest, then left
for Orlando, where the Stars reached the round of 16 at the
32-team Nike AAU Super Showcase. From Orlando, the Stars flew to
Long Beach, Calif., where they played in two separate
tournaments, and then to Las Vegas, site of the Grand Finale
Tournament.

Though coaches are not permitted to speak face-to-face with
recruits during July (once a week they are allowed to call
players who have completed their junior year), Richard was well
aware of the buzz he was creating at Nike. Recruiting gurus and
writers constantly approached him, and he couldn't help but
notice the coaches in the bleachers huddling and pointing in his
direction. "That's the best thing in the world because you know
they're probably saying something good about you," he said.

Richard also enjoyed the approbation he was earning from his
fellow campers. As the Nike camp in Indianapolis wore on,
Richard saw that players of like ability naturally gravitated
toward each other, and he found himself being invited to hang
out and trade stories with some of the biggest names in camp. On
the final afternoon, as the players were being entertained in an
auditorium by the comedian Sinbad, Richard sat next to Korleone
Young, a 6'8" man-child from Wichita, Kans., who is one of the
best players in the class of '98. In just a couple of days
Richard went from being the Kid from Arizona, to Richard, to AZ,
in deference to his home state.

By the time Richard returned to his hotel room on the final
night of the Nike camp, he clearly had shed the diffidence that
had characterized his play last summer. "Most of the guys back
home were like, 'Aw, you're not gonna be able to hang with those
East Coast guys,'" he said. "I just wanted to prove to them I
could compete with the best. I did what I wanted to do. I
believe now I'm good enough to play with anybody in the country."

Richard didn't have much of a reputation as a basketball player
when he decided to try out for an AAU team, the Arizona Heat, in
the summer of 1995. He had been academically ineligible as an
eighth-grader at Desert Foot Hills Junior High and had been
kicked off the freshman team at Moon Valley for horsing around
in practice, though he later moved up to play for the junior
varsity as a result. Richard failed to make the Heat's
17-and-under traveling team, but he quickly latched on with the
15-and-under team of the Heat's rival, the Arizona Stars.

At that time the Stars' marquee attraction was Mike Bibby, the
precocious point guard from Phoenix who would go on to lead
Arizona to the national championship as a freshman in April.
Bibby joined the Stars in the summer of '93, two years after the
program was founded, and his presence provided the requisite
star power it needed to be considered big time. In the fall of
'94, Art Dye, the Stars' founder and director, flew to Los
Angeles for a meeting with sneaker impresario Sonny Vaccaro, who
had been hired by Adidas in 1993 after he had spent 14 years
helping Nike establish its hegemony over the summer basketball
circuit. Dye was met at the airport by two of Vaccaro's hired
hands and driven to a coffee shop for a 30-minute meeting. "It
was like going to meet the Godfather," Dye says. Vaccaro offered
to have Adidas provide the Stars with shoes and uniforms in
return for their participation in Adidas-run summer tournaments
and camps.

The deal sounded good to Dye, until he returned home and
mentioned the meeting to Arizona coach Lute Olson. "Why don't
you try Nike?" asked Olson, whose school is under contract with
that company. Olson put Dye in touch with Don Crenshaw, manager
of basketball development in Nike's grassroots program. Crenshaw
offered the same enticements Vaccaro did, plus an annual stipend
to help cover expenses. Crenshaw and Dye reached an agreement
within a week, and the Stars have been Swooshed ever since.

Arizona, unlike many states, allows its high school coaches to
work with their players during the summer. Dye coaches
basketball at a middle school in Phoenix, and John Boie,
Richard's coach at Moon Valley, works with the team as Dye's
assistant. Many of the most powerful summer programs, however,
are run by figures who are not educators by profession and are
therefore not accountable to any ruling authority, including the
NCAA. And since July is the time for college coaches to check
out the players, those unregulated summer coaches have become
the people to see about a recruit. That has left even
traditionally entrenched high school coaches, such as Ben Kelso
of Detroit's Cooley High, out of the loop. "I've had kids sign
with Division I schools, and I never even got a call from the
coaching staff because they were working through the AAU coach,"
Kelso says. "Some of those AAU guys will do anything to get
their kids into college because that assures them a reputation
and more players in the future. They've got money for the
player's pocket, shoes for his feet and trips to Vegas and
Disney World. I can't compete with that."

A further indication of this power shift occurred in the spring
of '96, when Pittsburgh coach Ralph Willard filled a vacancy on
his staff with Troy Weaver, an AAU coach based in Washington,
D.C., who had no high school or even junior high experience. One
of Weaver's recruits for this season is Attila Cosby, a top
power forward from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, whom Weaver had
coached in previous summers.

Things have reached the point where even Vaccaro has joined the
chorus calling for change. "I helped create this, I don't deny
it," he says. "Since I left Nike, I've rethought a lot of
things. I say O.K., we've learned. In order to eliminate the
hypocrisy, all the NCAA has to do is eliminate the summer
recruiting period, get rid of the early signing period and allow
the colleges to recruit the way it was done for 50 years, which
is recruiting the kid through his high school coach."

Until such changes take place, the summer will continue to be
the most critical time for recruits, and few players took
greater advantage of last month's circuit than Richard. Still
brimming with confidence from his week in Indianapolis, he
dominated the all-star game at Pump's West Coast camp and, at
the suggestion of UCLA coach Steve Lavin, paid an unofficial
visit to the Westwood campus on July 14.

Richard is wonderfully agile and versatile for a player his
size, but it is his poise and maturity--not to mention his 950
SAT score, more than enough to qualify him to play as a
freshman--that enamored so many college coaches. During his
two-day visit home on July 15 and 16, Richard was besieged by
FedEx packages and phone calls, with faraway, prominent schools
like Kansas and Connecticut joining the sweepstakes. Olson,
calling on a cell phone from courtside at a tournament in Las
Vegas, gently reminded Richard that Arizona was one of the few
schools that was interested in him before the summer began. "I
think Lute's getting a little paranoid," Richard said with a grin.

By the time he and the Stars arrived in Orlando on July 17,
Richard was walking and playing with a noticeable swagger. He
had 25 points and scored a game-winning, coast-to-coast layup to
get the Stars into the 16-team playoffs. He sized up a highly
publicized player from New York with a dismissive "He ain't all
that." He even allowed himself to dream about leaving college
early someday to enter the NBA draft. "Confidence is hard to
get," he said in Orlando. "But then it's hard to get rid of."

After arriving in Long Beach on July 20, the Stars were one of
many teams that attempted to participate in both the 72-team
Slam-N-Jam National Invitational Tournament and the Adidas
Pump-N-Run Tournament. Several players even tried to play for
more than one team during the week. On the second day the Stars
played three games in three gymnasiums. The third game tipped
off at 10:30 p.m.

Many of the same faces--Frieder, Lavin, Olson--kept appearing in
the bleachers to watch Richard play. He was becoming
increasingly hampered by a pulled left groin muscle, but it
didn't matter much. The coaches were no longer coming to see
him. They were coming to be seen by him. Meanwhile, just as the
attention Bibby brought to the Stars benefited Richard, so, too,
was his success trickling down to his teammates, many of whom
were attracting interest from major and mid-major schools. One
of those teammates, 6'3" point guard Kenny Crandall, didn't join
the Stars until Memorial Day, but he played so well during one
game in Long Beach that an assistant coach from Pepperdine
called him in his hotel room at 2 a.m.

The Stars arrived in Las Vegas for the Grand Finale Tournament
on July 24, and Richard was due to return home on the 31st.
Sometime soon he will have to decide which five schools he wants
to visit officially, and which coaches he will invite for a home
visit during the Sept. 9 to 26 contact period. But first he has
more pressing matters to attend to. "I'm going to sleep for
about a week," he said. "And I'm looking forward to talking to
all my friends. I really haven't had much chance to see them
this summer."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BEN VAN HOOK Road Warrior Richard would travel more than 8,200 miles in July in his effort to impress recruiters. [Richard Jefferson]COLOR ILLUSTRATION [Calendar for July 1997]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BEN VAN HOOK Gym Dandy After an impressive week at the Nike camp, Richard extended his stellar play in Orlando. [Richard Jefferson attempting shot in game]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BEN VAN HOOK Savvy Shoppers Providence's Pete Gillen (hand on cheek) and other coaches deemed it as vital to be seen as to see.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BEN VAN HOOK Weary Travelers For Richard and Stars teammate Casey Grundman, chances to chill out at the motel were few. [Richard Jefferson and Casey Grundman in motel room]

JULY 1997

4 HOME IN PHOENIX
5 INDIANAPOLIS (TRAVEL DAY)
6 INDIANAPOLIS
NIKE CAMP
ALL-DAY CLASSES
NO GAMES SCHEDULED
7 INDIANAPOLIS
ALL-DAY CLASSES
NO GAMES SCHEDULED
8 INDIANAPOLIS
2 GAMES
9 INDIANAPOLIS
2 GAMES
10 INDIANAPOLIS
2 GAMES
11 INDIANAPOLIS
2 GAMES
(TRAVEL DAY)
12 CARSON, CALIF.
WEST COAST ALL-STAR CAMP
2 GAMES
13 CARSON
2 GAMES
14 CARSON
2 GAMES
DRIVE TO PHOENIX
15 HOME IN PHOENIX
PRACTICE
16 HOME IN PHOENIX
PRACTICE
17 ORLANDO
(TRAVEL DAY)
18 ORLANDO
NIKE SUPER SHOWCASE
2 GAMES
19 ORLANDO
2 GAMES
20 LONG BEACH, CALIF.
(TRAVEL DAY)
21 LONG BEACH
SLAM-N-JAM NIT AND PUMP-N-RUN SUMMER
BEST 3 GAMES
22 LONG BEACH
3 GAMES
23 LONG BEACH
1 GAME
24 LONG BEACH
1 GAME
DRIVE TO LAS VEGAS
(TRAVEL DAY)
25 LAS VEGAS
GRAND FINALE TOURNAMENT
NO GAMES
26 LAS VEGAS
NO GAMES
27 LAS VEGAS
1 GAME
28 LAS VEGAS
1 GAME
29 LAS VEGAS
1 GAME*
30 LAS VEGAS
3 GAMES*
31 DRIVE BACK TO PHOENIX
WHEW!

*SCHEDULED