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."