?Find a venue in
a medium-sized market. While high school basketball may not cultivate much
interest in New York City or Los Angeles, it likely will in, say, Omaha, where
last month at the Qwest Center, a crowd of more than 6,000 watched the city's
Central High lose to Reserve (La.) Christian School, which features Demond
(Tweety) Carter, the nation's alltime high school scoring leader.
?Harvest as many
corporate sponsors as possible to help cover the costs of each event.
broadcast rights to ESPN, CSTV or a regional sports network. Says Ghazi,
"There is a lot of compelling product out there, and the viewers are that
12-to-34 demographic that advertisers want to reach."
The promoters can make as much as $100,000 on a particularly successful game.
The networks get programming with surprisingly high ratings, given the
relatively low rights fees. (The ESPN networks aired a total of nine games this
season, up from three in '04-05. The ratings averaged 0.4 both years, which
translates into roughly 380,000 households per game.) School athletic
departments can fatten their coffers through fees and equipment contracts. As
part of its deal with Reebok, Lawrence North uses a backdrop adorned with the
company's logo for televised postgame news conferences. Not to be outdone, Oak
Hill allows Nike to sell a Carmelo Anthony Warriors jersey.
It wasn't long
ago that recruiting gurus and college coaches evaluated talent by watching a
prospect play against weak local opposition or in a ragged summer-league game.
Now they head to these national games, where elite players not only go up
against other top prospects but also do so in an atmosphere freighted with
pressure. When, for instance, Wayne Ellington, a 6'4" North Carolina--bound
shooting guard at The Episcopal Academy in suburban Philadelphia, recovered
from an off-night to drill the winning shot against Philly's Neumann-Goretti
High in a January game at the Palestra that aired on ESPN2, it spoke volumes
not just about his skills but also about his competitive makeup. Even more
impressive was his teammate, 6'5" Duke-bound swingman Gerald Henderson, who
scored a game-high 26 points. "These events give you a better idea of how
good a player really is," says Clark Francis, editor and publisher of The
Hoop Scoop, a national recruiting newsletter.
The players are
enamored of these games as well. What teenager--especially when he has designs
on landing a college scholarship--wouldn't prefer performing in a big-time
arena and receiving national exposure? "Two of my kids [several years ago]
wound up signing at Ohio," says Jim Gosz, coach of Milwaukee's Rufus King
High, who's taken his team to Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Indianapolis; Erie, Pa.; and
Trenton this season. "It's giving the kids an opportunity they wouldn't
meanwhile, earn the kind of recognition that once could have been garnered only
in college or the NBA. As a senior at Brooklyn's Abraham Lincoln High in
2003-04, point guard Sebastian Telfair traveled extensively and received
invaluable exposure. "It did a lot for my career," says the 6-foot
Telfair, who in 2004 became the first high school player under 6'7" to be a
lottery pick in the NBA draft when the Portland Trail Blazers picked him at No.
13. "It created a lot of popularity, and it helped me get a very nice shoe
contract [with Adidas]." Nice indeed. It is worth a reported $15 million
over six years.
The trend toward
pressure-packed TV games and coast-to-coast travel is not, however, without its
critics, who contend that this is the latest example of the commoditization of
young athletes. "I know televising games is the next frontier for making a
buck, but that doesn't make it right," says Bruce Svare, director of the
National Institute for Sports Reform. "High school basketball--this last
bastion of amateurism--is going to turn into college basketball, with
recruiting wars and academic fraud and big money."
of corruption already lurks. The shoe companies use the games to curry favor
with top players and schools, either organizing their own events--such as the
Nike Super 6 Invitational at Madison Square Garden--or partnering with a
promoter, as Reebok did for the Rise or Fall Challenge, a California event that
featured North College Hill. The promoter of that event was Rodney Guillory. In
2000 the NCAA determined that Guillory was working as a runner for the Las
Vegas--based agency Franchise Sports when he paid for airline tickets for Jeff
Trepagnier of USC and Tito Maddox of Fresno State, resulting in suspensions for
Oak Hill's Smith
recalls recently telling a promoter that he didn't want to schedule a Wednesday
game because he didn't want his players to miss class. The promoter asked
whether a $5,000 under-the-table payment could persuade him otherwise. "You
hear about coaches taking side money to play in events," says Smith.
"It goes on."