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The World According To Garf...And Others
Jack McCallum
August 27, 1984
Howie Garfinkel may be a klutz with a basketball, but he's the consummate pitchman in the summer camp biz. His Five-Star operation serves up top talent for hungry coaches
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August 27, 1984

The World According To Garf...and Others

Howie Garfinkel may be a klutz with a basketball, but he's the consummate pitchman in the summer camp biz. His Five-Star operation serves up top talent for hungry coaches

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But the Athletes for Better Education (AFBE)/Nike Camp at Princeton is tough competition. AFBE's second Princeton camp finished its 10-day session last month, once again accomplishing what is suggested in its pretentious-sounding name—it combined academics and basketball. AFBE, a charitable organization partly funded by the Federal Government, began with a regional camp in Chicago in 1976 and soon expanded to Los Angeles and New York. Garf and Cronauer hardly noticed it. But that changed when, with the first Princeton session, in 1983, AFBE started to court the best players in the country.

"We invited what we considered the top 150 players to Princeton this year," says AFBE president Arthur (Chick) Sherrer, "and we got 134 of them. It was extraordinary. It was undoubtedly the greatest assemblage of high school basketball talent at one place ever."

It was bad news for Cronauer, whose '83 B/C session at Rensselaer was held at the same time; he lost several top prospects to AFBE. In the summer camp game, AFBE currently holds most of the trump cards. With the help of heavyweight sponsors like Nike, American Airlines and the NBA Players Association, AFBE flies in the campers, houses them, feeds them, book-learns them and throws in free sneakers, socks, T shirts and shorts. Welcome to the big time.

To have followed Delray Brooks through the summer of '83, before he committed himself to Indiana, was to trace the ebb and flow of the camp war, its battle-grounds and its byproducts. One of the latter was NCAA legislation; in fact, the first camp Brooks attended, the locally sponsored McDonald's SuperStar Invitational in Evansville, was legislated out of existence because it was considered to be little more than a recruiting tool for the University of Evansville. Also, Brooks's own high school association would forbid him to attend the AFBE camp. He was offered a special rate to attend B/C, which went ignored, and was hired as a waiter at Five-Star, where he won three awards (one-on-one tournament, sportsmanship trophy and best defender). Like blue-chip athletes before him, Brooks learned still more in a summer of camp dancing. To wit: that he'd receive special favors because of his talent and that grown men—camp directors and basketball coaches—would stop at almost nothing to secure his services.

For a camp director, the more blue-chip players, the juicier next year's advertising brochures. And both Cronauer and Garf are masters at manipulating the numbers. "We had eight of the top 10 big kids in the East," one will say. Or, "We had four of the top five guards over 6'2" from the South." Getting a Brooks might lure two or three additional blue chips the following year.

To get Brooks to show up at B/C for even one day, Cronauer offered to charge him the very agreeable fee of $1. Entrepreneurs like Garfinkel and Cronauer can charge whatever they please for their camps, although their generosity oftentimes is tempered by lower-profile partners with whom they divide profits—Bolton at B/C, Will Klein, principal of Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, at Five-Star. Cronauer gives away many more special deals to campers than Garfinkel, who, by and large, restricts his specials to two-sessions-for-the-price-of-one for superstars like Brooks, who must also work in the dining hall. Cronauer will offer a special group rate for a bunch of campers from a certain area, but he doesn't like to advertise these deals, particularly the Dollar Special, for fear of alienating campers who pay full price.

Brooks never had any intention of going to B/C anyway. There are Cronauer guys and Garf guys, and Brooks is very much a Garf guy because his reputation, he believes, was made at Five-Star. "I'd feel like I might be stabbing Garf in the back if I went to B/C," said Brooks.

As soon as Cronauer learned that Brooks wasn't coming to B/C, he forgot about him. Or so he said. Cronauer takes a scattershot approach to his camp—make a million phone calls and hope a thousand click. He spends most of his waking hours, which might number 22 a day, on the phone—Phoneauer, some of his friends call him—trying to round up talent. At Five-Star, paperwork is generally completed by May—"This year we were sold out on May 1, and that's never happened before in the history of man," says Garfinkel in typical overstatement. But Cronauer never knows exactly who's coming to B/C until they get there...or don't get there. This lends a certain manic charm to Cronauer's camp that would drive Garfinkel to distraction. It also leads to overcrowding. There were 480 campers at Rensselaer last summer even though the camp brochure promised a ceiling of 280.

Any number of things drive Garfinkel to distraction—lost basketballs, dirt on his outside courts, inquiring reporters, kids who arrive late to his camp because they were at B/C. One such player in '83 was Al Lorenzen, a scholastic All-America forward from Cedar Rapids, Iowa who will begin his studies at Iowa this week. Lorenzen felt a similar kind of loyalty toward B/C that Brooks felt toward Five-Star. "B/C was the turning point in my career," says Lorenzen. "It's where people found out about me, and I found out I could play at a certain level." When Lorenzen arrived a day late at Five-Star, Garf snubbed him most of the week and snorted angrily whenever his name came up. Garfinkel, however, didn't keep Lorenzen off the camp all-star team, and it was Garfinkel who selected Lorenzen as the camp's best rebounder.

There is no more loyal fellow than Garfinkel when it comes to "my guys." From the moment Brooks arrived at Robert Morris, it was easy to see why he called it a second home. He joked and clowned with Garfinkel and was frequently singled out for special praise. Brooks's position as a waiter only drew more attention to his superstar status. It wasn't much of a job. He'd merely remain in the dining hall 15 minutes after meals and wipe tables and stack chairs quickly and without breaking a sweat, a nice exchange for a week of camp. Meals are not a high-priority item at Five-Star, anyway. The food is terrible (it's actually pretty good at B/C), and Garf doesn't particularly give a hoot. "We didn't come here to eat," he says.

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