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The Summer Game
Phil Taylor
July 15, 1991
Competition among summer basketball camps for high school stars is so hot that the NCAA may have to step in to cool it down
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July 15, 1991

The Summer Game

Competition among summer basketball camps for high school stars is so hot that the NCAA may have to step in to cool it down

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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?"

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