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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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Since summer basketball is territory not usually covered by the etiquette books, it might help young players to note that there are certain things one simply doesn't do at the Nike/ABCD basketball camp. First, don't show up wearing, say, Reeboks. Loafers and black knee socks would be more acceptable than sneakers without the familiar Nike swoosh.

Second, don't scan the stands for college coaches. One hundred twenty of the best high school players in the nation attended the Nike/ABCD (for Academic Betterment and Career Development) camp in Indianapolis, which ended on July 9, and all of them seemed intent on ignoring the recruiters in attendance. There were 240 eyes looking at the ceiling, at the floor, at the free, spanking new Nike sneakers given to every player—looking everywhere, in fact, but at the dozens of familiar faces in the bleachers at the gymnasium of the National Institute for Fitness and Sport.

Bob Knight of Indiana sat next to Alabama's Wimp Sanderson, who was a few feet from Seton Hall's P.J. Carlesimo, who waved hello to Ohio State's Randy Ayers. Avondre Jones, rigidly adhering to etiquette rule No. 2, saw none of this, of course. Avondre is a 6'11" junior-to-be, a shot-blocking center from Artesia High in Lakewood, Calif., who has been compared with another Southern California product, Elden Campbell of the Los Angeles Lakers. Even Campbell and his teammates could scarcely ask for better treatment than what Avondre and the other schoolboy stars received in Indy.

Nike/ABCD is nothing if not a full-service camp. It offers academic and counseling sessions for the mind, basketball for the body and a stay-in-school-don't-do-drugs speech by hoop hysteric Dick Vitale for the soul. After spending the first morning of the five-day camp in a classroom—where he got tips on taking lecture notes and developing proper study habits—Avondre spent much of the afternoon above the rim, doing battle with Serge Zwikker, a 7'2" center from Marker Prep in Potomac, Md. It was a meeting of two players who would probably never face each other except in the summer, the kind of confrontation that college coaches love to see. "Playing at summer camps is fun because you get to play against the best," says Avondre, "and you get the best treatment."

To say the least. This summer Nike gave all its players plane fare, food and lodging at an Indianapolis hotel, and shirts, shorts and the all-important sneakers. Camp director and Nike promoter Sonny Vaccaro estimated the camp cost the company $200,000. "It's a pretty generous package," says Vaccaro. Indeed, a college would be subject to NCAA probation for dispensing even a fraction of such largesse to high school players. It's not that the rules are different for the camps; it's that there aren't any rules.

That soon could change. A summer storm is brewing, a fight over control of the camps, the places where college coaches evaluate many of the country's top prospects. The summer camp committee of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) has proposed legislation that would enable the NCAA to run its own camps. Under the plan, Division I coaches would only be allowed to attend the NCAA's camps. The committee hopes to have the proposal on the agenda at the next NCAA meeting in January, and if the proposal were to pass, it could be implemented as soon as next summer.

That might severely hurt not only the Nike camp but many others as well. Especially vulnerable are Howie Garfinkel's Five-Star camps in Honesdale, Pa., and Radford, Va.; Bill Cronauer's B/C All-Stars camp in Milledgeville, Ga.; and Dave Krider's All-American camp in Cincinnati. With the help of appearances by blue chippers, along with the scores of coaches there to recruit them, these camps lure hundreds of less talented campers, who pay as much as $350 a week to attend. When Nike's camp broke up last week, many of the players went on to other camps. For example, Othello Harrington, a 6'9" senior from Jackson, Miss., was headed for Krider's camp and then on to Cronauer's later in July.

"The summertime is the most unregulated aspect of basketball," says USC coach George Raveling, chairman of the NCAA recruiting committee and a moving force behind the NABC proposal to get the NCAA into the summer camp business. "The high school federations have no control because school isn't in session, and the NCAA is reluctant to get involved because we're talking about kids who aren't in college. It's no wonder you see increasing abuses taking place. When you leave all the doors unlocked and the windows open in the summer, some of the wrong people will get in the house."

The battle over the camps has intriguing personal overtones. Vaccaro believes that the NABC's action is directed specifically at him. As evidence he has several letters—copies of which he says were sent to him anonymously—written by Pac-10 commissioner Thomas Hansen and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to NCAA executive director Dick Schultz and NCAA president Judith Sweet. In one of the letters, from Hansen to Sweet, Hansen neatly summarizes the objections to the summer camps: "Youngsters are being given money, clothes, shoes, trips, etc. to play on various summer teams or attend camps. There is little question the shoe companies through their camps are influencing players to attend a college where the coach [has his team use] the right shoe."

Says Vaccaro, "Clearly they don't have a great deal of support from the coaches, so a few people are trying to get this done in the back rooms. Some people hear my name and think shady, think sleaze, and don't want me associated with college basketball. They probably still think I live in Las Vegas, when I haven't lived there for 10 years. Most of these people don't even know me."

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