The Player Chase: Does High School Still Matter?

An Endless Summer League

renardo sidney - the player chase
"I really don't look at high school basketball like I do AAU," said rising star Renardo Sidney. "It's not that important. I just like to win tournaments and rings and stuff like that." (Vickie D. King - The Clarion-Ledger)
By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 6, 2006

IRVINE, Calif. -- Renardo Sidney has almost everything a 16-year-old, 6-foot-10, 245-pound basketball prodigy usually has these days: shadowy sports agents hovering around his family, shoe companies groveling at his feet and AAU coaches vying for his services. But he has never had a high school team, and he doesn't think he needs one.

The days when a college scholarship depended solely on performances in high school passed long ago, but Sidney might be the first athlete to prove that playing against other school teams is unnecessary to become highly pursued in the national market for players.

"I really don't look at high school basketball like I do AAU," Sidney said. "It's not that important. I just like to win tournaments and rings and stuff like that. That [summer basketball] is where it counts. You really don't have to look at high school basketball. I just wait until AAU to show everything I got."

The most important weekend for Sidney over the next year won't be the state playoffs; it will be this upcoming weekend, when he competes against other elite prospects at the ABCD Camp in Hackensack, N.J.

The recruiting publication Hoop Scoop named Sidney, a sophomore, one of the nation's top 15 high school players even though he doesn't play on a high school team. Recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons said the Mississippi native has risen faster than any prospect he has ever seen. And the family said it is moving from Jackson, Miss., to California to take advantage of all the opportunities available to Sidney.

To Gibbons, Sidney's growing reputation despite having no high school résumé illustrates the shift in power in amateur basketball "to the n-th degree."

"Whether you like it or you don't like it, that's reality," said Gibbons, whose Memorial Day weekend tournament in North Carolina first showcased Sidney on a large stage last year. "They play far more games after their high school season is over. In this case, he has played every game in an offseason environment."

No Allegiance, No Problem

Sidney, who described himself as a bored middle-schooler before entering the world of summer basketball, did not play in high school last season because his transfer to a private school did not meet the state's eligibility guidelines. He would have been eligible this fall at the private school, Piney Woods, but Sidney's father, Renardo Sidney Sr., believes his son has outgrown the city and the state.

Without question, Sidney's lack of high school experience has not held him back on the court. Last summer, he was named the MVP of the ABCD underclassmen all-star game. And three weeks ago, he claimed MVP honors for his performance in an elite summer-league tournament in Portland, Ore., where he outshined several senior all-Americans, namely Ohio's O.J. Mayo.

"It's mind-boggling, really," the elder Sidney said. "This kid is competing at this level, never played high school, and he can dominate kids even older than high school. He dominates college guys. If he were just playing in Mississippi, just playing on the regular high school team, no way would he be the number one ninth-grader. No way."

Without an allegiance to a high school program, Sidney and his family are completely immersed in the AAU environment, which is dominated by shoe companies that sponsor touring teams and tournaments in the hopes of landing future endorsement deals with players. Sidney's father was a school security guard who said that as recently as two years ago the family could only afford most nights to eat eggs and toast. Six months ago, he became a Reebok "consultant." His job responsibilities, he said, entail making sure his son plays at their tournaments.

"That's it," he added. "Make sure he gets to [ABCD Camp] and Las Vegas" for Reebok's Big Tim tournament this month.

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