Camps Turn to Skills, Rather Than Thrills

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 6, 2007

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Samardo Samuels was used to merely playing games at basketball camps. The high school senior was not accustomed to what occurred at a recent camp at the University of Virginia, where Samuels spent the morning listening to a sports psychologist and the afternoon performing rebounding drills with an agility coach that left large beads of sweat on his forehead.

"I've done a lot of things," said the 6-foot-8 Samuels, gasping for air after removing a resistance belt from his waist. "But I've never done anything like that."

The unique experiences at last month's NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp provided attendees with a preview of what they will encounter at the revamped shoe company-sponsored events over the next five days. In a potentially significant move, Nike, Adidas and Reebok have replaced their all-American camps, which often celebrated individual accomplishments, with events they say will promote teamwork, fundamentals and life skills.

The changes largely were made to improve the image of summer basketball, which has been criticized, both by sports commentators and the NCAA, for a lack of oversight and a perceived failure to teach fundamentals, which has been cited as one of the reasons for the United States' recent struggles in international competition.

What's more, Sonny Vaccaro, the influential and controversial figure who helped make the summer basketball scene a multimillion-dollar industry, has left the shoe company business, a move that further altered the landscape.

"It's up to us to reinvent ourselves," said Reebok's Chris Rivers, who took over the shoe company's grass-roots operations from Vaccaro. "We want to change the image of ourselves."

Vaccaro no longer will run his ABCD Camp, which was staged annually in Hackensack, N.J., for more than two decades and showcased future NBA stars such as Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and LeBron James. In its place will be the RBK U camp at Philadelphia University, where a smaller number of high school players will engage in both on-court activities and off-court seminars.

Nike, meantime, has replaced its annual all-American camp in Indianapolis with a series of skills camps hosted by NBA stars such as Bryant, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. Over the next four days, many of the nation's best high school players will gather in Akron, Ohio, for the LeBron James Skills Academy.

Adidas also has eliminated its early-July camp in favor of more team-oriented events, such as the Amateur Athletic Union tournament it will hold this weekend in Cincinnati. It also will spend the summer preparing two teams in different age groups for competition against other countries.

In addition, prominent AAU coaches from the three shoe companies have created Grassroots Basketball of America (GBOA), which will place an emphasis on education, fundamentals, sportsmanship and teamwork. Later this month, GBOA will stage a 24-team tournament in Las Vegas that will bring the best AAU teams from different shoe companies together in one gymnasium.

"I take a lot of pride in the fact the shoe companies are changing their model to mirror what we have been doing the last 14 years," said Tim McCormick, a former NBA player and director of the Top 100 Camp, which is annually held in June.

'Not a Healthy Place'

Many college coaches who annually attend the events in early July to scout players praised the changes. Saint Joseph's Coach Phil Martelli characterized some of the all-star games at the shoe company-sponsored camps, which often devolved into an imitation of AND1 highlight tapes, as "disgraceful."

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