When Tajama Abraham played AAU basketball for Boo Williams' program in the early 1990s, she had no idea if college coaches were watching her, largely because she couldn't identify or even name college coaches. She simply loved playing.
"Now, I see kids looking into the stands to see who's watching them," said Abraham, now Tajama Ngongba and the head coach at Radford University. "It's a whole different world."
Ngongba was one of dozens of women's college hoops coaches scattered all over the Peninsula this weekend for the Boo Williams
Invitational, a premier tournament that features players and teams from all over the country.
Boo's annual shindig is a must for college coaches getting a line on next year's recruiting class and beyond. It's sort of a buffet line of talent, an opportunity to see a bunch of prospects competing against each other in one place at one time.
What could be wrong with that? Well, it depends on whom you ask.
Some people's motives for fielding teams and staging tournaments are more mercenary than others.
Boo is one of the straightest and most altruistic of the AAU and summer-circuit populace, but there are people within the game who want to see reforms in recruiting and limits on the types of influences in young players' lives.
"It's gotten out of hand, I know that," said Connecticut coach
, the newly minted U.S. Olympic women's coach, fresh off of his sixth
title. "There's way too many of these kinds of tournaments. Kids are pulled in a lot of different directions. A lot of these kids are promised scholarships for doing this, and they're not going to be any closer to a scholarship when they're finished all this than when they started.
"Some of the people who are involved in things like this," Auriemma said, "are taking it to an extreme where they're controlling kids' lives. Tournament directors are telling kids that if you don't play for them, you're not going to make an All-America team, or you're not going to get seen. And then they funnel kids to certain schools, so the reality is that those people have the ability to make or break a program. It's gotten way out of hand."
, the respected, Philly-based girls hoops impresario, said, "Asking Geno about recruiting restrictions is like asking
about how the economic downturn has affected him."
Flynn's Blue Star Report is probably the country's best girls scouting service, and he also runs one of the nation's better summer programs — the Philly Belles.
"Nothing personal against Geno," Flynn said, "but for his program and others at that level, there are at least 330 Division I schools and coaches whose lives and programs are controlled by 10 people. Unfortunately, those 10 people control the discussion."
The primary difference between Boo's tournaments for boys and girls — held one week apart every April — is the presence of college coaches.
The boys' event is off-limits to Division I coaches, as the NCAA attempts to get a handle on out-of-season events and place a greater emphasis on the high school season.
There's no such restriction on the women's coaches, though there have been some discussions to make April a dead month on the women's side, as well.
"I think that would hurt the girls," Boo said.
The point that Flynn and Boo and college coaches such as Ngongba emphasize is that limiting the number of out-of-season tournaments, or making them off-limits to college coaches, will make the rich richer, prevent lower-tier programs from climbing the ladder, and reduce the exposure for second-tier prospects.
"What I tell people," Boo said, "is we've lost focus. We've made too many rules for 50 kids without thinking enough about all the kids."
Top-20 programs don't need Boo's tournament. They're operating off of a recruiting list of perhaps 10 kids per year. For them, it's simply a matter of whether they land their targets.
It's the programs ranked from 50 to 250 that need Boo's tournament and others like it. They're operating from a prospect list of up to 60 or 70 kids per year, and they don't have nearly the operating budgets of the UConns and Tennessees of the world. They need to see as many kids as possible as economically as possible.
"It's physically impossible to get to every high school to see all the kids on your list," Ngongba said. "Even if you had all the money in the world, it's still physically impossible."
Seeing players in as many different settings as possible, Ngongba said, is an invaluable part of the evaluation process. She and others admit that there are dubious events and unscrupulous characters, but wholesale changes aren't the way to go.
"There are some bad things, some ills out there," Boo said. "But for the good of all the kids, you might have to understand the ills and deal with them."