High School Basketball Camp Matches Top Players, Recruiters

Times Staff Writer

Even if they couldn't see Big Brother watching them, the high school basketball players who converged upon UC Santa Barbara earlier this month probably could sense his presence.

The 15th annual Sportsworld Invitational Superstar Basketball Camp attracted about 150 college recruiters who perched high in the stands at the Events Center, armed with notebooks and keen eyes.

A blur of prep talent scurried on the four courts below. For five days, 260 of the best high school players in the West furiously battled each other. All hoped to rise above the crowd. Catching an eye meant possibly catching a college scholarship.

It's doubtful that any talent went unnoticed and there were few surprises.

'Everybody Knows It'

"Before, you could discover somebody," Northwestern assistant coach Jim Brewer said. "Now, if you can play, everybody knows it."

Everyone agrees exposure is the main focus of the Superstar camp. Coaches cannot recruit or even talk to the players. But they can watch. That was the primary reason the camp was created in 1973. That's why every player laid down $365 to attend.

"You're trying to establish a reputation as a good player," Santa Monica player Chris Cotton said. "You don't want to leave a bad impression; this is your future."

Everyone who enters the camp is known as a good player. All 260 players were invited to attend. Max Shapiro, president of Sportsworld, said the camp has always been by invitation only.

The competition rarely ceases. Campers are numbered, placed on teams and play two games a day. Games are played simultaneously on four adjoining courts. There are also one-on-one and three-on-three tournaments, as well as various shooting contests.

Best of the Bunch

The Events Center becomes a buzz saw of bouncing basketballs and squeaking sneakers. But through the haze of players, the best of the bunch emerges. The camp ends with an all-star game featuring the top 15 players of the week.

Becoming one of the highly desired prospects is the goal of every camper. Weeding out the talent, however, is not the only purpose of the Superstar camp. Proposition 48, which requires a minimum SAT score and a minimum grade average, has heightened awareness of academic achievement and has brought more to the camp than just pickup games.

"What we're trying to focus on with the youngsters is the importance of being a student athlete as opposed to a dumb jock," Shapiro said. "Kids are finding out that if you're not a student, if you're not passing, then you're not playing basketball."

The camp attempts to get this point across in a number of ways. Speakers provide academic counseling. The players take a mock ACT standardized test and have the results mailed to them. One session of talks is devoted to the evils of drugs and alcohol. Although the counseling is looked upon as a bonus, the focus of the camp is still primarily on bouncing a basketball.

"They know why they're here," UCSB assistant Ben Howland said. "They're here because they want to be seen."

The mass of talent makes the selection of the chosen few much easier for a scout. In effect, the players come to him instead of the coach chasing down the player.

"Camps are more important now," UC Irvine assistant Bob Thate said. "You used to drive up to L. A. and go to one gym to see one kid play. Here, you can see 200 kids."

Seeing as many players at once is even more important for scouts this summer. NCAA rules that went into effect last fall give coaches only the last three weeks of July to evaluate prospects. That is half the time granted last summer.

"Because the recruiting period has been narrowed, this is the first exposure a lot of coaches have of the kids," Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said. "There's not enough time to give them a second or third chance."

The limited recruiting time also means camps are now in competition. The Superstar camp was held at the same time as the Nike Camp in Princeton, N. J. The Nike camp is more prestigious and lured some of the prized prospects from the West.

"Because of the new NCAA three-week window, this camp is a little watered down," Arizona State assistant Frank Arnold said. "But there's still sufficient talent."

With the best-known players heading East during the summer, the door at the Superstar camp has been opened for lesser-known players.

"This gives more kids a chance to be seen by a wider range of coaches," Montgomery said.

"Mostly we're watching kids we're already recruiting," UCSB assistant Ben Howland said. "But there are some new faces we were not aware of and that is always nice. There is always a kid who was not known and in three or four days everybody knows him. It happens every year."

That's the dream of every camper. That's why they attend. Every move they make, every shot they take, will be watched by scouts with scholarships.

"You know they're up there watching you," Nogales player Corey Rogers said. "You know you have to pull out your best and play to all your ability. You don't just want to lollygag around."

This is definitely one summer camp where no one wants to relax.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World