Here are the three events that you’ll want to make note of in each of July’s three live periods:
FIRST PERIOD (July 9-13)
LeBron James Skills Academy (Las Vegas): LeBron camp is the best of the best when it comes to summer development camps, not only featuring 80 of the nation’s best high school players but also bringing in 30 of the top collegians from around the country. This is the camp that the kids associated with Nike teams end up at. Raphielle Johnson will be covering this event.
Reebok Breakout Classic (Philly): Reebok also hosts a top 100 camp during this live period, featuring some of the best players from the eastern and southern US as well as a handful of some of the nation’s elite recruits. Rob Dauster will be at the Breakout Classic on Wednesday and Thursday.
Adidas Unrivaled (Chicago): Adidas’ answer to the Breakout Classic and LeBron camp. It takes place in Chicago and will feature 100 of the best hoopers from the midwest. Scott Phillips will be in Chicago for Adidas camp.
SECOND PERIOD (July 16-20)
Nike Peach Jam (North Augusta, S.C.): The finals of the EYBL, which is the spring-and-summer long league featuring the best of the Nike-sponsored AAU teams. There are four EYBL events and the top 24 teams make it to Peach Jam. This is the best event in July. Rob and Scott will both be at Peach Jam.
The UAA Finals (Atlanta): Under Armour’s answer to Peach Jam. The UA Association is the spring-and-summer long series featuring UA’s AAU teams. The UAA Finals will feature showcase games on Wednesday night and Thursday morning and afternoon before getting into bracket play. Plenty of high-level, top 100-caliber talent will be making their way to Suwanee Sports Academy. Rob and Scott will be at the UAA Finals as well.
NY2LA Summer Jam (Milwaukee, Wi.): The best Nike and Under Armour teams will be in Georgia and South Carolina, meaning that the nation’s best Adidas teams and the rest of the unsponsored talent from the Midwest will be at Summer Jam.
THIRD PERIOD (July 23-27)
Adidas Super 64, Las Vegas Classic, and Fab 48 (Las Vegas): Vegas has become the epicenter of all things summertime hoops, with LeBron camp, USA basketball, an NBA summer league and three of the summer’s biggest AAU tournaments all taking place during basketball’s offseason. The three tournaments listed here will take place in gyms all over the city and will mean that a late night trip to the casino could mean a chance run-in with a famous coach … or future college all-american. Raphielle will be out in Vegas for all of these events.
AAU Nationals (Louisville): AAU moved their National Championship — as well as their Super Showcase event — from Orlando to Louisville this summer. The best option for people that don’t make their way to the Sin City. Scott will be in Louisville for both tournaments.
Live in AC (Atlantic City) andSummer Final (Philly): Most of the nation’s elite players will end up in Vegas or at Nationals, but Live in AC and Summer Final do a pretty good job of bringing in talented players and teams from the east coast and the south. Rob will be back in Philly for the final weekend.
July Live Period Preview: Eight story lines to watch the next three weeks
Here are the top eight story lines heading into the next three weeks:
Will the Malik Newman-Diamond Stone package deal materialize?: “‘Package deals’ are all the rage, especially after Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones signed with Duke last fall. Will Newman and Stone hold firm on their rumored package deal? That’s tough to say, but it would make for the best recruiting haul in the country.” – Scott Phillips
“This will impact the way in which a number of programs recruit this summer, and which games head and assistant coaches take in. Who knows if it will happen in the end, but there’s only one way for many of the programs going after both to find out.” – Raphielle Johnson
Will Thon Maker reclassify to 2015? Will Josh Jackson join him?: “This is the major question entering the month of July because Maker could end up as the No. 1 player in 2015 or 2016. Coaches watching the 7-footer in July will likely evaluate him as a 2015 prospect, but that decision won’t be made until this fall when Maker can sit down with academic advisors at high school.” – SP
“Maker isn’t the only elite 2016 recruit that could reclassify. Josh Jackson, who was originally a member of the class of 2015 and repeated the eighth grade, could as well. Maker is the No. 3 recruit in the Class of 2016 right now, according to Rivals. Jackson? He’s No. 1.” – Rob Dauster
How healthy is Harry Giles and will his knee injury have any lingering effects?: “The No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2016 is Harry Giles. Giles was considered by some to be the best prospect in all of high school basketball when he was a freshman — that just so happened to be the same year that Andrew Wiggins was a senior. But he suffered a catastrophic knee injury last year that cost him his sophomore season. Will he be back to 100% this summer?” -RD
“The 6-foot-10 Class of 2016 prospect tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus, but returned in May. He suited up for seven games in the Nike EYBL for Team CP3, which will take on The Family in the Peach Jam play-in game.” – Terrence Payne
The big men: where do they land and how do their rankings shake out?: “There are a LOT of elite big men in the 2015 class and many of them remain uncommitted entering the month of July. This means that every July matchup featuring two elite big men will be jammed with a who’s who of major college head coaches.” – SP
“Nine of the top ten recruits in the Class of 2015 are front court players and seven of them are big men. Ben Simmons is the only big man in the top ten that is committed, and only three bigs in the top 40 have pledged to a school. When they do end up committing, where will the dominoes fall?” – RD
Which guards make the leap in 2015?: “This is a very weak class for point guards. And as we once again saw in the NCAA Tournament with UConn and Shabazz Napier, elite point guards get you places in the postseason. Will any new floor generals step up and stand out this July?” – SP
Who are the sleepers that will show up?: “With showcases, camps and tournaments there are ample opportunities for under-the-radar recruits to make a name for themselves this month. We’ve already seen guys like 2015 small forward Ray Smith make the jump into the conversation, and point guard Dennis Smith Jr. assert himself as one of the top guards in 2016 this spring. Who’s next to launch themselves up the rankings?” – TP
Who will land the “superclass” in 2015?: “John Calipari and Kentucky have built themselves a reputation for landing absolutely loaded recruiting classes, year-in and year-out. No one embraces the one-and-done rule quite like Coach Cal. But he’s not alone anymore. Kansas brought in two of the top three picks in their 2013 recruiting class, and this year’s group may actually end up being better in college. And Duke? Well, they have landed Jabari Parker, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow in the last two classes.” – RD
What will happen with the Lawsons?: “There are three brothers and all are really good at basketball, with Dedric (2015) being the oldest. With their father reportedly looking for an assistant coaching job at the college level, will a program look to make that hire happen with the thought that the three talented sons will follow?” – RJ
Seven programs with the most on the line during July’s live period
Today, we’ll break down seven programs with the most on the line heading into this month:
Auburn: “Auburn made huge news when it hired Bruce Pearl. Since then, the Tigers have landed commitments from Juco and graduate transfers, but Pearl’s show-cause penalty runs through late August. What that means is that he won’t be out on the recruiting trail this month. How does that hurt his Class of 2015? And if it does, will it hinder Pearl’s rebuild?” – Terrence Payne
Indiana: “Tom Crean had a lot of roster turnover this offseason, but in the past he could always rely on a stable base of in-state talent to come through as potential recruits. The Class of 2015 in Indiana doesn’t have as much to offer and the Hoosiers are in a lot of battles for marquee prospects. This will be an important July for Indiana.” – Scott Phillips
Missouri: “The biggest question when Missouri hired Kim Anderson to replace Frank Haith was going to be how the longtime Division II coach would be able to recruit. Well, he managed to keep Tim Fuller on staff and hired Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford as an assistant, meaning that he’ll have the pieces in place to land a big time recruiting class. How will they fare in their first summer on the road together?” – Rob Dauster
Oregon: “The Ducks have three talented guards joining the program this season (JaQuan Lyle, Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie), and they’ve also landed 2015 guard Kendall Small. But with Joseph Young entering his senior year and the tumultuous offseason the program’s had to deal with, this will be an important month when it comes to Dana Altman and his staff placing the program back on solid ground.” – Raphielle Johnson
Virginia Tech: “Buzz Williams left a very successful program at Marquette, where he was a very successful recruiter, to join the ACC with Virginia Tech and it’ll be very interesting to see if he can pull in major recruits to the East Coast. How will new recruits respond to Virginia Tech? That’s one of the biggest questions entering July.” – SP
Wisconsin: “You don’t usually throw Bo Ryan’s ballclub in the mix of major recruiting battles, but coming off of a Final Four, Wisconsin needs to be in the mix for two in-state five-star big men in Henry Ellenson and Diamond Stone. If the Badgers can land one of those two big men, Bo Ryan and Wisconsin fans will be ecstatic. Skilled bigs thrive in Bo Ryan’s system, and Ellenson and Stone are both really skilled.” – SP
The entire Big East: “One of the reasons that Buzz Williams left Marquette had to do with the formation of the new Big East and the level at which that conference and the programs within that conference will be able to compete in the future. Will it maintain a status of being one of the marquee basketball leagues in the country, or will it fall into relative irrelevance without games on ESPN and without a high-major football league associated with it?” – RD
Five more teams that need a strong 2015 recruiting class:
Arizona: “Sean Miller could end up losing a lot of talent after next season. He’s been the king of west coast recruiting lately and initially had a back court of two, five-star guards, but saw Dorsey decommit last month.” – TP
California: “Unlike the one April evaluation weekend he’ll have an important assistant to rely on when it comes to further cultivating those relationships with in-state recruits: assistant Yanni Hufnagel. That’s a big deal, and one that will likely prove fruitful.” – RJ
Cincinnati: “Mick Cronin loses Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Jermaine Lawrence and after getting an extension is looking at a possible NIT-caliber season. Can he reload with his 2015 class?” – RD
Houston: “Of the eight newcomers added by Kelvin Sampson and his staff this spring seven are either junior college or four-year transfers. This month will be important as they look to strengthen their relationships with the top grassroots program within Texas (especially in the Houston area).” – RJ
Rutgers: “How many Big Ten-caliber impact players does this program have? The hiring of Greg “Shoes” Vetrone should help them recruiting-wise, and given the overall strength of the Big Ten that will be necessary.” – RJ
A college basketball fan’s guide to the current grassroots basketball scene
In the modern 24-hour sports news cycle, nearly every aspect of the four major sports of are covered. Extensively.
Free agency is broken down like crazy and draft coverage is at an all-time high, complete with a movie starring Kevin Costner and talk of potential one-and-done players dominating college basketball until February.
But one of the great unknowns left to the casual sports fan is grassroots basketball, which is often mistakenly referred to by people as AAU.
The Amateur Athletic Union is an organization within the current structure of spring and summer high school travel basketball for American players, but is hardly the only — or preferred — way that athletes play basketball.
Most elite players opt to play in shoe company leagues and never actually play in an AAU game. The term — AAU — has just overtaken the name of the scene — grassroots basketball — like Kleenex has for tissues.
Having covered grassroots basketball for the last seven years, I get asked a lot of questions about the overall scene and what it is. College basketball fans will commonly see people tweeting at events on most spring weekends, but they don’t understand some of what is actually going on.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the common questions and misconceptions I hear about the grassroots basketball scene from college basketball fans.
What is grassroots basketball?
Like almost every sport in America now, basketball is a year-round endeavor complete with spring and summer travel basketball and fall leagues and camps between high school seasons.
In the spring and summer, teams of high school players form with other players in their area — or sometimes from a state or two away for bigger and more prominent programs — and travel a schedule of weekend tournaments or play in a league.
Teams are broken down into three levels for high school:
17U – Seniors to be
16U – Juniors to be
15U – Sophomores to be
Many tournaments will also devote time for 14U and younger age divisions in off-site locations as well, but we’re focusing on high school for now.
Why is grassroots basketball so popular among basketball’s elite prospects?
Kids want to play basketball and grassroots basketball gives them the opportunity to play with and against the best players nearly every weekend. While high school basketball can have limitations in scheduling or playing time or style of play for certain players, players can often pick-and-choose what they’re looking for in a grassroots program. Want to play in a shoe company league? Want to play for a coach that will play you extended minutes? Players can find any situation ideal if they look for the right fit.
Teams are often recruited together by programs that try to maintain strong play throughout multiple age groups. Many of these programs are usually apart of the three shoe company leagues that will be on display this spring. The adidas Gauntlet, the Under Armour Association and the current standard of the leagues, the Nike EYBL. These teams offer a lot of exclusive apparel and travel to places around the country to play in league games.
For teams that don’t fall under these leagues, many will play an independent schedule or opt to play in AAU events.
AAU events are held at the state level and teams that win a local qualifier will advance to nationals in July. Many teams form for the sake of playing for some kind of overall title in a league or the AAU events.
Where are grassroots events held?
Events are held locally, regionally and nationally and tend to be held in bigger cities and places with multi-court facilities.
What is the basketball actually like?
The basketball is usually very up-and-down. There’s a lot of fast tempo play and with some tournaments making kids play up to three games in a few hours time, they can get exhausted quickly and play can get very sloppy.
With the changes in structure to shoe company leagues, however, less stress is being put on kids on weekends by scheduling out full league schedules with adequate time off and a cap on games per weekend. The coaching is also much, much better than people think. I’ve seen players like Julius Randle and Jabari Parker have to adjust to multiple zone looks and double-teams on the offensive end while more teams are running complete sets thanks to the integration of a shot clock in the EYBL.
Are grassroots basketball events fan friendly?
Yes and no. Fans can sit very close to the action at a grassroots event and see a lot of basketball during a Saturday session, but there commonly aren’t programs or scorecards and names aren’t listed on jerseys so it can be hard to identify players for common fans. Some camps are also exclusive to media and family and don’t allow fans to attend at all. But if the coaches are out in July and you can hit a big-time grassroots game attended by a lot of coaches, it can be fun to watch. Two highly-ranked kids battling on a national stage can be a great experience as a basketball fan.
Why is grassroots basketball so influential in modern basketball?
Since the talent comes together in the form of leagues and elite teams, it is much easier for scouts and media members to see a big collection of top players in just a single weekend. When you also include games being played for multiple sessions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and there is a lot of time to get games in.
Grassroots basketball is the major influencer of national rankings because the top players have more of a chance to matchup throughout the course of the spring and summer. Camps in June and August also allow top players to come together nationally in exclusive events that put them all together for practices and games. This makes it even easier for people to make rankings because the best are playing each other. Kids want to be ranked and travel to big events, so they continue to play with or without coaches being allowed out.
When are college coaches allowed at grassroots events?
The limited face time for college coaches — given how much the players play — is not good in helping them identify players outside of the high school season in which they’re coaching themselves.
College coaches cannot have off campus in-person contact with players or their legal guardians during the evaluation period. Coaches can still make telephone calls to players or legal guardians, and players can still make campus visits.
Is grassroots basketball a necessity to be a big-time college basketball player?
It helps, but definitely not. And plenty of players play on great local teams that play local events and continue to work and get better as basketball players. Does it do you better to sit on the bench of a high exposure team in a shoe company league or does it pay to play for the smaller local team and gain more experience? That’s the question some kids have to ask themselves.
This Wednesday, July 9th, at 5:00 p.m. kicks off the 2014 July evaluation period, one of the most crucial stretches of the year for any college basketball team across the country.
But there are many fans out there that may not be aware of what a “live period” is or what it means for coaches and the players they are recruiting or plan to recruit in the future.
The NCAA rulebook is thick and it is scary and it is often confusing, but when it comes to the recruiting calendar, things are fairly cut and dry, particularly during the spring and summer months. The way it works is like this: there are only certain times during certain months where coaches are allowed to be on the road scouting and evaluating players. These are called evaluation periods, or “live periods”, and during a usual calendar year, there will be five of them: two in late April and/or early May and three during July.
The two live periods in the spring span just 48 hours each, stretching from 5:00 p.m. on a Friday through 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday. (Note: this year, due to the way that Mother’s Day, Easter and SAT weekends fell on the calendar, there was only one live period this spring.)
In the summer, it’s a bit different. For three consecutive weekends during the month, coaches are allowed to evaluate prospects from 5:00 p.m. on a Wednesday until 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday. What that means is that during a 15-day stretch in the middle of the summer, these high school players will be in gyms across the country, essentially auditioning for the coaches that they hope to one day play for.
Audition is the proper word to use here as well.
No in-person contact is allowed between the college coaches and the recruits or the families of the recruits. It’s strictly an opportunity for scouting and evaluation, which creates a surreal environment at the events that take place. Family, friends, AAU coaches and the athletes themselves are all ushered onto one side of the court after entering the gym through one entrance. The college coaches are fenced in on the other side of the court after entering through a different entrance.
How a staff will go about traversing the country and utilizing their time during the live period will differ between programs.
A team like Kentucky or Duke will already know which players in the junior class they are targeting. They aren’t evaluating or scouting as much as they are following. When you see Mike Krzyzewski and two of his assistants sitting court side for someone like Diamond Stone or Henry Ellenson, you know it’s because Coach K is looking to add that particular big man. A general rule of thumb: the more staff members that are at a game, the more of a priority that recruit is.
But that’s not the only reason you’ll see a coach stalking a recruit. If a recruit is already committed, don’t be surprised to see an assistant — or, if he’s important enough, the head coach — front and center at every game he plays during the live period, a tactic known as “babysitting.”
At the high-major level, assistant coaches are the ones that do the leg work, identifying talents and picking out who would be the best fit within the team. When the head coach shows up in the stands, it’s to show just how badly that program wants that player. Tom Izzo can only be in one place at a time. If a kid that Michigan State is recruiting sees him at a game, that’s a sign that they want him to be a Spartan.
It’s also worth noting here that only four members of a coaching staff — the head coach and his three assistants — are allowed to be on the road at a given time. So even if it’s just an assistant from, say, Arizona watching Allonzo Trier play, it should still be a sign to Trier that Arizona values him. They can only be in four gyms at a given time.
For smaller programs, the idea is to get out and see as many players as possible, trying to identify who can play at their level and who will fit in with their program and style of play. Quite often, the player that stands out during a game isn’t the player that a particular coach was trying to recruit. For example, Delaware head coach Monte’ Ross once told me a story about recruiting former Blue Hens sharpshooter Kyle Anderson. He walked in a gym during a grassroots tournament to see a team play on one court, but as he was walking to his seat, he saw Anderson, who was very lightly recruited in high school, hit a pair of threes. He decided to watch the game for a minute, and Anderson ended up having a huge game.
He started for the Blue Hens as a freshman.
There’s another difference between high-major and low-major programs: budget. The scope of grassroots basketball is bigger than you probably realize. During each of these live periods, there are events going on all across the country, and some programs are going to be recruiting players that are playing at the same time in cities hundreds or thousands of miles apart.
For a power program, this means private jets. Don’t be surprised to hear about Coach Cal making an appearance at the morning session in Philly only to show up for the afternoon games in Indianapolis. The ability to fly thousands of miles on a whim allows the biggest and richest programs to recruit players from all over the country.
For the mid-major teams, a priority is put on proper evaluation and landing local talent. For example, Stephen F. Austin won 30 games last season and knocked off VCU en route to the Round of 32 in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Of the six players that played more than 20 minutes per game for the Lumberjacks, two were from Texas, one was from Missouri, one was from Oklahoma and two others went to a Junior College in Texas.
Coaches aren’t only looking to find hidden gems, however. With the proliferation of grassroots basketball, the Internet and social media, and the myriad of scouting websites, players that are overlooked are few and far between. That’s why stories like those of Otto Porter and Ron Baker are so incredible.
No, what these coaches are looking for is a development track. They’ve seen a lot of these guys play when they were younger. They watched high school games in person or on film. They’ve attended workouts. How have the recruits progressed? Is the skinny kid getting stronger? Did the chubby two-guard lose some weight? Has the dunker’s jumper gotten better? Did he improve his ball-handling? Or add a jump hook? Or utilize his ability in the pick-and-roll?
That’s a lot for a coaching staff to work their way through, and they only have 15 days to do it.
And that’s what makes July’s live-recruiting period so important.
Wednesday, July 9th, at 5:00 p.m. will mark the start of July’s live recruiting period, a series of three five-day stretches where coaches are allowed to be on the road evaluating and scouting some of the nation’s top prospects. Over the course of the next three days, we will be getting you prepped with everything that you need to know heading into these 15 days.
First up, 15 names that you’ll want to keep an eye on this month:
CLASS OF 2015:
Jaylen Brown: “No one would blame you if you confused Jaylen Brown with Stanley Johnson: Same size, same build, some power wing style of play, they even have the same haircut. I’m not sure if Brown is the best prospect in this class, but there isn’t a player that works harder or has a more professional mindset and attitude when it comes to preparing. Oh, and he just so happens to be filthy.” – Rob Dauster
Jalen Brunson: “Brunson is the best point guard in the class and the only player in the top 25 that can truly be considered a pure point guard instead of being a scoring guard that wants the ball in his hands. And it doesn’t hurt that Brunson’s recruitment is one of the most intriguing: most had him pegged as following his dad to Temple … before his dad was arrested.” – RD
Henry Ellenson: “Although the 2015 class is loaded with five-star big men, Ellenson is one of the few that can stretch the floor with consistency. With a brother who recently landed at Marquette via transfer, does the big man stay in his home state, or does his recruitment go national, with recent offers from Duke, North Carolina and UCLA?” – Scott Phillips
Malik Newman: “The top guard in a long list of forwards atop the class, the 6-foot-3 Newman is arguably the most gifted scorer on the grassroots circuit. He lost his top spot in the Rivals Top 150 to Ben Simmons, but can he regain it with a big July? Oh, and what about that package deal with Diamond Stone?” – Terrence Payne
Ivan Rabb: “The native of Oakland is the No. 1 player in the 2015 class, according to some, and the big man could separate himself from the pack with a strong month. Athletically gifted, Rabb needs to be a bit more assertive in July to be a potential No. 1 player.” – SP
Ben Simmons: “The Australian native is a versatile 6-foot-8 forward that has already committed to LSU and has claimed the top spot in a front court-heavy Class of 2015. He led Montverde Academy to an undefeated season, and was the MVP of the NBPA Top 100 Camp.” – TP
Ray Smith: “The five-star wing from Las Vegas has vaulted up the Class of 2015 rankings in the last year and he’s one of the few elite small forwards in his class. He’s now ranked in the top ten by Rivals.com. Does his recruitment go national with a big July?” – SP
Diamond Stone: “Stone is a big-bodied center that is supremely skilled offensively, which makes him an elite recruit … and a coach’s dream alongside Malik Newman. I think many tend to take the “package deal” talk with a grain of salt given how fluid of a situation recruiting can be. Will Newman and Stone wind up on the same campus when it’s time to attend college? Who knows, but that won’t stop prominent programs from attempting to make that happen.” – Raphielle Johnson
Allonzo Trier: “Trier started all five games for Billy Donovan and USA Basketball at the FIBA Americas U18 Championships. He’s also the leading scorer in the Nike EYBL at 29.4 points per game. Trier, who was a New York Times magazine coverboy at 13, is one of the fastest-rising guards in 2015.” – TP
Stephen Zimmerman: “Zimmerman, the No. 7 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals.com, is one of the most unique players in the Class. He’s 6-foot-11, he’s left-handed, he’s got 15-foot range, he’s lanky and athletic, and he’s an excellent passer. Zimmerman has cut his list down to eight schools.” – RD
CLASS OF 2016:
Josh Jackson: “The No. 1 player in the 2016 class, Jackson deserves more national media attention because he’s a complete wing that can really get rolling as a scorer. Jackson also defends and rebounds and has some natural passing ability as well.” – SP
Thon Maker: “No wild player comparisons here, but the 7-foot-1 Maker is clearly a player to watch this month. Sure there’s the skill level, which makes him one of the most sought-after players regardless of class, but there’s also the question of which class he’ll be a part of. Will he stay in the 2016 class, or will he reclassify into the 2015 class?” – RJ
Dennis Smith, Jr.: “Smith has been on the receiving end of a lot of praise this spring and summer, and his skill level has made him one of the top players in his class. And given the fact that he’s from North Carolina, ACC programs will make sure to be in attendance for many (if not all) of his games this month.” – RJ
Jayson Tatum: “Tatum’s got all kinds of potential. A smooth and skilled 6-foot-7 wing, Tatum can play and defend multiple positions. He needs to add strength to his frame, but the top five recruit and St. Louis-native will have his pick of colleges.” – RD
Derryck Thornton: “Thornton’s had a very good spring and summer to date, emerging as one of the best distributors regardless of class and winning MVP at the Stephen Curry Point Guard Camp. With the nation’s coaches out and about this month, July could be a big month for a player already held in high regard.” – RJ