On the first day of the NBA Draft Combine and the morning after the NBA Draft Lottery was held, the story that made waves in college basketball circles centered on Indiana commit Romeo Langford, Rick Pitino and the brand that got Pitino fired, Adidas.
The Washington Post reported out a detailed look into Langford’s recruitment as a high schooler, when Nike, Under Armour and Adidas were battling to get Langford to play on their circuit during the summer before his senior season in high school.
“The way they phrased it,” Pitino told The Post in regards to a meeting with a pair of Adidas officials, both of whom have been caught up in the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball, “it was whoever [shoe company] was going to pay the dad’s AAU program the most money, gets [Langford].”
And while that quote is, on the surface, scandalous and the stuff that headlines are made of, it’s not the one that matters the most here.
“That’s the way that world works,” Pitino said. “Which is completely legal, by the way.”
The Post’s story is worth diving into because it’s a really good look into how this process happens, but the machinations there are not in any way unique. Elite prospects with the potential to one day sell millions of sneakers are identified at a young age. Shoe companies invest a relatively small amount of money into those players, often times paying sponsorships in the low six-figures for someone associated with that prospect to run an AAU program featuring that player, in the hopes of eventually securing that player’s signature when they turn pro and can officially sign an endorsement deal.
In this case, Adidas got involved early, likely in part due to the fact that Langford is an Indiana native that always was a solid bet to end up a Hoosier, wearing the three stripes on his cream and crimson jersey. They could keep him wearing their gear throughout his high school and AAU days before enrolling in college and, hopefully, leading Indiana to a top 25 season and an NCAA tournament run while decked out in Hardens and Yeezys.
And this is hardly the first time something like this has happened.
Marcus Bagley III’s father ran his AAU program on Nike’s EYBL circuit. Josh Jackson’s mother ran his AAU program on Under Armour’s UAA circuit. Jackson has since signed with UA.
As one source plugged into how shoe companies operate put it, “This is the way it works.” Another source added that nothing in the story was surprising or all that unique.
And it’s all above board in the eyes of the NCAA, further evidence that amateurism is a farcical rule that is only in place to keep the money flowing to the people in power.