From the Cradle to the Court

Lots of Pounding on Souls at This Prep Basketball Showcase

A typical sight: Rodrick Stewart, a 6-3 guard from Seattle, catches a pass just a few feet from the basket with no defenders in sight. Instead of an easy layup or dunk, he leaps and attempts to force the ball between his legs, à la J.R. Rider in the NBA dunk contest a few years ago. The kid clangs it off the rim.

Countless other times players would take the ball coast-to-coast, ignore open teammates, or launch heavily contested threes.

"These camps eliminate a certain kind of kid that is used to setting screens and playing in a structured offense," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery explains during a lull in one of the games. "There is a lack of fundamentals, and there is definitely a lack of players who are willing to give up the ball."

Unlike in the NBA, there's no shot clock, but there's little need for one: Most possessions end within 10 seconds anyway, either with a three-point attempt or a demonic drive to the hoop.

The frenetic selfishness contrasts with Adidas' self-described "vision and core values," which the company lays out in its annual report as "things like performance, teamwork, honesty, courage, pride, personal accountability, and discipline. They are the cornerstone of sports."

FAVORITE SONS On one court, ex-New Jersey Net Stephon Marbury's cousin, a sensational Brooklyn high school sophomore-to-be with the storybook name of Sebastian Telfair, buries a three.

Across the gym, Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl's son Coby dishes to ex-Knick general manager (now Milwaukee general manager) Ernie Grunfeld's son Dan in transition. Adidas invites the top players from around the globe to attend the ABCD camp, but having strong basketball connections certainly doesn't hurt a player's chances.

Coby Karl, a skinny 6-2 point guard, often looks out of place at the showcase, his hustle unable to compensate for his opponents' superior skills. Dad George, however, is definitely not out of place. His connection with Adidas is typical of the ways that the apparel and sports industries have joined hands to manage young athletes.

Every morning before the ABCD camp, George Karl runs a camp for current college stars, including Chris Duhon from Duke, Drew Nicholas from Maryland, and Andre Barrett from Seton Hall, putting them through drills to polish their skills for the NBA. Immediately after, the college players work as "counselors" for the ABCD campers, talking with them and keeping score.

Adidas and other powerful sportswear companies are now woven into the fabric of basketball. Among the celebrity coaches on hand at this year's ABCD are Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who has a 16-year, $6.6 million contract with Nike, and Michigan State's Tom Izzo, whose annual pay from Reebok ($235,000) exceeds his base pay from MSU ($195,000). Adidas sponsors amateur teams all over the country, some of them in conjunction with its stable of pro players: At this year's camp, for instance, are kids from the Tim Thomas Playaz, sponsored by Adidas thoroughbred Tim Thomas, who left Villanova early and now plays for the Milwaukee Bucks.

85 LOGOS, 255 STRIPES People come to these camps to watch the basketball, but the first things they notice are the logos. It's impossible not to.

The walls of FDU's gym are saturated with Adidas' trademark diagonal stripes. Mountains of them stretch 20 feet high and surround Krzyzewski, ex-pro B.J. Armstrong (now an assistant GM for the Chicago Bulls), and the sea of other basketball celebrities crowding the floor. At one end of the gym, Adidas sets up a table with samples of sneakers that are scheduled to be released in the upcoming year.

The ubiquitous trefoil logo, Adidas claims, "embodies genuine, trustworthy, honest and real values." And the company, a subsidiary of Adidas-Salomon, the world's second largest manufacturer of athletic equipment, footwear, and apparel, is getting real value by transforming the campers themselves into dribbling billboards. Each player sports more stripes than a baby tiger: one logo on their headbands, two on their jerseys, one on each wristband, one on their shorts, one on each sock, and a pair on each shoe, which were specially made for the camp.

All the equipment is given to the players at the start of the camp, and at the end of the four days, they have the option of either returning it or buying it at wholesale prices, which Adidas says is about half of retail. The company says most players buy the stuff. Maybe one of them will be the next Kobe and will remember the company's generosity when he decides which shoe to endorse.

FIGURING ALL THE ANGLES The average player at the ABCD camp spends seven hours a day in FDU's gym and two hours in a classroom, attending a mandatory Princeton Review SAT-prep class. After all, the "ABCD" officially stands for "academic betterment and career development." Many of the athletes can throw down a 180-degree dunk with ease but have difficulty bisecting a 180-degree angle.

"A normal Princeton Review class lasts six weeks, so you can't expect a 100-point increase [of an SAT score] in a three-day camp," ABCD tutor Adi Opochinski says.

While most Princeton Review courses teach students to maximize their performance, the ABCD class focuses on teaching its participants the bare minimum needed to receive the 820 SAT score required to gain collegiate athletic eligibility. Even ABCD players have criticized this lowering of standards for athletes, but the Princeton Review claims that the two-hour classes are too long for some athletes.

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