Day three, the final day, of this year's exciting Reebok Breakout Camp on the campus of the University of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA concluded with two more games on the day, and finally closed with the ultra-talented all-star game in the evening.
Camp participants looked very fatigued on the day, but fought through it as college coaches began the filter out of the building - heading to their next destination for the July evaluation period.
Camp director Pat Coombs and his large Reebok staff performed brilliantly through the camp and worked tirelessly through the evening to ensure the camp ended on an exciting note. As the Reebok Breakout Camp came to a close in the evening, another Reebok-sponsored AAU/club event would begin - taking place over the weekend. Reebok is definitely back and in a big way, as loads of division-I prospects from the camp and a large amount of media, scouts and fans in attendance also were draped in something that had the Reebok name or logo on it.
Being from the West Coast, and particularly a state such as Arizona, where basketball is still a second-thought and not the sport of choice for most residents, I came away feeling like we still have a lot of work to do. While I have been in the basketball game and business for almost 20 years now, and have seen the popularity of the sport across the country for some time, I still came away from this year's experience at the Reebok Breakout Camp feeling like our state has a lot of work to do.
The Arizona players that were in participation in this week's event each stated to me that they felt the same way, and that this week's experience was a valuable lesson learned for each of them.
"I took a lot from my experience this week," said Westwind Prep Academy 6-foot-7 rising junior wing prospect Zylan Cheatham. "Players here were bigger and stronger. Everyone here was dunking out and could score the basketball and defend. It just showed me how much I need to continue to work on my game."
In a state like Arizona where we have maybe 15-20 players each year that go to the division-I level, often times, the top prospects have a sense of entitlement and do not work on their game, since they dominate much of the competition within Arizona. A camp like the Reebok Breakout Camp brought home a sense of reality - showing how much basketball talent there is across America.
"I just played my game," said Chaparral HS 6-foot-8 rising senior post Joe Boyd. "This is a camp, so I was not going to come out here and try to do too much. I just tried to play within myself."
What stood out most to me was the passion in which players competed as well as the size, strength and athleticism of many of the camp participants. Players take the game of basketball very seriously and have excellent work ethic. The game of basketball isn't a thing that the kids play, it seems to be the only thing. Basketball is a way of life on the East Coast and it shows in the manner in which the players involved compete on the hardwood.
When driving around in the city of Philadelphia one evening, myself and BJ Letcher, President of the Arizona Aces club program in Arizona, were amazed when driving by a local park. We noticed that the park was filled with players - either playing or standing around the court waiting to play. I remember seeing a site such as this in the state of Arizona in the 1980's and the early 1990's, but haven't seen it since. This hunger for the game of basketball is what drives players on the East Coast.
The state of Arizona, while we may think it is big-time, has a long way to go in our development in the sport. Of course, basketball has never been the sport of choice in the state, but we still have a long way to go to just be respectable still amongst other states. While there still seems to be a lot of fighting between club coaches and tournament organizers within the state, the large majority of our players still cannot compete with the nation's elite talent. Rather than having 3 or 4 players in the state that can compete with the nation's best basketball talent, it would be nice to see us have 30 or 40 players that can compete.
I started my pursuit to change the landscape in Arizona basketball in 1995, and feel like I have made great strides in doing so, but we still have major work to do as an Arizona basketball culture. While it seems tough for everyone to work together, something needs to happen to raise the level of Arizona basketball, without seeing all of our talent continue to leave the state and play for club programs in California. What about representing your state or where your from?
Mesa Mountain View HS 6-foot-10 rising junior post Payton Dastrup raised his recruiting stock this spring while playing for the Arizona Select club program. Pinnacle HS 6-foot-5 rising junior guard/forward Dorian Pickens and Marcos De Niza HS 6-foot-4 rising senior guard/forward Richaud Gittens raised their recruiting stock this spring while playing for the Arizona Stars. Corona Del Sol HS 6-foot-2 rising junior guard Casey Benson, Westwind Prep Academy 6-foot-7 rising junior Zylan Cheatham, Brophy Prep 6-foot-9 rising senior post Tim Kempton and Poston Butte HS 6-foot-2 rising senior guard Jalen Richard all raised their recruiting stock this spring while playing for the Arizona Magic program. Each of these players did the same thing with Arizona club programs as players have done, or haven't done, with California club programs.
The state still has a long way to go, and the only way for us to get there is by learning that basketball is a much bigger sport across the country. Rather than going to another state to find better basketball, let's continue to work together to raise the level of basketball in Arizona.