Shoe Games(Circuits)- This is a subject that many refuse to touch publicly. I am not smart enough to heed the admonishments of the powers that be. The shoe affiliations of clubs entail pros and cons. I will attempt to address both through my limited vision.
I have been a witness to both the Nike and adidas club circuits as a coach under the umbrella of a Nike team and an adidias team. I am under the impression that neither Nike nor adidas no longer provide monetary stipends to its club teams.
Nike is by far the most prestigious shoe circuit on the girls side of basketball. Attending Nike Nationals as a fan this past July was a great experience. The event featured college refs(3) for every game, a great location, highly competitive teams, great players, college coaches everywhere and was very organized. The Nike circuit also has the Nike Regional Skills Academy, a skills clinic attended by some of the best players in that particular region. The NRSA is not exclusive to 'Nike Players" and is truly a very good thing for the sport. Being a Nike team certainly has its perks like free or discounted shoes. Or very unique shoes, only distributed to Nike sponsored teams. To be a Nike team, in my oppinion, a club must have at least a decent reputation for having college bound kids. You would also have to have some longevity and national promenence.
adidas is the other major circuit. The adidas circuit was very strong years ago when it was headed by Mike T White. The adidas circuit has a national event as well. I attended a couple of them a few years ago when it was held at Texas A&M and Indiana University. The caliber of teams, by in large, were and are not as talented as the Nike circuit. The 2008 and 2009 adidas circuit featured very good teams such as FBC, TeamXpress, Memphis Bobcats, Oregon Reign, and Houston Elite. These teams featured outstanding players and teams that could hold their own against any Nike team at that time. Again, this circuit features free and reduced product. However, adidas has apparently limited the free shoes and goods in favor of heavily discounted product in a cost saving measure. adidas had the adidas Nations teams in the past. This program took the best adidas sponsored kids and matched them up against young prep stars from different countries. In fact, this is how local legend, Meighan Simmons, attracted the affection of Candice Parker and the University of Tennessee.
Now to the meat and potatoes, are shoe affiliations needed to accomplish club goals? Or, does a player need to be associated with a particular shoe sponsored team to realize their college goals? To be frank, NO!! If a club coach director and or parent/player is focused on what really matters, a college scholarship, shoe affiliation is not all that important.
Here is one of the biggest lies that SOME shoe sponsored teams like to diseminate; To play the best competition, you have to play on a particular circuit.
Here is an example of why this is not true.
SA Reagan standout Wendy Knight '14 has played against the following players in her career with SA Finest Basketball:
Alexis Jones(Duke/ESPN #3/McDonald AA), Briana Turner(ESPN #2 2014/USA u17),Kelsey Mitchell(ESPN #1) ,Jordin Canada(ESPN #3/USA u16), Lahjana Drummer(ESPN #7),Zaire O'Neil(ESPN Top 25) ,Mycah Johnson(ESPN Top25),Erica McCall(ESPN Top 15/USA u16/u17) ,McKenzie Calvert(/Baylor commit) ,Jada Terry( ESPN Top 50),Candace Adams(ESPN Top 60),Brianna Day(ESPN Top 50) Peyton Little(Texas A&M/ESPN Top 5), Brooke McCarty(ESPN Top 20), AJ Alix(ESPN Top 50), Jessica Washington(ESPN #20/ USA u17/UNC commit)Courtney Williams(Texas A&M/ESPN Top 10/ McDonalds AA), Gabby Greene(2104 ESPN #6 )
Here are some of the Top Teams she has faced:
DFW Elite(Nike), Cy-Fair Shock(Nike), Essence(Nike), Boo Williams(Nike),Cal Sparks Gold, All Ohio(Nike)WV Thunder, NJ Sparks(Adidas)Missouri Phenom ,Oklahoma Select ,EBX ,Nebraska Shooting Stars, Mokan Eclipse, Texas Prep Stars.
These are just few of the players and teams that Knight has faced, and she plays for an unaffiliated club. She has faced at least a dozen former or future McDonald All- Americans. She has played 5 of the 20 or so Nike teams. She has played at least twice as many adidas sponsored teams.
Development- Now that we see that great competition is accessible without shoe affiliation, let's look at development for the average player. How does the average college prospect develop? Players develop by working on their craft(training) and PLAYING!! So often I have seen good players join stacked shoe sponsored club and ride the pine or take on a new limited role. A two time national championship coach cautioned me against placing my child on the numerous shoe sponsored clubs in Texas for this exact reason. She argued that my child would be better served staying with an independent and experiencing growing pains while playing AGAINST stacked teams instead of playing WITH a stacked team. Now, one can reason that that advice was to stroke my ego while recruiting my child. My retort is to point out that this coach would have better access and could better monitor my childs' recruitment by encouraging her to play with a friendly shoe sponsored club. Many reputable college coaches feel the same way but out of fear of alienating powerful club coaches, they keep their mouth shut.
The best case scenario of this is Alexis Jones. I can care less about what the experts say, Alexis Jones was the best guard in the country last season. No knock to any other guard in 2012, but I've seen them all, except Jewell Lloyd, and Alexis is hands down the best. Alexis played with one of the most successful shoe sponsored clubs in the country early in her high school career. She left to play with a team of good but not great players, led by her father. I watched Alexis almost record a triple double, while tallying 30 plus points vs a top 5 team in the country that featured 10 or so BCS bound kids(2 McDonald All-Americans). Alexis faced traps and junk defenses by some of the best teams in the country. She put on shows at huge events such as PBR Super 64 and Battle in the Bayou against shoe sponsored teams. She made the USA team while playing for her father, not for a shoe sponsored team. Alexis did not have fellow All-Americans to lean on when facing multiple All-Americans. Consequently, she got better!
In a local example of this, Kyra Lambert had a great summer. The Top 20 player in the class of 2015 grew! When running into to her at Battle in the Boro, I asked how her summer was going. She replied that she was playing better. She went on to say that she had a tough time at the Oregon City End of the Trail, one of the best events in the county. She apparently faced junk defenses set out to neutralize her in Oregon. I smiled with satisfaction when hearing this. The 15 year old Lambert GOT BETTER! I was privy to the many opportunities she had to play for shoe sponsored teams this club season. One in particular, DFW Elite-Washington, now renamed Texas Prep Stars, went hard after Lambert. Texas Prep Stars is a great team featuring the incredible Lashann Higgs from the 2015 class. Besides Higgs, they feature another Top 20 guard in 2015 in Alyssa Dry. They also have the most exciting player in the state in 2013 Nakia Jones, a guard for Beaumont Ozone. Texas Preps feature at least two other Top 50 kids, one of them, Jordan Posey, is a probable Top 25 kid. Add the 6'4 BCS bound Kelsey Lang and you see the opportunity Lambert had to play with a truly elite(stacked) team. But, how much better would Lambert have gotten this summer sharing court time with these fellow Top 50 players? She surely would not have faced Box and 1 like junk defenses. She would not have struggled since she would have had so much BCS talent to lean on. Lambert led her Sophia Young Elite team against a Top 5 national team in the Georgia Metros(Nike). She also faced the top player in the country for 2013 according to ESPN Hoopgurlz, Mercedes Russell. In regards to development, who got better? Lambert or the many guards languishing on the benches of stacked teams across the country in the name of a shoe? Or in the name of a trophy? Or in the name of ranking? Who got better; Lambert by a landslide!
College- Back to the real reason to play club ball, scholarships. Here are some small comparisons to illustrate my point that the game is the game, despite shoe affiliation.
The University of New Mexico has commitments from Brooke Allemand and Alex Lapeyrolerie for 2013. Allemand plays for the independent SA Finest Blue and Lapeyrolerie plays for Nike sponsored Cy-Fair Shock's second team.
Tulane has commitments from Courtney Latham and Leslie Vorpahl. Latham plays for Nike Cy-Fair Shock-Coleman and Vorpahl plays for the independent SA Heat-Cantu.
Diamond Lockhart recently committed to Texas Tech. She plays for DFW Elite, a Nike sponsored team. Tesha Smith is being heavily recruited by the same Texas Tech and has the opportunity to attend the school if she chooses. Smith plays for the independent, SA Finest.
(For the record, I love the games of Alex Lap, Latham and Lockhart. I first saw Lap at a Houston tournament when she was a 7th grader and her length and athleticism was easily admired. I first took note of Latham at Texas A&M elite camp a couple years ago and loved her savvy game. I have been a Lockhart fan since her 8th grade year and she matched up against my squad in the Lady Rohawk event. She gave me fits!)
Again, this is not a knock on any Nike team and it is surely not a comparison between independent like SA Finest and national kingpins DFW Elite and Cy-Fair-Shock. There is no comparison! These Nike clubs are goliaths in the game!
What I am saying is that playing for independents has its advantages, just as playing for shoe sponsored clubs has advantages as well. I am addressing the widespread misperception that shoe sponsored clubs are superior to all independents and the fallacy that shoe sponsored teams better prepare kids for college.
Surely one advantage that I perceive shoe sponsored teams having is getting marginal players into BCS schools. I have not, nor will I ever name players on this blog in a negative way, however, take a look at how many ineffective bench warmers are sitting at BCS schools and you will find a large number of them who played for powerful shoe sponsored clubs. I have a 2 part theory behind the presence of so many BCS benchwarmers from power clubs.
First, BCS coaches wish to keep favorable relationships with power clubs. To do so, they take mediocre players for their level in hope that that club program will deliver their next superstars to them through loyalty. On more than a few college visits, I have been introduced to players in ways such as this, " This is Suzy Q, she is from such and such, and she played for (insert shoe sponsored club)." Inevitably, I sit and watch the team practice and see why I received the club resume of the player. In a good majority of the cases, she cannot play!!! The kids that CAN play, and played for shoe sponsored clubs, do not need the introductions or club team affiliation in the introduction. Their games speak for themselves! Geno Auriemma did not need to say that Maya Moore played for the Nike sponsored Georgia Metros when speaking of her.
The second reason that I believe so many BCS benches are being warmed by shoe sponsored former players is that many club coaches guide them wrongly through vanity. It is so much more of a recruiting tool if a club director can say "I have this kid at this BCS conference school." It is impressive on the website for a club to post how many NCAA tournament appearances that their BCS players have experienced. Never mind that a large portion of those kids may not have actually contributed much on the court. Instead on guiding players to mid-low major universities that their players CAN PLAY at, many power programs put vanity ahead of the best interest of their kids.
With all that being said, who would not want to be a Nike sponsored team? I would! As long as I could continue to develop and not amass a five figure recruiting and operating budget. Winning a tournament by over recruiting players that have been with me for years is not a cost that I am willing to pay right now. My naivety has me thinking that this is not the way club ball should be. But, what do I know? Probably not much!!!