Part II: A look at recruitment

U-News Staff

There were young boys going in and out of the facility wearing gym shorts, T-shirts or jerseys, and carrying gym bags or shoes. The building looked like a community center from the outside. Drawing closer, it was easy to see by the signs designating where coaches and players entered that this was no ordinary facility. The inside confirmed it: a tournament had commenced.

Tom Tietze was holding his Metro Sports Basketball Tournament at the Mid America Sports Complex West. A registration desk met coaches and players for payment at gym’s entrance. Metro Sports was present for coverage.

Beyond the foyer were four full-length basketball courts, each occupied with two teams competing. In between was a medical center to treat players. Some bleachers designated “Coaches” were roped off behind two courts. Unfortunately, all the coaches were seated behind one court, so only the players on that court were getting exposure. And exposure is exactly why everyone paid to come play. Coaches were recruiting.

This is the second article of a three-part series by the UNews titled “Basketball Recruiting.” This article covers the business side of basketball recruiting and its controversies.

Business: “Cottage Business”

The NCAA makes billions per year from its sports programs and media deals. It is in the middle of an 11-year, $6 billion television rights deal with CBS. In 2010-11, the largest portion (40.5 percent) of $78 million dollars distributed to conferences and member institutions through the “Basketball Distribution Fund” comes from NCAA basketball, according to the article “How Much Money do Conferences Earn From March Madness?”

NBA revenue was even higher last year at more than $3.8 billion, a 2012 NBA audit reported. The players made more than $2.1 billion collectively.

The money is huge. Include the fame of players such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, and it becomes apparent that basketball has become one of the most popular sports in the world. Such incentives create a demand for talent, which produces what Tietze calls the “cottage business.”

Every year, thousands of high school prospects play in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) leagues and tournaments sanctioned by the NCAA, and use scouting services in attempt to gain exposure to college coaches.

“It affords everything under one roof,” Tietze said about his tournament. “In Vegas, a coach would spend 80 to 90 percent of his time going from gym to gym.”

Tietze said NBA players Blake Griffin and Tyler Hansbrough played in his tournament, while Chicago Bulls point guard Derek Rose “had his coming out party” at one.

“Roy Williams (North Carolina men’s head coach) and Mike Kryzewski (Duke) came last year,” Tietze said.

That day, coaches from the University of Central Missouri, Park University and UMKC’s assistant coach Stephen Brough attended.

He said UMKC has participated since Coach Lee Holt, and now with men’s Head Coach Matt Brown.

“UMKC is always so kind to me,” he said. “I have been given media passes to the games.”

But Tietze’s and others’ services come with a cost.

Exposure or exploitation?

“Parents pay,” Tietze said. “That is what basketball has turned into in the past 10-12 years. These events have turned into family events.”

Indeed, amongst the screeches of basketball shoes, whistles screeching and balls bouncing, parents were cheering and videotaping their children. Players sat or were spread out on the sidelines watching the competition, waiting to play.

Bob Drake was in the stands videotaping his son Even Drake, a 6’1” guard who played with the Omaha Sports Academy Crusaders. They came from Nebraska to get exposure to college coaches for Even.

“I think this is great for the kids,” Bob Drake said.

“Exposure,” said Even Drake, who finished with 11 points, 11 assists and roughly seven rebounds, according to his dad. “And seeing the talent I can go up against.”

Last year, Even received letters from Yale, West Point and Division II colleges, but had not yet spoken to any coaches at the tournament. Bob said UMKC had recently watched video of his son.

The Drakes said they also use online recruiting websites.

“I have him on two recruiting websites, “Go Big Recruiting” and recruitment.com,” Bob said.

KC Spartans 17-year old point guard Shakha Benbow was standing with a friend, gym bag over his shoulder while waiting to play his next game.

“To get looked at by scouts and stuff,” Benbow said of his participation in the tournament. “I want to play at the next level.”

“I would be cool with UMKC, Southern Missouri, KU, K-State,” he continued. “But if I get an offer from a D-II, then I would go there.”

He admitted he had not yet been recruited.

Duane Baack, coach of Lincoln Southwest High School, said, “We want our kids to see some good competition to raise their level of game and make them play better. We are not Division I big time players. We need a little more exposure.”

Mia Estell sat in the stands with her son, 17-year old 6’3” guard Timothy Estell. They were waiting for Timothy’s team KC Gamespeed to play.

“Outside of the obvious recognition,” Mia said with purse in lap. “This is his passion. This is what he loves to do morning, noon and night. Literally.”

“There is some good competition,” Timothy said. “There is no weak team in the tournament. Every team has talent.”

Talent and exposure come at a price. There are a wealth of services available, which charge fees to get players exposure from online scouting services to tournaments and scouting services like Tietze’s.

“I have been in the high school scouting service for 23 years,” Tietze said about a scouting service he also owns. “I sell to colleges and universities. UMKC is a subscriber.”

Tietze is just one of many individuals or companies cashing in on the scouting and recruiting business. He said he worked in sales, but “got tired of being fired.” He said he decided to enter the scouting business after doing a survey of people, where three out of five people recommended it.

“I don’t have sponsors,” Tietze said. “Metro Sports has been great to work with.”

Al Johnson, of the Al Johnson Sports Management and Training in Dallas, said he charges a fee to “train and help kids get in a school.” He said he also receives money from sponsors like Adidas.

“Adidas gives us a stipend or budget,” Johnson said. “We have five or six teams. The top two are budgeted to make tournament.”

“For other teams it is a huge deal. Most try to take care of one team.”

Coach Baack said, “We have sponsorships. The kids have money, as well. We pool together.”

“Absolutely,” Mia Estell said of paying for her son to play. “Because he loves to do it. The money is worth it. He could be doing worse things. The least I can do is support him in this.”

Benbow said he did not have a sponsor.

“I had to pay,” Benbow said.

“Sometimes when you don’t make money, both benefit,” Tietze said of players and scouters.

Basketball over academics?

Some critics argue parents are more adamant about making their children focus on basketball than academics. Parents have been known to put a basketball in their child’s hands before they can even walk rather than a book.

“It can’t be any of this without that,” Mia said of academics for Timothy. “If it is not right in the classroom, there is no this.”

Timothy said he had a 2.6 GPA. Could it be a result of too much basketball?

“Too many,” Mia confided about the number of tournaments in which they participated over the summer. “We just got back from Indianapolis. We went to Minneapolis twice. I can’t name them all.”

Benbow said he had participated in about four or five events, but has a 3.6 GPA.

“I am going to college on an academic scholarship,” he said. “It would be nice to have a partial one to play.”

“A more condensed tournament would streamline finances and be a better environment for the students,” Tietze said. “This is supposed to be for the kids. Are we interested?”

Good question. It will be argued for years to come, but the NCAA attempts to answer it now.

Rules, rules, rules

The NCAA attempts to oversee the recruiting process with the best interests of the student athletes and with the integrity of the game in mind. It governs every step in the recruiting process, even down to the signs in Tietze’s tournament.

“I do not get involved in the recruiting process,” Tietze said. “All of the things you see here are not because I want to, but mandated by NCAA rules.”

Tietze was referring to the signs posted designating where coaches and players enter and register.

“The summer events lost the ability to control,” Tietze explained. “The NCAA stepped in and made minimum requirements for NCAA coaches to attend.”

What happens in summer basketball can be good or bad.

One UCM coach said, “They are much more restrictive. When I started, there weren’t many rules. I think it has changed for the better. It is a little more sane. Restrictions are good.”

“They are allowing more contact at an earlier time,” he added, referring to the new rule change for coaches to use unlimited text messaging.

“Coaches being able to text message gives them an advantage,” said Quannas White, a former point guard for Oklahoma University who is now coach of the Louisiana Dynasty. “I think it is good for them. It helps them reach out through media.”

Not everybody is content with the NCAA rules.

“They are trying to control something that can’t be controlled,” Johnson said. “They (student athletes) are going to have a high school or AAU coach, or uncle or somebody they talk to depending on the situation.”

“I don’t know why they are not allowed to talk to players at any time,” Even Drake said. “I want to know why.”

“I would like to see where coaches can talk to kids more,” Bob Drake said. “I would like to see the rules simplified for kids to speak to them.”

Bob said that he attempted to speak to a UMKC coach at the tournament, but the coach refused to speak with him because of the rules. Regardless of their opinion of the rules, his son continued to play in the tournament with hopes of good exposure.

The results

In a follow-up interview, Benbow said his team won only one out of three games in which he averaged six points, five assists, one steal and “two or three rebounds.”

“No coaches,” Benbow said of his exposure. “You have to get out of pool play for that.”

“If anything, I got to play against better competition.”

“The tournament was good,” Bob Drake said. “Even had a real strong game. He went five-for-five from three-point range.”

He said they have not heard from any coaches yet.

“If you are not from a well-known team, it is hard,” he said. “Last year around September we started receiving letters- Yale, Harvard, Lafayette. We’ll see in September.”

If a player is not ranked, then it is hard to get a scholarship. However, there are those who are not ranked who do receive scholarship offers. With several options, why do they choose UMKC? In the final article of this series, we will explore why players chose to play at UMKC.

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