As has been pointed out on this website and others, summer basketball continues to experience significant change. First it was the reduction in the number of days college coaches could attend spring and summer basketball events to evaluate recruits; then it was the demise of the traditional all-star type summer basketball camps where elite level hoopers could audition for college scholarships, then Sunny Varcarro was "tricked" into shutting down his basketball empire, and recently, the NCAA currently has pending legislation designed tp bar or limit grassroots basketball events from being held on D-I college campuses. Although I could cite may other examples of change over the past few years, for the purposes of this story, I'm going to focus on Nike's brand new initiative for its summer events.
During a recent Nike business meeting in Las Vegas last week, Nike brass unveiled a revolutionary concept for their stable of summer basketball tournaments. Traditionally, Nike and its grassroots basketball programs came together several weekends over the summer to participate in key tournaments such as the Boo Williams Invitational, Nike Memorial Day Tournament, Main Event and the ever-popular Peach Jam. However, starting this summer, the "Nike circuit" will be replaced by-drum roll please-the Nike Youth Basketball League. Whats this league all about you ask? Over four weekends this summer, Nike's 42 travel teams will all meet in Virginia (Boo Williams), Houston, Los Angeles, and South Carolina (Peach Jam), to face off against other Nike teams within their divisions as part of league play.
No longer will Nike-sponsored teams be participating in traditional Nike tournaments, where kids play up to 6-7 games per weekend in search of championships and trophies. Instead, the various Nike weekends will involve 5-6 league games, with the hopes of making it to the league championship tournament and winning a league championship "similar to what you would find in the NBA," said All-Ohio's Jerry Watson. "I like the new concept," said John Stovall, a long-time Nike rep. "Nike is trying to get away from travel basketball (having kids) and playing every week. Nike is trying to take things to another level," added Stovall. "Every five years Nike rolls out new initiatives, and this year, the Nike League is it," continued Stovall.
Although players will no longer play for championships every weekend, "making games more important," said Stovall, the competition will be much greater, as there will no longer be the blowouts you traditionally see in pool play of regular tournaments. The number of games will be reduced and the value of a championship will be much greater, like what you find in college," stated Stovall. In addition, the exposure opportunities will be great, as most of the national media will be attending these events, and "Nike's entire staff will be at every event," continued Stovall.
The Nike Youth Basketball League will tip off the weekend of April 9-11th at the Boo Williams Invitational, followed by Houston April 30 - May 2nd, Los angeles the weekend of may 29-31st, and the league will culminate in the league championship at the Peach Jam in Augusta, North Carolina the weekend of July 12-15th. Nike will still host the various positional skills academies including the LeBron James Skills Academy, and Nike teams will continue to attend other more traditional tournaments at Spiece, King James and AAU showcases and national championships, but make no mistake, this new league represents significant change and could be the harbinger of even more changes in grassroots basketball. Stay tuned, the winds of change are blowing!