Amidst the doldrums of the NBA’s off-season, 135 of the best high school players in the country gathered Thursday to turn Philadelphia University into the apex of the basketball universe.
At Reebok’s Breakout Challenge, hosted in East Falls for the fifth time, the top non-seniors from across the United States competed in training sessions and games in front of coaches, scouts, and a few Reebok-branded NBA stars.
“For me, it was a no-brainer to hold the camp here,” said Brian Lee, Reebok’s Director of Global Basketball and a Philadelphia University alum. “After 2005, we were looking for a new location, and I came by and met with Tom [Shirley, the University’s athletic director], with whom I’ve had a relationship for a long time. We walked around the facilities, he told me to do it here, and I didn’t even get on the plane to Chicago to check out the next possible spot.”
The goal of the camp, and of others like it, is to get noticed – for the players to impress the college coaches in attendance, make names for themselves nationally along the recruiting trail, and compete for scholarship offers. Washington Wizards guard John Wall exemplifies the journey from unknown to superstar; his success in the 2007 camp spurring him from an unranked high school player into the top pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Coaches, and Reebok representatives, were here in Philadelphia looking to find the next Wall.
“You basically know who you’re looking at,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, “but you want to keep an eye open for younger guys, or maybe somebody that catches your eye.”
A mix of talent
Half of the camp’s players were selected as top performers at Reebok’s Showdown Series of travel team tournaments or head-to-head competition at tryout camps, and the other half was nominated by an evaluation panel scouring the country for the best high school talent.
“We’ve designed the selection process to allow kids who aren’t ranked, aren’t being recruited heavily, to play themselves into this camp,” Lee said. “Like [Wall] did, players can come out of nowhere, impress coaches and make themselves known.”
The Philadelphia region, always ripe with basketball talent, saw six of its own players make the quick journey to the corner of Henry Avenue and School House Lane. Friends Central’s Karonn Davis, Imhotep Charter’s Brandon Austin, Germantown Academy’s Julian Moore, Robert Vaux’s Rysheed Jordan and St. Joseph Prep’s Miles Overton (son of former 76er Doug) were selected as among the best players among rising seniors, with Freire Charter’s Jahyde Gardiner representing the Class of 2014.
Moore, a 6’10” center already fielding offers from Bucknell and Colgate, wants to prove that he can do the little things that help teams win games. “I want to show that I have a really good motor, hit jump shots, get to the basket, get rebounds and box out.”
While coaches can’t communicate with, or even talk about, specific players because of NCAA rules during this summer evaluation period, Southern Methodist University head coach Larry Brown, in his first tour of duty on a college bench since 1988, echoed Moore’s sentiment about what kind of player he is looking for.
“We’re not necessarily looking to always bring in kids who will score 20 points a game,” said Brown, the 71-year-old Hall of Fame coach who helmed the 76ers during much of the Allen Iverson era. “Guys need to play their game and know their role in a team concept, and I want guys who are going to fit in and do the little things around that 20-point scorer.”
The Gallagher Athletic Center drew high praise from Temple head coach Fran Dunphy, a Drexel Hill native who enjoys the local flavor of Reebok’s camp. “I think Philadelphia University has done a wonderful job of hosting, and I think everybody, especially the kids, appreciates the opportunity to be here. I think Philadelphia is the best college basketball city in the world, and it trickles down to the high schools, so it’s nice.”
“I think it’s great to bring the basketball world to Philly, and we all know in Philadelphia how important basketball is and how much basketball means to our community,” said Wright. “I think when you have an event like this here, it makes a statement nationally that we’re a great basketball town.”