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It Pays to Play the Game : Youth basketball: Recruiters lure players as young as 10 with free high-tech sneakers, free travel and sometimes even cash.


"In the spring, a lot of coaches just let their guys run up and down the floor and there is no benefit to kids," Mater Dei's Gary McKnight said.

McKnight started coaching in youth basketball but has developed California's premier high school program. His Monarchs won the Division I State championship last month.

"These coaches are almost like pimps," he said. "It's just an ego thing for them to be attached to the best kids."

Yet his players and most high school stars compete in Slam-n-Jam or ARC, for the simple reason that athletes who want to be recruited must participate.

"There are (few) college coaches who go and scout high school games anymore," said Coach Mike Miller, who led Ribet Academy of La Canada Flintridge to the Southern Section 1-A title this season.

"The players have to participate in the leagues now, otherwise they're passed by. There is a limited number of scholarships.

"Players are being led to the slaughter."

Those who survive hope to find their names on the next pair of big-selling sneakers. Those who fail are seldom heard from again.

Times staff writer Steve Elling contributed to this story.

PERSPECTIVES 'The system doesn't want to hear about saving any kids from the inner city. It wants to put the shoes on the next Michael Jordan.'


Youth basketball coach

'Whether people want to believe it or not, kids who play on all-star traveling teams are getting paid.'


Guard at Northern Arizona

THE MARKETPLACE * O'BANNON: The family of Ed O'Bannon, the Artesia High standout who is the Southland's prime recruiting target, has tried to shield its son from the college bidding wars. C12

* PRESSURES: Josh Oppenheimer, who attended Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, remembers being a recruiting target at 14. And he isn't happy about the decision he was drawn into making. C13

* DRAWING A CROWD: At 6-feet-10, 14-year-old Alex Lopez of Granada Hills is already attracting the interest of recruiters. C13

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