Tremaine Fowlkes of Crenshaw High was a relatively unknown college basketball prospect by national standards until he showcased his talents in summer tournaments in Michigan, California and Nevada.
The 6-foot-6 Fowlkes, who earned fame while competing in the Converse ABCD Summer Jam 1993 July 3-9 on the campus of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, is now considered one of the top five senior prospects in the state and one of the top 10 small forwards in the country.
"You look at the preseason scouting reports and Tremaine Fowlkes was nowhere to be found," ABCD organizer Sonny Vaccaro said. "He is a classic example of a player who made a name for himself while competing in national summer tournaments."
Often promoted by athletic shoe companies, the summer tournaments, which usually start the last week of June and run through July, provide an important showcase for players and give college coaches a chance to scout top seniors who are likely to agree to letters of intent during the Nov. 10-17 early signing period.
Critics, however, say that young athletes are exploited by shoe companies and other firms that sponsor the tournaments. Organizers offer perks such as free shoes, sporting equipment and athletic wear to lure top players to their summer tournaments. In exchange, athletes are often asked questions about the products and their responses are used to formulate marketing strategies for the shoe companies. The athletes also become walking advertisements for the athletic wear.
In addition, tournament organizers often waive entry fees for top players and use their names to promote tournaments and attract lesser-known players who pay hundreds of dollars to compete. Such perks to top players have drawn complaints from NCAA officials and coaches who believe they threaten the amateur standing of athletes before they reach college.
"I think summer camps can be worthwhile if people (are) not allowed to manipulate kids for personal reasons," said USC Coach George Raveling, an outspoken opponent of summer camps. "I don't have a problem when a player receives a scholarship because he cannot afford to attend the camp with his own means. I object to the 'gifts' that young people receive that ultimately cause a sense of obligation. I think all summer camps have gone too long being unregulated."
Vaccaro rebutted critics who say that only superstars receive financial help with fees and transportation. In fact, he said that the ABCD tournament does the opposite--that is, provides aid to players who would not ordinarily get a chance to participate.
"The purpose of the ABCD tournament is to treat everyone equally, to give the youths who can't pay for transportation and can't pay for equipment an opportunity to compete with the best players in the nation. Why penalize the masses to protect the few (superstars)?"
Raveling's cross-town rival, UCLA Coach Jim Harrick, and other coaches acknowledge that incentives are common in summer tournaments, but add that the competitions are the most effective way for scouts and coaches to see hundreds of players in a short time.
"The positives are we buy one airplane ticket and you get to see 100 to 125 of the top players competing against each other in one tournament," Harrick said. Harrick, who said he scouted more than 250 of the nation's best players in the ABCD and the Nike All-American Basketball Festival tournaments, has already received an unwritten commitment from 6-6 forward Toby Bailey of Loyola High and is projected to have one of the top recruiting classes in the country in 1994.
Bob Gibbons of Lenoir, N.C.-based All Star Sports, a respected basketball scouting service and recruiting newsletter, selects the 130 players who compete at the Nike tournament. He said the camps are important because each year 80 of his top 100 prospects sign in November. Considering that the high school basketball season does not start until the first week of December, and fewer scholarships are offered, college coaches cannot afford to make a mistake.
"I think summer camps and tournaments provide a forum for meaningful evaluation of players," Gibbons said. "During the high school season, coaches and scouts have to crisscross the nation to see talented individuals compete against overmatched or undersized opponents. It's hard to draw conclusions. Summer tournaments truly are the best situation because you see the best players compete against the best."
Bailey, who competed in the Nike tournament in July at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, returned home with a new pair of shoes, six T-shirts, three pairs of shorts, hats and a practice jersey. He said he did not feel exploited by the experience.
"I thought it was a lot of fun," he said. "I got to show how I ranked against the best players. I would be disappointed if my brother and his friends did not get a chance to participate in a national tournament."