Vaccaro leaving camps to work on academy
Summer basketball will not be the same, at least not the way the current hip NBA generation grew up playing it.
Nope, the summer scene is officially in a transition now that Sonny Vaccaro, the godfather of the summer scene, is ending his affiliation with all-star camps and tournaments after reaching a settlement with Reebok last Friday on his deal that had two years remaining.
Vaccaro told ESPN.com early Monday that he's done with the ABCD All-Star camp, an event that has seen plenty of high-profile players -- like LeBron James, Sebastian Telfair and most recently O.J. Mayo, Bill Walker and Kevin Love.
Vaccaro, 67, said he has also pulled out of running the Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas that takes place later in July. The Big Time Tournament has long been the destination for summer league teams, playing games in a number of Vegas high school gyms over a five-day period. This event has had a slew of must-see games for the locals, like when the AAU team called the Atlanta Celtics came through with a frontline of Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Randolph Morris. James' crew out of Ohio played when he was a high school freshman and sophomore.
Vaccaro said he wasn't sure if Reebok would run a tournament in Las Vegas on its own, but it won't be called Big Time since Vaccaro owns the name of the camp.
Vaccaro's decision comes on the heels of adidas/Reebok making an independent decision last fall to pull out of the summer camps. Nike also dumped its all-American camp in Indianapolis but then came back with a similar set of all-star camps with a smaller pool. Nike also launched "skill" camps named after NBA players James, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire that take place in late June and early July.
Vaccaro said it was ironic that the NCAA and Nike are all about finding people to teach the fundamentals then built their programs around three players who he knows quite well, but who skipped high school and went directly to the NBA.
College coaches traditionally rotated through each of the three sneaker camps, going from New Jersey (ABCD) to Indianapolis (Nike) to Atlanta (adidas). But this summer only Nike's select skill camps will exist for a few days during the July evaluation period. There are still AAU tournaments in mid-to-late July for college coaches to evaluate, but taking Vaccaro out of the mix means the top players probably won't congregate in one place and in one event in late July. For years, Vaccaro and Nike grassroots director George Raveling, onetime good friends who evolved into fierce competitors, worked to get select players to their camps. The recruiting feeding frenzy is likely over at many summer camps.
Vaccaro said he would run his Roundball Classic April 3 at Chicago's United Center this year, but that it would likely be his last. This event generally draws the most players of any of the postseason all-star events.
Vaccaro said he's not retiring and will move forward on his proposed Basketball Academy which he said has strong support from NBA commissioner David Stern. He said the academy could be in three or four cities within two years, serving as a training ground for some of the top high school players in the country. The academies would also be affiliated with a local high school to provide educational opportunities. Vaccaro said anyone who says the academy won't happen because kids don't want to leave home can look at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. "What do you think that is," Vaccaro said. "Parents are sending their kids to an academy already.''
He said he would do speaking engagements and will pen a memoir of his 43 years in summer grassroots basketball. Vaccaro is well known for getting college coaches to sign with Nike when he worked with the shoe giant. Vaccaro has worked for all of the big there in basketball -- Nike, adidas and Reebok.
The majority of high-profile players in college and in the NBA, have come across Vaccaro in some way. You can't go to a summer event without seeing Vaccaro being embraced by a former camper-turned-NBA-veteran who is quite possibly an All-Star. His reach within the coaching community, on all levels, is strong.
Vaccaro has always been one of the most outspoken people in the game and now he said he can continue to offer up his thoughts without any affiliation with a sneaker company.
The last don in the game isn't gone, but he won't have as visible a presence as he has for decades.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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