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A Basketball Camp Where Basketball Is Not King

July 16, 1988

PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) _ Like most basketball camps, it pulls in many of the top high school players in the nation and every major college coach. Unlike the others, more time is spent in the classroom than on the court.

In fact, basketball is only on the agenda for four hours in a very structured 16-hour day at the Nike-ABCD camp.

″Our camp teaches student-athletes to put basketball in its proper perspective,″ said Sonny Vaccaro, NIKE’s advisory board director. ″We impress upon the student-athletes, while they’re still young, that what they do in the classroom will affect their future more than their performances on the court.″

Vaccaro had some harsh facts for the players at the camp last week: Only 276 of the 500,000 athletes who play high school basketball during a given four-year period will eventually make it to the NBA.

Camp literature says that only one of 10 who do make it to the NBA leave school with a college degree.

″I think the student-athlete has been exploited throughout the past 50 years,″ said Frank DuBois, the academic director of the camp since its inception 11 years ago. ″People like to be entertained and they are entertained by these young men, whether it be in football or basketball. We watch them on TV and they become heroes, but what happens to them afterwards is a shame.″

Avoiding those post-basketball problems and earning a degree is the big lesson taught to the 120 high school blue-chip athletes who still have at least one year of school left.

The advice, the lodging at Princeton University and the basketball they play are free, furnished by Nike for about $200,000, according to Vaccaro. The schedule features 7 a.m. wakeup calls, three-hour morning classes, two separate lectures during the day, four hours of basketball, a couple of hours to eat and rest, capped with an 11 p.m. bedcheck.

It all starts less than 24 hours after the players arrive when they sit down and take the Gates-MacGinitie (reading) Comprehension Test and sample math section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

″We never know the type of (student) we are getting here,″ DuBois said, adding players are told in advance that academics are a big part of the camp. ″In comprehension, they range from third-grade level to 12.9, which is off the scale.″

DuBois said the first thing counselors need to determine is whether the test results are accurate.

″In my experience, there are some kids who are very, very slow,″ said DuBois, a counselor at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in suburban Chicago. ″There isn’t a whole lot you can do for a student like that. For the majority, there is usually something they missed along the line, maybe structural analysis or they did not have phonics, and they can be helped.″

Once the test results are in, classes are formed with those in need of the most help placed in smaller classes. The 12 teachers in the program are from around the country, with the three in the lower level being specialists in behavorial disorder, special education and reading.

The middle and upper levels of the program are staffed by high school English teachers.

All test results are sent to the parents of the students and DuBois said no copy is kept on record by camp officials.

Students in the middle and upper levels spend their class time learning how to take lecture notes, improving memory, acquiring proper study habits, learning strategies for taking exams, using a college library, writing college applications and knowing how to question would-be recruiters on academic programs, tutors and financial aid.

DuBois said Proposition 48 - the rule which set standards for eligibility in Division I - has caused the biggest change in the program, which was taken over by Nike six years ago from a group called Athletes for Better Education.

″Three years ago we had 12 or 13 seniors who signed up for our SAT prep course,″ he said. ″Last year there were 80 and we had to change our whole curriculum in a day.″

Nike does not end its involvement with the students once the camp ends, DuBois said. On alternating months, students and parents receive letters about upcoming SAT tests, filing college applications, applying for student loans and grants.

″Teen-agers tend to think parents are the stupidest people on the face of the earth,″ DuBois said. ″We try to inform parents about what has to be done so they can say, ’Have you registered for the October 12th SAT? Let’s get the packet home and fill it out. I want it done this weekend.‴

Deron Johnson, a senior forward from Sunnyside, Ariz., said one of the keys to enjoying the camp is coming in with the right attitude and accepting the fact that going to class is part of the program.

″To be honest, I was hoping we could just go and play basketball,″ Johnson said. ″But you can always improve learning. They are trying to teach us to be better students that we are.″

Forward Aaron Bain of Falls Church, Va. said the camp helps most of the athletes get their priorities straight.

″They talk about reading and how important that is for you in the off season, so you don’t fall behind,″ Bain said. ″It’s especially important in the senior year when you have a lot of pressure as far as picking a school. You have to be able to settle down and relax.″

The camp also is a pressure cooker because almost every Division I program is represented, usually by a head coach and a leading assistant. No contact is permitted between the coaches and players, so coaches generally bring an arsenal of T-shirts, caps and shorts emblazoned with college logos just to let students know they are around.

″Two things come out of this, time-saving and cost-saving,″ Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps said. ″I think when ADs and college presidents are figuring out ways to cut recruiting costs, what you do here in a week, saves you about three months work in December, January and February.″

″We happen to be in New Jersey so this is a short ride for us,″ Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo said. ″But if we were in the furthest place in the world, we would still be coming here because the money you would spend to see this many athletes is the best. You double the advantage too because they are playing against each other and that’s what you evaluate when you see a kid.″

Many players said they have learned to ignore the coaches at the camp, especially if they are attending it for the second time.

″My first year I was very jittery,″ guard Kenny Anderson of Archbishop Molloy in New York. ″I was anxious to play. As the years have gone by I have matured. I know what I am capable of doing on the court so I just play ball and have fun.″

DuBois said his biggest frustration is that the camp only helps 120 athletes a year.

″This is a nice showcase center,″ he said. ″But this needs needs to be around on state levels everywhere. We needs tons of regional things like this.″

End Adv For Weekend Editions of July 16-17

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