It is fitting that July's travel schedule for the basketball recruiting world starts out with fireworks. The month is certainly colorful, loud and dramatic.
Players, parents, college coaches and scouts bounce around the country for individual camps and AAU tournaments in cities from coast-to-coast. This year's schedule is even busier than last year's, but it will be a little different.
College coaches have two 10-day periods where they can travel the country and evaluate players in person. July 6-15 is the first period, and the second stretch runs July 22-31.
Are the shoe camps really gone?
Last fall, shoe companies Nike, adidas and Reebok announced the cancellation of their respective All-American camps. Nike changed its approach and focused on skill development. Instead of a one-time, one-week camp in Indianapolis, Nike switched to more skill development by positions.
The five-camp, invitation-only series featured 20 players at each position. NBA stars Steve Nash, Vince Carter, Amare Stoudamire and Kobe Bryant were hosts of the positional camps, and the All-Stars worked closely with the invitees.
Players will travel to Akron, Ohio, for the LeBron James US Skills Academy July 6-9. The camp has a similar feel to the Nike All-American camp. The top AAU players on teams under the Nike umbrella will participate.
Sonny Vaccaro, the godfather of grassroots basketball, will no longer run his famed ABCD camp in Teaneck, N.J. Reebok will instead run Rbk U in Philadelphia. The camp will feature 120 players from across the country and uses the same model of the ABCD camp.
Adidas no longer runs an All-American camp in the Atlanta area. Replacing the event is the Adidas It Takes 5ive Classic, a 32-team event in Cincinnati. The event will highlight adidas' top travel teams in the country.
Adidas also created adidas Nations, a collection of 24 players from across the country in the 2008 and 2009 classes. The teams are working closely with former NBA coach and player Paul Silas. The group will play other adidas created teams from Asia, Europe and South America in August.
Like the recent National Basketball Players Association Top 100 camp and the USA Youth Development Hoop Festival, the Nike and Reebok settings allow observers to see the best of the best against the best of the best.
The changes in the camps don't translate into changes for college coaches, though. Bouncing around from event to event is a reality for head coaches and their tireless assistants, says Rivals.com's Jerry Meyer.
"These new schedule shouldn't change things too much," Meyer said. "They will still be navigating multiple events, looking at the wide-open 2009 class and showing the love to top 2008 targets. They will also be making final determinations on whether they will offer certain prospects. July is a month where coaches have to make some tough decisions."
Talk to any college coach on July 5, and plans are only finalized for one week. Last minute changes happen, red-eye flights are common and detailed courses of action are discussed and rehashed by staffs.
Team tournaments heat up in July
After the first week of action, players generally reunite with their AAU clubs. The Nike Peach Jam, which takes place in the middle of the month, is one of the premiere events on the circuit.
The 24-team field features the top Nike travel teams in the country. With a light schedule of two games a day at the wonderful Riverview Park Athletic Center, coaches can see a lot in a relaxed setting.
Coaches will balance the Peach Jam with a number of other major events during the same period. There is the Playaz Ball in New Jersey and the Hoop Group's Harley Davidson Jam Fest in West Virginia.
A week's rest for the coaches is certainly welcomed in the middle of the month. However, events certainly go on in this window. The inaugural Grassroots Basketball of America Hoops Challenge of Champions begins July 19 in Las Vegas. The event promises to feature 24 of the top AAU teams in the country.
Then comes the marathon. July 22-26 is one of the busiest times of the year for all parties involved with the basketball travel circuit. Three major tournaments (Main Event, adidas Super 64 and the Reebok Championship) all happen during this time.
Nearly every hotel room, every 12-passenger bus and every global positioning system is reserved in Las Vegas. The mercury on the thermometer is constantly pushing 110 degrees. The games run from 8 a.m. to midnight (sometimes later). What else would you expect from a tournament in Sin City?
Incredibly, Las Vegas does not host all of the travel teams in the country. The AAU Super Showcase in Orlando is also an important stop on the schedule. The event is similar to the Nike Peach Jam in terms of teams. A number of programs stay in Orlando for two weeks in order to participate in the AAU 17-and-under national tournament, which concludes Aug. 1.
Making sense of it all
The month is busy, to say the least.
What is the positive of the constant travel and nearly 30 games of action in 30 days for players? Scholarships and exposure.
For news outlets like Rivals.com, the month is also important in the evaluation process.
"For Rivals.com, July is a time for us to make some tough decisions regarding rankings," Meyer said. "We make sure we see prospects that we might have missed earlier in the travel season."