The Hoopster Superhustle
July's high school meat market fuels November's college teams
Kortsen, who spent more than a decade as a high school and college basketball coach, also makes good money. Though he won't say how much, he admits to bringing in more than a top college assistant's $100,000 annual salary. Each summer, 450 kids pay $330 a pop for the three-day camp event, coaches shell out $60 for a directory of campers and 40 or more teams pay $500 each to play in the tournament he runs. As a sideline, Kortsen owns a gym in Columbus, Ohio.
During the winter, the event director crisscrosses the country networking with high school coaches to make sure he gets a few blue-chip players at his camp. Without them, college recruiters won't come. Forging bonds with top prospects is part of the job, but it can cause problems for teens. Sonny Vaccaro, formerly director of the elite Nike All-American Camp and now head of Adidas's ABCD Camp, recently admitted buying clothes for New York's Lamar Odom, one of this year's top high school players. The NCAA can do nothing to Vaccaro, but Odom could lose his college eligibility.
THE PLAYER Travis Young's biggest advantage is knowing Kortsen. A senior at Zanesville High School in Ohio, he hopes to study business management, but his divorced parents can't afford to pay for college. His older brother, Edwin, who was a top player in the state last year and now plays for the University of Dayton, was a magnet for recruiters. But Young isn't quite in the same league. So he went to camp to improve his chances.
Young met Kortsen through his brother, then worked as a coach and referee at Kortsen's gym. Though NCAA bylaws prohibit event directors from giving tuition waivers or free transportation to players, Kortsen skirted the rule by including Young's camp tuition as part of his salary. The teenager also got a free trip to play for a Kortsen-organized team in a Las Vegas tournament (legal under NCAA rules because Kortsen wasn't running that event).
When talking to recruiters about Young, Kortsen moves into selling mode. The kid is "one of the best-kept secrets in Ohio," he tells them. Hundreds of college scouts attend the Adidas camp and the Las Vegas tournament, and Young did well at both events, triggering strong interest from Marshall University, Xavier University, Washington State and Youngstown State. Last week, he took a full scholarship from Marshall in Huntington, W.Va.
The vast majority of Young's fellow campers will not be so lucky. Out of 540,000 kids who play in high school, only 4,500 go on to play Division I basketball--a teenager has a better chance of getting accepted at Harvard. With such bleak odds, critics argue that the hype of summer coaches and event directors can give many kids bloated egos and unrealistic expectations. "Kids get into these camps and do well, and all of a sudden they think they are the best thing to happen to basketball," says Milton Barnes, until recently an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota. "You can't even talk to them about what the truth is about their abilities." Free goodies showered on elite athletes by companies like Nike and Adidas don't help. Though gifts of apparel or equipment are prohibited at camps, the NCAA has received reports that some shoe companies still dodge the rules, sending merchandise to top players after they've gone home.