by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
On Sunday, May 23rd at Attack Athletics in Chicago, Nike held it’s first ever Pre-Draft Camp series for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade basketball players. The premise of the camp is that it presents an opportunity for kids to experience workouts and skills training that before now, were only eligible to athletes at the higher levels of basketball. The participants were taken through multiple stations around the Attack facility to work on things like ball-handling, shooting, and basketball scenarios aimed at increasing their basketball IQ.
But the one-day camp also served an even bigger purpose.
Carlton DeBose, who is Nike Basketball’s Elite Youth Field Rep, sat down with me to discuss the larger goal of the camp which could be coming to a city near you.
SLAM: So what is the purpose of Nike putting together an event like this?
Carlton DeBose: Well, what we’re really trying to do is identify the next generation of players out of each area that we hold these events in and by identifying them at the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade levels, we also want to play a role in their development by exposing them to what’s done at the highest levels.
SLAM: When you say that you want to play a role in their development, what’s the end game?
CD: Even though a lot of these kids are skilled, we want them to see how much work goes into playing at the highest levels and we want to lay a foundation that they can build upon in an effort to hopefully get them to achieve their dreams.
SLAM: What was the thought process or the reason behind the need to identify players at the earliest stages of their development?
CD: I’ll give you a good example. A majority of the kids who participate in the Nike Hoops Jamboree [held annually in St. Louis, MO] are sophomores in high school. Some freshmen make it, but a majority of them are sophomores. By that time–especially if a player is really good–they’re already so well established in their habits that in our limited time with them, it’s hard to break them from those habits, and a lot of those habits are bad. So we feel that by putting kids in the Pre-Draft system, say in the 6th grade, we can work with them that year and also in the 7th and 8th grade too and that gives us three years to work with them at the earliest stages of their development.
SLAM: And after those initial three years have passed, what happens next?
CD: Then they leapfrog into the next stage which is the Nike Hoops Jamboree if they turn out to be pretty good freshmen and sophomores in high school. From there, then they’ll go on to one of the Nike Skills Academies. So that gives us a minimum of six years to aid in a players development if we identify them in the 6th grade and of course if we don’t get them until the 7th or 8th grade, then it becomes a minimum of four to five years that we can work with them. We’re just trying to establish a situation where we can get to them earlier.
SLAM: What is the experience level of the coaches taking them through the drills?
CD: It’s a mixture. Some of these guys have played at the highest levels, some of them coach high school, and some coach at the college level. A lot of times you have people who have experience in the higher levels of basketball but for whatever reason can’t teach a younger kid. So we make sure to not only get people across multiple experience levels, but who can also teach and have a passion for the development of kids.
SLAM: I can tell. Watching the instructors here today, there is a lot of stopping and coaching going on at each station.
CD: That’s the idea of it. A lot of the guys here today have high school coaching experience, college coaching experience, some train pros and college guys, and some have experience working with the age and grade level of the kids here today.
SLAM: So this is like the pilot or the kick-off, if you will, and the plan is to expand to other cities across the country?
CD: Yeah. This is the pilot and we’re going to do more cities coming up real soon throughout the summer.
SLAM: Is there something bigger planned beyond just holding events like this or are these camps just strictly being used to identify the best of the best?
CD: Yes, actually there is something planned past this. In May 2011, we’ll have an event for the best players that we identified in all of the cities. Kind of like a big showcase type of event.
SLAM: Is there a cost associated with this event?
CD: Yeah, well for this one, the cost was $95 per kid. That includes instruction, a guest speaker, lunch, and Nike products which includes a t-shirt, a reversable jersey, and shorts for all of the participants.
A special thanks to Nike and Carlton DeBose for allowing me access into this event. The idea is phenomenal, the instruction I observed was on point, and the kids were really receptive. While there were a lot of players who showed great potential and tons of upside, three stood out to me as head and shoulders above the rest.
Jahlil Okafor is a 6-8 power post-player who is also a distant cousin of the New Orleans Hornets Emeka Okafor. He’s extremely skilled around the basket and already has a scholarship offer from DePaul. Paul White is a 6-5 guard with ridiculous basketball skills that I observed two weeks ago in an 8th grade all-star game. Both Okafor and White are planning to enroll at Whitney Young High School as freshman in the fall.
Christian Jackson is a dazzling young PG in the class of 2015. Although small in stature, what he lacks in size he more than makes up for in his excellent understanding and feel for the game. His father is Loren Jackson, a well known prep coach here in Chicago who coached current NBA Draft prospects Mac Koshwal from DePaul, Craig Brackins from Iowa State, anda number of high level basketball players throughout the years including Sean Dockery who played at Duke.
Put these three kids on your radar now as you’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the coming years.