by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
For the past six years, the last weekend of August has marked a very special time for prep hoop fans around. The Elite 24, an all-star game that brings together 24 of the top players in the country regardless of class, has given fans, college coaches, and scouts an opportunity to watch who we could look forward to hearing their named called in the NBA Draft just two years later.
Who could ever forget the inaugural game in 2006 that eventually ended up being the feature of the documentary Gunnin ‘for that #1 spot? (That year the game was held September 1st though).
Every single player featured in that film is now in the NBA. EVERY.
In this past June’s NBA Draft, nine former Elite 24 participants were selected in the first round alone, including 3rd pick Brad Beal and 4th pick Dion Waiters. In total, twelve former Elite 24 players were selected in the 2012 NBA Draft, after counting second round Draft picks Quincy Miller, Will Barton and Doron Lamb. Ten of the players selected in the 2012 Draft played in the 2009 Elite 24 game in New York. Last year? Eight former participants heard their name called in the first round, including the No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving. Overall, 44 players have been drafted to the NBA from the six Elite 24 games that have been played so far.
The title of the documentary Gunnin’ for the #1 Spot is actually the best way to put the game’s importance in a nutshell—from a player’s perspective, at least. See, although none of the youngsters playing in Saturday’s night game will probably admit it (except for maybe a handful), the players partaking know exactly what they are playing for—the rights to earn the #1 spot in the rankings, in the eye of the public, scouts, media, and everyone else who cares.
It means something to them. If you are an athlete then you’re a competitor, and if you’re a competitor then you are always looking to be on top. To say you’re the best, the top ranked player in the country means a lot to these young athletes.
“In basketball, it’s definitely about being the best, showing and proving it,” says Mike Parker, Director of Brand Marketing at Under Armour. “I think these kids are no different. They all have something to prove. Whether it is establishing a reputation, or what have you, I think that’s just the competitor nature. No ones wants to be showed up and everyone wants to leave with their names intact.”
And although, the majority of them have played against each other in the AAU circuit throughout the years, it is only in a single game like this that you can have the best players regardless of class go at it against each other without having to hope that the brackets come through in a way that allows for individual matchups to happen. At the Elite 24, each is the best from their respective state. In addition, for the players participating, the festivities surrounding the game also separate this event from the rest.
For example, last night the invited players got a chance to play against NBA players in a midnight run. Julius Randle, along with Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Emmanuel Mudiay and Isaac Hamilton started against an NBA starting five composed of James Harden, Brandon Jennings, DeMar Derozan, Will Barton and Austin Nichols. The Elite 24 players would eventually be subbed in for another five invitees after. What other all-star game do HS players get a chance to play full court against a team composed of NBA guys?
This summer sparked some debate as to who’s really the #1 HS player in the country. There are those who stick with Chicago’s Jabari Parker. Then there are those who argue for the explosive Julius Randle from Texas. And there are those who side with junior sensation (although rumors are that he could be reclassifying to the 2013 class very soon, with the start of classes looming) Andrew Wiggins—a Toronto, Canada native who attends Huntington Prep in West Virginia.
Andrew Wiggins has wasted little time in letting the world know that he believes he’s the best player in the nation. At the Peach Jam in South Augusta, S.C., Wiggins got the opportunity to go at it against Randle. Wiggins finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds, while Randle tabbed in 15 points and 13 rebounds. Wiggins also got the W. Afterward, he was quoted by multiple media outlets as saying “Everyone has different opinions. If they think I’m better, then that’s their opinion. I think I’m the best”…. “I’ll put myself in front of everyone.” Lets not forget that Wiggins led the World Team past Shabazz Muhammad and Team USA at Nike Hoop Summit in April.
So with Jabari Parker having missed most of the summer circuit due to a foot injury, is he still the best player in the nation? What about if Wiggins ends up reclassifying to the 2013 class like it has been speculated for some time?
As for Randle, we’re pretty sure he remembers what happened last time he and Wiggins were on court together. So this time around, (although the 24 players have been revealed, the specific team rosters have not, and so we don’t know if Randle and Wiggins will be playing together in the same team or against each other; but we do know we would love to see them go at it once again) we can expect him to want to prove his case and outshine the rest of his peers this Saturday.
But for Under Armour, the reason for wanting to be part of this event isn’t to find the top player, but to help the top players find the type of training they’ll need in order to succeed at the next level. The same type of challenging and rigorous training that has made the Baltimore-based company quite known for in the gridiron. “We are part of this because we want to help guys get better and make their journey as easy as possible through the training, and the different things we bring to the table to these athletes,” adds Parker. Players will be participating in a Grind Sessions workout, where they will partake in an intense curriculum that’s incorporated to maximize each player’s potential and mimic an NBA player’s workout.
Aside from the aforementioned studs, the game will feature Andrew Harrison, who’s without question the best point guard in the nation. Think strength, speed, high basketball IQ, and triple-threat—that’s what you get from Harrison. I’ve literally seen him take three people with him to the hole. Staying on the point guard topic, the top point guard in the 2014 class, Tyus Jones, will also be playing this year. If only Jones and Harrison could be on opposite teams, that would be another great match-up to look out for. Another highly touted point guard is North Carolina-bound Nate Britt. In addition, the top shooting guard in the country, and twin brother of Andrew, Aaron will be in attendance.
This year’s participants will be donning brand new gear featuring newly launched Elite 24 edition colorways. The first photo above shows the white uniforms that participants of Friday night’s Skillz Challenge (3-point contest and dunk contest) will be wearing. As for the kicks, the fresh custom red Micro G Torches will be on sale at UA.com and Eastbay beginning today (Thursday, August 23) for $89.99. The second photo shows the technologically enhanced game day gear that the Elite 24 participants will be suiting up with. According to Under Armour, “the next-to-skin fit creates less drag, allowing athletes to move up and down the court with greater speed and the mesh back panel keeps athletes cool and dry in the Venice Beach heat!” As for the kicks in this photo, the reflective launches August 24 while the Poison/Black will be available on August 25.
Under Armour was initially involved with the Elite 24 festivities by helping train participants with its famously rigorous workout sessions. Then UA proceeded to outfit each player with custom-made uniforms and exclusive sneakers. Now they play an even bigger role. “I think we have kind of grown with the event and were integrated in different areas,” says Parker. “And now this year, for the first time, we’re the title sponsor. It’s kind of a natural progression, we’ve grown with it through the seven years. ”
Now with the title change, Under Armour finds itself having an even larger impact at the grassroots level.
“We want to show what Under Armour is all about,” says Parker. “The training component is going to be an important piece. The was program has been done very well by ESPN and we’re just kind of fitting right in, and adding our angle and our voice to this game. We’re going to have a customized t-shirt station out there that we’ll have set up. Also, a museum area that will show folks some of the current products, as well as upcoming stuff. People will get a chance to know who we are as a brand a little bit more.”
And although the game has shifted scenes from the famous streeball cathedral of Rucker Park in Harlem, NY to the beachside courts of Venice Beach in Los Angeles over the years, the intensity on the court has remained the same.
“It’s still outdoors. It’s still raw. It’s still gritty. And it’s still very fun.”
Check out the Elite 24 slam dunk contest live on ESPNU on Friday at 7 p.m. EST, and then the game live on ESPNU on Saturday at 7 p.m. EST.