We Got Now
With the Best of the Best high school hoops showcase, Under Armour gets serious about tackling basketball.
by DeMarco Williams
As the story goes, Maryland football player Kevin Plank started Under Armour from his grandma’s basement back in 1996. After getting tired of his undershirts sweating so badly, he decided to make his own moisture-absorbing top. Lo and behold, lots of high school kids, college football players and NFL types wanted the same thing. Those now-ubiquitous skin-tight numbers led to jock straps. Jock straps led to cleats. Cleats led to gear in other categories and that, essentially, led to SLAMonline being at the first annual Best of the Best basketball showcase at Atlanta’s Marist High School this past weekend.
Kinda like how the other summer shoe camps do their thing, one of the goals of this event was to introduce some of the country’s finest hoopers to Under Armour’s line of basketball sneakers and apparel in a fun, competitive setting. And while the first-year event had a couple of kinks (the scorekeeper was a bit rusty; the conditions in one of the gyms were a tad stuffy), the organizers and many of the participants agree that Best of the Best was a rousing success.
“I wanted to do something different than just rolling the ball out there and have kids just going out there to get ranked,” explains Winfred Jordan, the event’s executive director and a 14-year vet of grassroots basketball. “I want kids to walk away and understand a lil’ bit more about the circumstances that they’re currently in. Other camps are more about basketball and politics, trying to push kids this way and that way. But we did bring in some of the better kids in the country. I think that helps the Under Armour brand. I think it’s good for the kids to come out and understand the brand. For years, they’ve only seen Under Armour as a football brand. Now they get to see the basketball model.”
And you know what? Guest speakers and SAT seminars are great. The teens need all of that. But when it comes down to it, fairly or not, Under Armour’s gonna be ultimately judged on the talent it’s able to attract on the court. If it can lure top-shelf ballers to Best of the Best on an annual basis, it’ll be in good shape. If not, well, it’s more “We Must Protect This House” ads during the NFL season.
With a few of Rivals’ top 100 for 2011 like No. 11 Adonis Thomas (Memphis), No. 54 Tracy Abrams (Chicago) and No. 58 BJ Young (Missouri) in the building though, you expect some YouTube-worthy highlights during the action. They come, too, from that talented trio (Thomas won camp MVP) and a host of other slashers (Minneapolis’ Riley Dearring, Chicago’s Mychael Henry), speedsters (Detroit’s Dazeshawn Crim) and paint stuffers (Chicago’s Thomas Hamilton IV).
Terrence Phillips, the lil’ brother of Under Armour spokesman and Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, is also at the camp. He shows glimmers of the genes, but son’s only 13. He’s got a few more Best of the Bests in him to put his stamp on. As for cats like Elijah Johnson (Butner, NC) and Cameron Ridley (Richmond, TX), they find it no better time than the present to make a good national impression. The former is a hard-working 5-9 guard who orchestrates offenses wonderfully and pulls up behind the arc effortlessly.
Ridley, on the other hand, is already cut in to a NBA lottery pick’s frame. Dude is 6-10, 245 and simply does what he pleases in the paint. “There’s not that much competition really,” tells the soft-spoken giant who’s already gotten offers from some Big 12 schools. Big guy, the way you run up and down the court, the only competition you’ll find around these parts is on Georgia Tech’s campus.
Still, the showstopper of the weekend is a relatively unassuming kid out of Stateville, North Carolina, named Tyler Lewis. Like some sort of ill blend of Steve Nash and Steve Francis, Lewis is equally comfy making seamless bounce passes for two and pulling up long-distance for three. Scholarships have already started rolling in from the likes of Miami, NC State and Baylor for the rising junior.
“I’m able to pass when I need to and I’m able to score when the team is down and need a bucket,” Lewis informs after one of his super showings. “Especially during AAU ball, I want to get everybody involved. It’s hard out here [at national camps], just ‘cuz it’s my first time ever seeing them.”
You’ll be wise to keep tabs on Lewis. He might end up being pretty special. It would be smart to keep up with Under Armour’s march in to the world of basketball too. As the fast-growing athletics line proved this past weekend, football isn’t the only sport it knows.
“This is going to be an annual event,” Jordan says triumphantly. “We have a host of other events that are going to take place, but Best of the Best is here to stay.”