iHoops CEO Len Elmore talks exploitation, recruitment, agents, coaches, fundamentals and much more.
by Franklyn Calle
When iHoops was launched in the fall of 2009, skepticism and speculation surfaced throughout the basketball world as to what exactly was the motivation and intents behind this newly formed partnership between the NBA and the NCAA. What kind of impact would it have on the game and it’s young players? With so much exploitation and selfshing doing by many in charge and involved in youth basketball, one could only be incredulous about any new initiatives being introduced and aimed towards the youth. Amid all the confusion and dubious notions, there were those out there that thought the NBA and the NCAA were trying to take over summer youth basketball and control/police the grassroots scene.
Fast forward to December of 2010, and some of the effects of iHoops have already become conspicuous.
iHoops wasn’t formed with the forethought of regulating or brining some type of legislation to the summer circuit and grassroots basketball. It has become clear that the mission is to change the current culture of youth basketball through information and education (You’ll be reading these two words a lot).
Setting up a special unit to control all the shady things that are going on behind the scenes at the grassroots level would be just flat out useless. We’ve all heard the stories about AAU coaches exploiting highly touted prospects, and about some of the involvement of runners and agents at the youth level in recruiting top talent. A couple of years back, Yahoo sports ran an interesting piece about Kevin Love’s ordeal with a sports agency and AAU coach when he was at UCLA. The story reports that a New York City based sports agency had donated $250,000 to Pat Barrett and his Southern California-All Stars. Apparently, Barrett was to deliver high talented players like Love to the agency as potential clients in return.
And then you also hear all the time about the improper benefits undertakings that have hampered the eligibility of many recruits due to behind closed doors dealings with AAU coaches, agents, runners, college coaches and so-called advisers.
But a grassroots police force won’t solve anything. Exploitation and corruption would figure its way around. Instead iHoops has focused on changing the culture. On educating and informing potential recruits about the type of environment they’re in and show them the game side and business side of basketball. By enlightening players, parents and coaches of where certain decisions could lead to and pointing out some bad apple situations, iHoops hopes to get the grassroots masses into making the right choices and therefore leading to a better environment.
Once ran by the NCAA, the First Team program is now under the supervision of iHoops. It serves as an invitation-only mentoring program for the top high school players in the nation. The program assists with the recruiting process, academics, and life skills. First Team organizers keep in touch with member players by calling in at least once a month and going out to see them play. The highlight of the program takes place during the summer when the 200+ players are flown in for a three and-a-half day conference featuring guest speakers, panels, and of course basketball.
To ensure that players have the most adequate and qualified coaches around them, iHoops has partnered up with the AAU to ensure that any coach planning to play in championship series take part in a coaches education program, which covers everything ranging from the game’s fundamentals to ways of dealing with and coaching teens, and all the psychological aspect that comes with it.
But the iHoops outreach goes above and beyond the camps and interactive player programs. They recognize the imponderable opportunities that the web offers to reach the millions of young basketball fans.
Since being introduced just under a year ago, iHoops.com has had more than 5.5 million visits and more than 30 million page views. The website is currently averaging about 500,000 visitors per month. Its social media stream has also seen some hefty growth with its Facebook fan base growing to about 140,000, including more than 30,000 fans in the last 45 days.
The site contains a variety of valuable information, ranging from NCAA eligibility rules and requirements, tips on recruiting, time management, as well as on-court skills pointers such as ball-handling, passing, shooting, and defense.
But informing and educating goes beyond student-athletes. The site also has content intended for coaches, referees and parents. Available to coaches are multiple animated instructional videos illustrating different basic offensive and defensive plays, practice drills, and coaching guides, among others. For referees, game rules, officiating strategies in the positioning and anticipation of plays, and promoting sportsmanship are some of the tools at their disposal. Parents have guides accessible for them on interactions with young players, coaches, as well as tips in the basketball development of youngsters, sportsmanship, and advice on camps and recruiting. The Player Psychology segment offers some insights on leadership, dealing with adversity and controlling emotions, among others.
“Practice Time” and “Training Room” have emerged as fan favorites, generating the most views from visitors.
The site recently launched iHoops TV, where tournaments and games are streamed live by way of iBN Sports, and video podcasting via iTunes.
And just as we speak, iHoops is in the midst of launching a mobile-enabled site and online coaching education programs in January of 2010. Also, an online store and iHoops Book Club is slated to launch in January. The collection will include “Staff Recommended” books on basketball, education, and life.
I had the special opportunity of speaking with iHoops CEO Len Elmore. The ESPN and CBS college basketball analyst, attorney, and former NBA player has been at the helm since May. We try to hit just about every issue related to grassroots basketball.
SLAM: Can you please speak on the current state of youth basketball?
Len Elmore: Overall we understand that the pre-collegiate game needs to be changed for the benefit of our young folks. There is so much emphasis on getting to the pro level when you’re in middle school and not enough emphasis on the opportunities that are presented to kids though the game of basketball. Lets face it, 99 percent of the kids who play this game at that level are not going to be NBA players. But unfortunately, too many adults kind of trade on what I call the confusion and the delusion, and telling some of the top elite players and feeding them lines that don’t include the opportunity for an education; don’t include the real stories of what life is about and the necessities required to prepare for real life, as opposed to the extreme of pro basketball. And that’s because they are looking to exploit them for their benefit if they can. We’ve read the book Play Their Hearts Out, the protagonist in that book, you know, there’s many out there. We also know there are a lot of parents that are operating out of ignorance and greed, and are willing to have their kids be exploited because they don’t know better or want to be part of it because they want to cash in themselves. Our goal really is to work towards the health, safety and welfare of kids playing the game of basketball. We want kids to be more fundamentally sound as far as playing the game and compete not only internationally but have kids be able to maximize their skills in the game, and finally, we want the game to work for kids, and not the other way around. We want kids to see the opportunity to get to college that may not normally have that opportunity. We have a lot of kids that we want to direct that way. The pro game will take care of itself. If you’re good enough, they’ll find you. So all of those things require for us to get the best coaches, the best officiating, and certainly delivering the best messages.
SLAM: Can you speak on how iHoops plans to combat agents, runners and misleading advisers?
LE: We are not policing. The best way we can combat, the best way we can combat that is through information and education. You know, informing and educating kids on the eligibility rules and on recruiting. Usually those guys are going after the elite players. We have a program called First Team that began approximately 10 years ago under the NCAA umbrella, but now it’s been move to iHoops. What it is is a mentoring program. We identify maybe the top 200 kids in the country in high school. Our staff provides a mentoring program of direct communication with staff member who talk to these kids. Our guys go out and visit them periodically during the school year and certainly during the summer. They are given a lot of information through newsletters. Plus, we talk to their parents about such things such as eligibility, recruiting, being able to sustain grades that allow them to get to college. We tell them about maintaining eligibility and what the rules are, to talking to them about recruiting issues and then any problems or questions they may have. Now all of that culminates in a three-day program that we have at the end of the summer where we bring all the kids in and are now exposed in classroom setting to things like goal setting, academic preparation, recruiting issues, communication issues– how to talk to the media, how to talk to each other—and then the obligatory stories like staying away from the bad influences. And it’s populated by a lot of former college and professional players that have gone through the problems, as well as other speakers who have a vast amount of knowledge and information about the issue. So by the time the kids are done with that, we start them off in the ninth grade and they have gone through four years of preparation and get to college, they’re now ready. They will stay away from those influences we talked about because they are armed with information. It’s a culture change. We are trying to implement a culture change. A value change.
SLAM: How important is the iHoops official website in trying to reach your target audience?
LE: We are talking about trying to educate the masses. We are talking about trying to get the word out. I’ve gone on a number of speaking engagements, coaches and community organizations, to give them an idea of who we are and what we represent. But our website, www.ihoops.com is a way to be able to reach folks, not only with the information I spoke of but also with concrete tips and information on how to become a better basketball player and become better people. There is an array of stuff—we have NBA stuff particularly giving you tips on training and skills. We have a ton of skills areas for coaches and officials can improve by loging on to our site and getting the info data that’s on there. We also have opportunities for parents to learn more and be educated as to what this whole environment is about. So that’s a huge communication tool for us in iHoops.com.