by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
Already enjoying a strong dominance in the football market, Under Amour’s basketball division has been growing at a very high pace in just the last couple of years. After signing Milwaukee Bucks star Brandon Jennings three years ago, when the Compton native made the unprecedented decision to forgo college and accept a pro contract to play ball in Italy, Under Armour has since become a household name for many of the top college and high school basketball athletes from around the country and even overseas.
Under Armour now sponsors 15 of the top AAU clubs in America. Florida’s Winter Park, and Brooklyn’s Lincoln and Boys & Girls are among the 21 high school programs that Under Armour adorns. In addition, AU sponsors 13 collegiate programs, including Maryland and South Florida. Getting the younger generations to see what the brand’s basketball side has to offer is how Under Amour’s basketball sector has quietly but steadily made huge strides.
From hosting basketball-tailored NBA-style combines and elite invite-only camps to outfitting some of the game’s most promising young talent, Under Armour’s basketball profile has skyrocketed. And this weekend, the brand will once again be on full-display when it hosts its second annual Best of the Best at Atlanta’s (GA) Marist High School.
An invitation-only event, Under Armour’s Best of the Best brings together some of the top players from each of their sponsored AAU programs and affiliates for a weekend, and challenges the rising stars to be just as great off the court and in the classroom.
The intense three-day camp kicks off this Friday. Among the guest speakers scheduled to motivate and offer words of wisdom to the players will be former McDonald’s All American and 2010 ACC Defensive Player of the Year Chris Singleton, Chris Herren of Hoop Dreams, NBA Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins and Nicole Watson, who represents the National Collegiate Recruiting Association.
Some of the 80+ players scheduled to be in attendance include nationally ranked big men Robert Carter Jr. (6-8, Thomasville, GA, 2012), Mitch McGary (6-10, Chesterton, IN, 2012), Chris Walker (6-8, Bonifay, FL, 2013), and Shaquille Cleare (6-10, Houston, TX, 2012). Some of the highly touted wings that are set to compete include the Harrison twins Aaron and Andrew (both 6-6, Houston, TX, 2013), the Hamilton twins, Isaac (6-5, Los Angeles, CA, 2013), and Daniel (6-6, Los Angeles, CA, 2014), Keith Frazier (6-5, Irving, TX, 2013) and Sindarius Thornwell (6-5, Lancaster, SC, 2013). At the guard position, Aquille Carr (5-6, Baltimore, MD, 2013) and DaQuan Cook (6-2, Baltimore, MD, 2013), Rysheed Jordan (6-3, Philadelphia, PA, 2013) and Terence Phillips (5-11, Atlanta, GA, 2015, also B-Jennings lil bro) will be in attendance.
Basketball is only a fraction of what Under Armour looks to preach this weekend. There will be a 45-minute “Education is Life” SAT seminar where each player will receive their own SAT study guide and get educated on how to prepare for the exam.
Winfred Jordan, who brought the Best of the Best idea to Under Armour and serves as the event’s Executive Director, wanted to make sure they came up with a showcase where the message to the kids was beyond basketball.
“My thought process was that the kids need to hear and understand how to prepare for life beyond the grassroots and high schools aspects of basketball. They need to be prepared for the collegiate level and the professional level of life – it may not be basketball,” says Jordan.
“I think we have a good platform because we’re giving the kids something of substance. I think a kid can pick up a basketball anywhere and just play. What I tried to convince Under Armour to do is, ‘let’s touch the top kids first and have them understand us as a shoe brand and how Under Armour wants to get kids to work both aspects of it.’ The only camp I’ve been to that’s similar is the NBPA Camp – where they truly educate kids on life skills, academics, and how to prepare for the future, and not just all-star games.”
On the basketball side of things, aside from the usual five-on-five play, a big focus will be on fundamental skills. There will be station skills that will group players by position and have them run through point guard, wing, and post player drills for 14 minutes at each station. The weekend will also feature skills and drills competitions, as well as a 3-point shootout, slam dunk contest and a all-star game.
On Saturday morning, Under Armour’s well-known and respected 360 player combine will take center stage. Anyone that has watched these impressively intense drills will tell you that they’re second to none.
The first section of the combine tests foundational athleticism. It measures athletes on different constituents, ranging from strength, speed, flexibility, power and endurance. The workouts include broad jumping (jumping forward), vertical jumping (jumping upwards), and medicine ball seated throw for power, 10- and 20-yard sprints for acceleration and speed, a 5-10-5 run for agility, a grip test for strength, a sit and reach for flexibility and a 300-yard shuttle for conditioning.
The second component is the integrated movement drills. It’s purpose is to measure how well athlete’s nervous systems interacted with muscles and movement in order to create the adequate balance and posture. This three-drill element consists of a pressing squat exercise that examines the bodies movement patterns and mobility, a push-up opposite which identified postural strengths and cross body firing patterns, and a single leg T-Balance drill for overall body balance.
Next comes the basketball movement facet of the combine. It basically allows athletes to take in drills that would contribute to the improvement and development of their basketball skills, such as some vertical jumping, some sideline to sideline running which tests conditioning, and also lane agility.
The fourth part of the workout is the max visual ability segment. Its near/far accommodation drill showcases an athlete’s ability to switch focus, helping to improve their reactions and hand-eye coordination. A vertical saccadic movement drill demonstrates how effectively these prospects are with swift up and down eye movement through the readings of letters. The same drill is practiced for horizontal saccadic movements.
The last three sections of the combine concentrates on off-the-court proceedings, where such things like mentality, nutrition and communication skills came into play. The mentality portion focuses on matters such as attitude, coachability, confidence, effort and composure, among many others. The communications sector touches on things like conversation, body language, and humor, while the nutrition questionnaire focuses on dairy intake and nutrition awareness.
Last year’s inaugural event was a complete success. A handful of the 82 participants, according to Jordan, ended up All-Americans — Memphis-bound Adonis Thomas being one of them. But now Under Armour is looking to take this year’s BOTB to new heights, bringing in over 35 nationally ranked players to take part in this weekend’s festivities.
“Last year, it was a great first step. The players and the amount of talent we had for year one was beyond what I expected. Our growth will change every year. The amount of people involved in sending kids has grown, as well as the different locations they come from,” says Ted Gladue, Under Armour’s Senior Manager of Sports Marketing. “It’s about getting our kids, speaking to them, showing them what Under Armour is about and just have a great weekend. We want kids to basically understand what Under Armour basketball is all about.”
For more up-to-the-minute information on Under Armour’s Best of the Best, you can follow them on Twitter.