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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Tuesday / May 22.
  • Where Have You Gone, Sonny Vaccaro?

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    AVALON, N.J. — When it comes to the July recruiting period, the Wild West days of Sonny Vaccaro vs. George Raveling are gone.

    Long gone.

    “You can never say never,” said Gary Charles, the head coach of the New York Panthers and a Vaccaro lieutenant from 1992-2006, when Vaccaro hung up his kicks and retired .

    “But I think it’s extremely hard to duplicate what Sonny Vaccaro has done.”

    Charles recalls the days, not so long ago, when there was a “buzz in the air” in early July because of the impending matchups at the ABCD Camp at Fairleigh Dickinson University between Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo, Derrick Caracter and Greg Oden or  LeBron and Lenny Cooke.

    “There was a buzz in the air that everyone knew,” Charles recalled. “It wasn’t just great for you, it was great for everyone.”

    Vaccaro, 71, is living in California and flirted with Chinese apparel manufacturer Li Ning about a return this summer, but it never materialized.

    LeBron is still around — dunking on young kids at Richard Stockton College and shoving them to the ground while he awaits the fate of the NBA lockout.

    And in fact, his LeBron James Nike Skills Academy (July 6-9) in Akron will have the predominance of talent beginning next week. (The official roster is not released until Tuesday.).

    Sixteen of the top 25 players in the Rivals150 for the Class of 2012 attended Nike academies run by Kevin Durant, Deron Williams and Amar’e Stoudemire.

    Among the players who attended those academies are the players ranked 4-10 in the Rivals rankings: Kyle Anderson, Mitch McGary, Devonta Pollard, Anthony Bennett, Ricardo Ledo, Rodney Purvis and Jarnell Stokes.

    “Nike has almost all the elite AAU travel teams that have the elite players,” said longtime New York recruiting expert Tom Konchalski. “Everyone else is trying to be Avis. Everyone else is jockeying for No. 2. They’re looking to place, rather than to win.

    “Nike has the elite players and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

    Still, the adidas Invitational in Indianapolis (July 6-9) will feature a matchup on Thursday of the two top players in the Rivals rankings. Guard Shabazz Muhammad of Dream Vision and big man Andre Drummond of the Connecticut Basketball Club will go head-to-head in the Super Pool.

    Meantime, 7-foot Baylor commit Isaiah Austin, No. 3 in the Rivals rankings, is slated to appear at the Great American Shootout in Duncanville, Texas July 8-11.

    Several other players, including No. 19 Perry Ellis of Wichita, KS, will also attend the adidas tournament even though he was invited to LeBron. (Look for Ellis to have the Duke staff trailing him in Indy.)

    The mandate by adidas to have its top players attend its event has had a trickle-down affect on other camps, such as the Reebok Basketball Breakout Challenge at Philadelphia University July 5-9.

    Players such as 2013 St. Patrick big man Austin Colbert was slated to attend the Reebok Camp but has now been invited to LeBron after adidas took a bite out of the Nike pool.

    “I can’t wait,” Colbert said of the LeBron invite.

    Reebok isn’t the camp it was at the end of the Vaccaro Era, but former Vaccaro/Chris Rivers lieutenant Patrick Coombs has assembled a nice lineup of young players.

    The Reebok list includes St. John’s commit Jevon Thomas, Arizona commit Eric Cooper, Alabama commit Jaren Sina and Michigan commit Nick Stauskas, all juniors; 2012 guard Kareem Canty, who has Big East, Pac-10 and ACC interest; and 2013 guard Rysheed Jordan of Philadelphia.

    “There will be good players there,” Konchalski said.

    Still, Konchalski himself plans to head to the Hoop Group Elite Camp in Reading, Pa., which is slated to include Lincoln High stud Isaiah Whitehead, former Lincoln 7-footer Jordan Dickerson, headed to IMG Academies and 2013 wing Davon Reed.

    “College coaches are going to ring up a lot more frequent flyer miles, especially in the early 10 day recruiting period because there are four places where they’ve gotta be,” Konchalski said. “Someone on their staff has definitely got to be there.”

    So the beat goes on, with Sonny Vaccaro and his Nike counterpart George Raveling nowhere in sight, and the buzz perhaps missing from the Sneaker Wars.

    “There’s no wars going on,” Charles said, “so there’s something missing.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.