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.
A year ago, Under Armour made a bold entrance into the basketball world by signing current Milwaukee Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings to a five-year, incentive-based deal worth more than $500,000 annually and making him its first professional client.
The Baltimore-based company also has sponsorship deals with several colleges, including Maryland, Auburn and Texas Tech.
On the high school level, Under Armour sponsored the Boost Mobile Elite 24 event in Rucker Park this summer, outfitting every player in Under Armour gear.
Under the leadership of Kris Stone, Under Armour’s Director of Basketball, the company also sponsors 27 high school teams, including Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, the former home of Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson.
You may recall that Lance and his family took a tour of the Under Armour facilities in Maryland during his official visit to campus there last year.
The NFL Combine is now officially presented by Under Armour and all the athletes at last February’s event wore Under Armour apparel.
Can the NBA Combine be far behind?
“I think Kris Stone and Under Armour are on a good early track to penetrate the basketball market,” legendary grassroots basketball figure Sonny Vaccaro said in a phone interview. “Their visibility with football already is an entree for them. It’s a long hard road that they’re in but they have the motivation and wherewithal to do it. It’s a hard road now, harder than ever before.”
So, what’s next for the folks at Under Armour in their attempt to challenge Nike and adidas and take the basketball world by storm?
The company, which earned $725 million in net revenue last year, just announced a partnership with IMG to create a standardized scoring system for youth athletic performance known as “Combine360.”
According to a release, the “Combine360” will measure and record sport-specific ability and mental aptitude, nutritional level, ability to communicate and a variety of other performance disciplines allowing athletes of all abilities from across the world to compare their scores.
“Consistent with Under Armour’s global mission to make all athletes better, IMG Performance is a pioneer in the field of athletic and character development for competitors of all ages,” said Kevin Plank, CEO and Founder of Under Armour. “This partnership represents a marshalling of the most passionate, scientific and innovative thinkers in the sports performance space and, together, we will establish the ultimate benchmarks by which all athletes, trainers and coaches will be measured. We have always said that the combine is the one true measure of an athlete’s potential, and we believe each athlete’s Combine360 score will be as universal as an SAT score in terms of making all athletes better.”
What does this mean for both companies and what do they stand to gain?
Well, for Under Armour it means gaining access to the many elite athletes that IMG trains in a variety of sports at its Bradenton, Fla., academy. Under Armour has begun providing apparel, footwear and accessories to IMG athletes starting in the 2009-10 school year.
“Under Armour has come on board across everything at IMG,” said IMG basketball coach Dan Barto.
IMG, in turn, is now associated with a youth-oriented company that is gaining traction in areas like New York City.
“Our kids love the sneakers, shirts and shorts,” Thomas Jefferson coach Lawrence Pollard told the Daily News in August. “If you look at it, Adidas is focused on the NBA now, and Nike is Nike. But Under Armour is sponsoring three boys teams in Brooklyn, and kids in our neighborhoods don’t always have nice things.”
Steve Battista, Under Armour’s Senior Vice President of Brand, told the Daily News: “This generation is our generation.”
These combines, said Barto, are the future of basketball, and will replace exposure camps that were once in vogue, but have become increasingly perceived as money makers that only service a handful of players.
“Kids and parents want more bang for their buck”, said Barto, “and with a more scientific approach to development, every player at every skill level can be tested and receive the evaluation and improvement plan necessary to make significant gains more rapidly.”
“We will have data comparison, protocols, and online information and demonstrations available for continued assessment, analysis and development, giving players focus areas and cues to use to improve in specific areas.”
“Our vision is to be the first and best at scientifically formatting the evaluation process for basketball skill training. We are developing the science and testing procedures in a basketball specific combine format, rather than just putting a stopwatch on guys in the three cone drill.
“We will be able to tangibly and scientifically break down the difference between a Jordan Hill and a B.J. Mullens. Right now, there is a gaping hole in this area of evaluation.”
IMG Basketball Academy Director Mike Moreau said: “Our goal is to continue to blaze the trail and lead through our experience and expertise in the way basketball players are evaluated in a combine setting.”
With the IMG Basketball Academy firmly established, and with Under Armour as a new partner, the foundation for changing forever the way basketball players are evaluated and developed has now been laid.
This translates not only into young players developing for the next level, but may also have ramifications for the NBA level.
Under Armour already sponsors the NFL Combine and sources said the company is eying the NBA Combine next.
“The last two players that were evaluated and used some of the parts of the program played at major DI programs [Corey Brewer of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Alonzo Gee, who is in the D-League]. They said they have never seen anything close to it,” Moreau said.
On the grassroots front, Barto implies other bigger projects may be around the corner.
“If the new collective bargaining agreement limits players options out of high school, then a real option for the high level players would be to spend their junior and/or senior year here at IMG, and then a year or two in Europe like Brandon,” he said.
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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.