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.
PSA Cardinals, City Rocks to Run Kentucky-Style AAU Combine on Sunday
NEW YORK — Last October, Kentucky head coach John Calipari turned the basketball world upside down when he ran an NBA Combine that featured his nine McDonald’s All-Americans and attracted some 90 NBA front office personnel and scouts.
After hearing Calipari speak at a coaching clinic last year, Jim Hart, the director of the Albany City Rocks AAU program, got an idea.
Why not run a similar combine for his AAU players and invite college coaches instead of NBA scouts?
Now it’s happening.
On Sunday, some 60 college coaches are expected at Springfield (Mass.) Commonwealth Academy to watch about 60 players from the City Rocks and the PSA Cardinals — two elite programs on the Nike EYBL circuit — do skillwork and drills from 8:30 a.m to 1 p.m.
“We’re doing a combine,” Hart told SNY.tv by phone on Tuesday. “Calipari invited NBA guys into do it, we’re going to invite college coaches in.”
The event will run during the second live period in July and on the same weekend as the Hall of Fame Invitational in Springfield, meaning tons of college coaches will already be in the area anyway. Now they will have two events to see instead of just one.
Hart said among the schools expected are Kentucky, Kansas, Providence, Minnesota, St. John’s, Syracuse, Missouri, SMU, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Miami, George Washington, Wake Forest, Virginia, Maryland, Indiana, Vanderbilt, Fordham, St. Francis, Monmouth and Yale.
Between them, the City Rocks and PSA Cardinals have several high-major players, as well as others for whom Hart and Terrance “Munch” Williams, director of the Cardinals, are hoping to gain additional exposure.
Among the most high-profile players on the teams are 6-foot-11 2017 forward Mohamed Bamba of the Cardinals, who holds offers from Kentucky, St. John’s, Indiana, Kansas, Syracuse, Arizona, UConn, Texas, Villanova, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Penn State, Temple, Seton Hall, James Madison and Yale.
The Cardinals also feature 6-7 wing Kassoum Yakwe,who led the Peach Jam in rebounding and blocks during pool play and is considering reclassing from 2016 to 2015.
The Cardinals also feature 2016 point guard Bryce Aiken, who is being courted by Illinois, Miami, Harvard, Michigan, Seton Hall, Cal and Stanford; 2016 wing Travis Atson, who recently added offers from Tulsa and Memphis and attracted the attention of coaches at the Peach Jam for his toughness; and 2017 big man Samuel Japhet-Mathias, who holds several high-major offers.
The City Rocks, meantime, feature 2016 shooting guard Kevin Huerter, who is being courted by Notre Dame, Syracuse, Villanova and others, and Quinton Rose, a 6-7 2016 small forward with offers from Wake Forest, George Washington, Miami, SMU, Temple, Rutgers and Seton Hall.
Some of the colleges will be on hand to show their interest in these high-major targets.
“Yeah, absolutely,” one high-major D-1 assistant coach told SNY.tv. “It shows those top kids how much of a priority they are where you can make an audible in the middle of the recruiting period just to see them.
“For high-major programs there won’t be a ton of talent for them to evaluate and recruit. If you’re Kentucky or Kansas you’e going to show Mohamed Bamba, ‘Wherever you are, we want to be there.’ The same goes for Yakwe, Aiken or Quenton Rose or any of those guys.”
But just like Calipari displayed Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee to the NBA scouts in addition to showcasing Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles, these AAU coaches will feature their entire teams.
“Let’s say I have a kid who went to Peach Jam and he was the ninth man on the team,” Hart said. “The schools coming to see Bamba, Yakwe and Rose already know they’re interested in them but they may see someone else. For me and Munch we’re gving our team a chance to eat, in Calipari’s words.
“We’re allowing our sixth man and 10th man on those teams equal time, equal minutes, equal access to show what they can do.”
College coaches seem to love the idea.
“I think it’s a great idea because you get to evaluate kids in a more creative setting,” the D-1 assistant said. “It’s tough to evaluate kids in camps and at times it can be tough to evaluate kids in tournaments because once you get to the middle evaluation period, kids are a little worn down. They don’t get time to rest and they aren’t as excited to play in front of coaches as they may have been the first evaluation period.
“[This combine will be] great to evaluate kids in skill workout situations. You get to see their fundamental skillset, something you may not see in games. and you can get to see them in a way that you can project how good they may be in a year or two.”
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.