A new ESPN.com article details how parents spend thousands of dollars each year to attend a youth basketball camp in San Diego, in hopes of getting their child ranked.
These kids are all in middle or elementary school. They pay $535 to attend the camp, plus expenses.
The 14th annual Junior Phenom Camp was held July 27-30 for 300 players who received special invitations after attending regional Junior Phenom camps. There was a similar girls camp Aug. 11-14. ESPN reports this camp and Phenom regional camps around the country, which attract nearly 400,000 youth players, have made founder Joe Keller a millionaire. The kids at the national camp get high-level instruction and a ranking from Clark Francis, who ranks 6th to 8th graders nationally and has more than 100 high major Division I programs subscribing to his service.
For some players, like Karl Anthony-Towns, a former No. 1 NBA draft pick who attended Phenom national camp, this type of exposure provides a launching pad to notoriety and success. Other parents are chasing the same thing for their kids.
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"If I were to be the best sixth-grader in the world," Calen Lightford is quoted as saying in the ESPN piece, "that would mean a lot to me."
Youth basketball has become a serious business. In North Carolina, there are multiple camps and clinics that parents pay for kids to attend and plenty of personal trainers, including lots of former college or professional athletes.
And that’s a national trend, too.
Lightford, for example, has a personal strength coach and attends off-season instructional camps in Las Vegas, led by former NBA No. 1 draft pick John Lucas. Lucas has become a household name in youth basketball with a series of tournaments nationally that attract top teams and camps that attract top talent.
Being able to play against the top players and receive top-level training surely is turning out better athletes. In Mecklenburg County, coaches tell the Observer that the middle and high school talent is better than it’s ever been. But statistics show that very few kids will play in college, even fewer professionally.
So are parents wasting their money by chasing the dream so hard? Especially so early?
“I can’t speak for everyone,” said one local parent with a child in a Charlotte middle school and one in a local high school, “but I want to give my kids a chance at their dreams. We’ve been to San Diego (for the Phenom camp) and we made it a vacation. The training was great. It was expensive and my kid got ‘ranked’ and got to come back to school and brag about it. Nobody remembered a month later, but I felt and he felt it was worth it. He’s been working a trainer for three years and he’s starting on his team now. So for me, it was a worth it. I think every parent just has to ask themselves that question.”