Every year there is talk of "package deals" in recruiting, and every year almost all of them turn out to be false. And then comes the 2013 recruiting class, which feature two players in the top-10 who are not only brothers, but twins. Andrew and Aaron Harrison, if everything continues, could be the most important "package deal" in the business.
Unfortunately their recruitment is becoming less about their games, less about their unique back-story, and more about the last word I used in the above paragraph: business.
Of course there is the standard story of the one-and-done rule (which I've gone on record as being against). For elite players who could immediately be 1st round picks in the NBA Draft – then yes, the college choice is almost exlusively a business decision. It comes down to which program can most improve your game.
But that's not the business I'm talking about. The business is the shoe business.
This is youth basketball after all, a sport consistently influenced by shoe companies for a few decades now. Sonny Vaccaro may be out, but there are endless examples of guys stepping in to fill the void.
Yesterday Gary Parrish published a piece about the summer leagues after talking to Sonny Vaccaro. Vaccaro is working on a 30 for 30 story with ESPN, so expect that to be this year's version of Play Their Hearts Out – something we'll read (or watch in this case), and we'll be disgusted by the few criminally corrupt figures who give AAU basketball a bad name, and then nothing we'll change. The NCAA will make a few token, meaningless, rules – but until their cash flow is threatened no real policing is going to occur. Another year, another story.
But I digress. Back to Parrish. The interesting part about his article was his discussion of how Under Armour is now a major player, and how the Harrison twins play for an Under Armour club.
It's damn near impossible to watch the best prospects compete against the best prospects anymore because almost every elite prospect is aligned with either Nike, Adidas or Under Armour. So the Nike kids play in one place while the Adidas kids play in another and the Under Armour kids play in another. This often plays a role in recruiting, too. For instance, one of the interesting recruiting battles over the coming months will be for the services of twin brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison, and most expect it to come down to Kentucky and Maryland.
Why Kentucky and Maryland?
Because Kentucky is Kentucky and John Calipari is John Calipari, and those two entities have a way of getting things done. And because Maryland is the alma mater of Kevin Plank, who is the CEO of Under Armour, which is the company that outfits Maryland's athletic department and this summer funded the Harrison twins, both of whom are consensus top-10 prospects.
Parrish just assumes that the reason the twins are considering Maryland is because of Under Armour. Never mind that Maryland is an upper tier program in terms of resources, facilities, etc…. arguably No. 3 in the ACC behind UNC and Duke. Never mind the twins' father's long term association with Maryland assistant Bino Ranson, or the twins family in Maryland, or their relationship with head coach Mark Turgeon from his Texas A&M days. For Parrish, it's just Under Armour.
And who knows? He might be right. That's the sad state of college basketball recruiting. Everyone knows that something is going on. If it's not with the twins, then it is with someone else. So Parrish can lob blanket comments like his and very few people will take offense, and those that do are likely doing it for the wrong reasons.
In another article Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo talked about how AAU and the forces associated with it – shoe companies, agents, 3rd parties – have come to change the landscape.
"It's just sad," Izzo said. "I don't see any way of stopping it, unless everything is curtailed and AAU basketball goes under USA Basketball. It just seems like they can't take on that animal. So everyone makes money off basketball."