Originally created 07/13/01

Summer ball can change everything



Twenty-four select teams of high school all-stars and more than 300 collegiate coaches all mingle across the river in a four-court Petri Dish - a.k.a the Nike Peach Jam.

The summer basketball camp recruiting process is a giant experiment in human behavior. Look but don't touch. Smile but don't speak. Nod but don't wink.

With so much riding on the whims of teenagers, bad things are bound to grow from the culture. The kind of things the NCAA tries in vain to weed out.

But for all the backroom brokering, seedy commercialization and player burnout that too frequently germinate from the shoe company-endorsed summer meat markets, often overlooked are the small miracles that happen every year when discoveries can change the lives of young men.

Behind all the high-profile superstars with visions of Duke, Kentucky or even the NBA in their eyes are hundreds of players just hoping for a chance to get a free education and four more years of playing basketball before joining the real world.

Look no further than the Wisconsin Playground Warriors to see the merits that a little summer exposure can bring. Head coach Rick Stimac is versed in the benefits of face time in the Riverside Park Activities Center.

"That exposure ... literally changed these kids' lives and afforded them the chance to go to a great college, receive a top-notch education and play major college basketball," Stimac said of his 2000 Peach Jam champs.

Stimac's Wisconsin players weren't nationally known before joining last season's summer circuit. Only one player on his squad was getting any kind of nibble outside of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The squad suffered from what he called a lack of the "superstar syndrome" that attracts widespread attention in the recruitnik circles.

"We didn't have the kids that stepped up and had 30 points a game because they distributed the ball and worked together," Stimac said.

Working well with teammates doesn't resonate in the newspaper and Internet clippings that build the myths of major college recruiting wars. But then Wisconsin arrived at its first Peach Jam and the horizons of six rising high school seniors were suddenly broadened.

"All of our kids were finally in front of the coaches long enough to get them to recognize they were very good players; they were just playing together," Stimac said. "Coaches start seeing someone's defense and saying, 'That's the kind of kid I want on my team.' "

After winning the Peach Jam and excelling at other summer showcases, every one of the six college eligible players on the Wisconsin team got Division I scholarship offers from schools such as Marquette, DePaul, Bradley, Wake Forest, Xavier, Saint Louis and South Carolina.

One of those kids was John Chappell, who was about the only recognizable name outside of New Berlin, Wisc. Chappell's father is Lenny, one of the all-time scoring leaders at Wake Forest University.

The legacy factor might have gotten Chappell a little pub, but what he did at last year's Peach Jam garnered him choices. Chappell shut down a couple of inside forces named Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler - players who later became the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the NBA Draft.

Chappell initially accepted an offer from Wake Forest then followed head coach Dave Odom to South Carolina.

"He would not have gotten the opportunity to show his defensive ability and his desire to play if it had not been for this exposure," Stimac said.

It's nice to know not everything that grows from the Petri Dish is infected by the process.