EYBL may change travel basketball

Posted by FTL on April 11, 2010 at 10:50 PM

Nike steps in to organize and provide championship for travel teams

Originally Published: April 8, 2010

EYBL may change travel basketballNike steps in to organize and provide championship for travel

By Christopher Lawlor


Leave it to Nike to revolutionize the travel basketball circuit.

After bouncing around a simple concept for the past five years, the company with the trademark swoosh will debut the Elite Youth Basketball League this weekend at the Boo Williams Invitational in Hampton, Va.

"We were looking to bring structure to the travel game," said Jeff Rogers, the league commissioner and director of Nike elite grassroots basketball. "We have had a tremendous response without having played a game. We hope this changes the way things are done."

"It's a wonderful league. It's innovative and brings structure to the travel scene. This might serve as a future model for how things may be done. We're anxious to get started."

-- Albany City Rocks director Jim Hart


The EYBL is a first-ever league featuring 42 high-level, U17 grassroots teams playing for a championship. It culminates in July at the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, Ga.

The concept is simple. The teams, divided into four divisions, will play a predetermined schedule during three weekends this spring -- in Hampton (Friday through Sunday), Houston (May 14-16) and Los Angeles (May 29-31). After the third event, the top five teams in each of the four divisions will automatically advance to the Peach Jam bracket, with four at-large teams added to round out the 24-team championship tournament. Teams that receive an automatic bid are guaranteed spots for 2011.

Yes, that means 18 teams won't make it and could be dropped from the EYBL next year.

"This will unify and organize the game at the highest level," said Paul Biancardi, ESPN's national basketball recruiting director. "It blends the best of what Nike does on the grassroots level."

Rogers believes the EYBL will promote ownership within the constituency during the course of three months.

"We'll find out a few things about these teams," Rogers said. "Teams will be scouting their next opponents, booking travel, playing each possession and investing their time.

"Unlike some tournaments where teams win their first three games by 30 or 40 points and lose interest, or lose three games and go home, there won't be any championships awarded on the first three weekends of league play.

"Kids like organized competition but are used to playing for a championship every weekend. That devalues the word championship. When you do compete for the EYBL championships you'll have earned it over the course of two or three months," he said.

The action tips off Friday evening at the state-of-the-art Boo Williams Sportsplex in Hampton with 20 games on seven courts. The opening weekend includes 85 EYBL games.

"It's a wonderful league," said Jim Hart, president of the Nike-sponsored Albany City Rocks. "It's innovative and brings structure to the travel scene. This might serve as a future model for how things may be done. We're anxious to get started."

Several clubs have already inquired about joining, but Rogers will stick with 42 teams who have been "loyal to Nike over the years and shown success."

Here's a breakdown of the four 17-and-under divisions (listed alphabetically).

A: Albany (N.Y.) City Rocks, Baltimore Elite, Georgia Blazers, Howard Pulley (Minn.), Louisiana Select, Mean Streets (Chicago), Team Final (N.J.), Tennessee Travelers; Wisconsin Playground Soldiers, YOMCA (Memphis, Tenn.)

B: All-Ohio Red, Arizona Stars, Each 1 Teach 1 (Fla.), King James Shooting Stars (Ohio), South Carolina Ravens, Seattle Rotary, Spiece Indy Heat (Ind.), Team Takeover (Md.), Team Texas, The Family (Detroit).

C: Alabama Challenge, Athletes First (Okla.), Birmingham (Ala.) Storm, Boo Williams (Va.), California Supreme, Houston (Texas) Hoops, ICP Portland (Ore.), Jackson (Miss.) Tigers, Oakland (Calif.) Soldiers, St. Louis Eagles.

D: Arkansas Wings, BABC (Boston), Charlotte (N.C.) Royals, D-One Sports (N.C.), Friends of Hoop (Seattle), Georgia Stars, Mac Irvin Fire (Chicago), Metro Hawks (N.Y.), New Jersey Playaz, New York Gauchos, Southern Kings (Ga.), Team Florida.

Playing by the rules

Structure means rules, set forth by Rogers. Keep the following in mind as the opening weekend approaches.

• Rosters, composed of 15 players, must be locked before the start of league play. Teams cannot share players but can change out three players during the first two tournaments. Up to three players from outside a team's home state will be permitted.

• Games will feature NCAA rules, including the college 3-point line, 16-minute halves, 35-second shot clock, a bonus after 10 fouls, player disqualification after five personal fouls and three-man officiating crews.

• Appearance counts. Players and coaches will wear provided game gear, meaning coaches will wear polo shirts and slacks.

• Tiebreakers in the standings are head-to-head competition, 3-way point system and conference record.

• There's no leeway on fifth-year players or reclassified seniors; they are out. Players must have at least one year of high school eligibility remaining.

• Traveling will be enforced, in other words: be on time. If a team misses a game because of a flight delay, they will forfeit it. Same goes for being late for the scheduled tip-off. No games will be made up, period.

"Every possession, every game, every weekend will count; it's a compounding effect," Biancardi said. "It teaches players accountability, and team and winning become important."

EYBL's got talent

The EYBL will feature 52 players in the ESPNU Super 60 rankings.

Biancardi, who coached at Wright State, Saint Louis, Ohio State and Boston College, believes the individual talent is off the charts. Colleges will be able to follow a player's team progression, capped by Peach Jam, which falls during a live viewing period in July.

"Each weekend the EYBL is played, that's where all the superior talent will be of any event across the country," Biancardi said. "You'll be able to gauge the progress of players, teams; it gives you something to talk about because it's a long-term process. You'll see how teams respond. Teams will be playing for their future in the EYBL."

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