Combine back and better in year two

The second annual Combine in the Capital hits Baton Rouge this weekend. TSD's Ben Love previews the expanded, improved event, which will play host to a collection of Louisiana's top high school basketball talent.

An event so nice, they’re going to do it twice.

That’s the thinking that led to expansion for the second annual Combine in the Capital, which will hit the courts of Team Sportsplex in Baton Rouge this Saturday and Sunday, doubling the cramped one-day prep basketball showcase that was last year’s inaugural Combine.

“Last year we invited about 150 players from Louisiana, ninth through 12 graders. I think 126 ended up showing up for the event. We had to turn down about 60 players, coaches and parents, so we decided this year to grow it and change it to a two-day event,” Bryan Denison, Combine director, informed TSD. “By spreading it over two days, it allowed us to invite a lot more players. So we’ve invited a list compiled by me, other grassroots coaches, high school coaches and college coaches that came out to the top 300 players in the state.”

The youngest invitees, eighth through tenth graders, will take center stage on Saturday while the upperclassmen, the recruiting classes of 2015 and 2016, will have their go on Sunday.

The two days will mirror one another, beginning at 8:30 a.m. with rolling registration and going into standard Combine testing between 10 a.m. and noon.

“It’ll be exactly the same as the measurements from the NBA Combine – height, weight, wingspan, standing reach, max vertical, standing vertical, lane agility drills, three-quarter-court sprints, all that,” Denison explained.

After obtaining all that data, which will be made available to collegiate coaches on every level, the players in attendance will move on to something new to this year’s Combine, something above the rim.

“From noon to one each day we’ll have something called the Courtside Films Jam Session. It’s going to be an informal dunk contest basically,” said Denison. “We’ll pick a people’s champion. It’s sponsored by one of the hottest mixtape companies in the country, Courtside Films. They’re flying down here from Iowa, two guys who’ve never been to Louisiana, to get video footage and create 25-30 mixtapes of different players and games and just kinda general highlight reels from the event.”

From there more traditional on-court competition will ensue. Between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. it’s five-on-five time, with each class divided into six balanced teams “based on who shows up.” The games will be officiated by LHSAA officials and teams will play 30-minute games with a running clock.

Afterward, wrapping up both days, two 10-player all-star teams will be selected from each class. They’ll do battle in one final contest until the Combine’s close at 6 p.m.

Another twist: Media members (gulp) will be involved in determining several different Most Valuable Player awards.

“We’re going to award and give some prizes to Combine testing MVPs as well as the all-star game MVPs,” Denison continued. “Those will be chosen by people like you and other members of media and scouting/recruiting services there. We’ll do an aggregate deal and make it a group decision.”

The event, sponsored by Cypress Title, BancorpSouth, Louisiana Basketball Report, Team Sportsplex and Courtside Films, will be closed to Division-I coaches. With two notable exceptions, that is.

“Johnny Jones will be able to attend the day his son is involved in the Combine and the same thing for Coach [Ed] Conroy from Tulane, whose son was also invited,” said Denison. “Both of their kids are very good players who deserved to be invited.”

Combine in the Capital is open to the public with a charge of $10 a person at the gate.

WASN’T ALWAYS THIS WAY

Take in one anecdote from Denison about the impact of last year’s Combine, and it becomes clear how much additional exposure can help some of Louisiana’s brightest hoopers.

“Quinton Thomas is the perfect example,” he relayed. “He went to do the vertical leap test last year, and he jumped 49 inches. Everybody stopped what they were doing and surrounded him. They thought ‘That couldn’t be right.’ So they lined him up again, and he jumped 49 inches again. So now literally the whole gym stops, and we made him do it a third time to see if he could get 50. He did 49 again. That’s a number I’ve never seen personally.

“As a result of that he got a ton of buzz. I got 15 phone calls from college coaches saying ‘Is this an error? Really? Tell me about this kid.’ Quinton ended up signing with Nicholls State. He got a Division-I scholarship. It wasn’t only because of that because he’s a helluva player, first-team all-state player, but that certainly didn’t hurt. Everybody knew his name after that event.”

Anthony Kimble, who played on what’s widely regarded as the best AAU team ever in Baton Rouge (or really Louisiana for that matter), looks at what exists today – from the culture in general to the opportunities – and just marvels.

“There’s a huge difference in the landscape today,” Kimble remarked. “I played on a Sports Academy team with Glen Davis, Tasmin Mitchell, Garrett Temple, all those guys. We all graduated from high school in 2004 together, and we all played AAU for some years. It’s crazy to see the difference with the shoe companies these days. When we were coming out we got stuff from everyone. We were more independent. It was before the EYBL, before you really had to allocate yourself to a shoe company.

“Singular to the Combine in the Capital, it’s a bigger event than anything I could’ve thought of back then. About the closest thing we had was all the biggest guys going to the LSU Camp back when [John] Brady was there. Outside of that I can’t think of anything during my time period, from 2000-04, that’s even similar to what we’re doing with the Combine.”

Kimble, who actually went on to play running back for Stanford football from 2004-08 and was a team captain, is included in that “we” as he’s a co-owner of Louisiana Basketball Report (LINK HERE), a website devoted to gaining exposure for prep ballers in the Pelican State.

Along with Bobby Sibley, founder and co-owner of the site, Kimble has been instrumental in helping get Combine in the Capital version 2.0 off the ground and on its way to bigger heights.

“I’ve known Bobby since my high school days,” said Kimble. “It’s one of those things that a lot of the bigger basketball states have, multiple sites dedicated to promoting the top-tier players in that state. My background is building web sites and building apps, so I wanted to help them take it to the next level because I think it’s a big deal to get these kids exposure and give national media one place they can go to learn about our players. And we’re talking all kids with a shot, be it at the D-I, D-II, D-III and NAIA levels. I just want other kids to have the opportunity that I had, and that’s to go to college for free and get their education while doing something they love.”

Now more than ever that’s a possibility in this state.



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