Nike's first annual Lebron James U.S. Skills Academy was a stark departure from what the Nike All American Camp had become over years past. With summer basketball having become synonymous with a "one-on-one", "me" style of play that highlighted flash over fundamentals… Lebron James and Nike came together in hopes of bringing about change. The duo would promote a novel concept; a battery of summer camps that culminated with an All Star session in Lebron James' hometown of Akron, OH. The line-up went as follows.
- The Steve Nash Skills Academy (for the top PGs) June 29-July 2, 2007 (held in Northern NJ)
- The Kobe Bryant Skills Academy (for the top SGs) – June 25-28, 2007 (held in Los Angeles)
- The Vince Carter Skills Academy (for the top WFs) – June 25-28, 2007 (held in Orlando)
- The Amare Stoudemire Skills Academy (for the top PF's and Cs) – June 29-July 2, 2007 (held in Phoenix)
- The LeBron U.S. Skills Academy (top players overall) July 6-9, 2007 at the University of Akron (Akron, OH)
"With the LeBron U.S. Skills Academy, one can discard any of the traditional camp perceptions, and welcome a setting, whereby a premium is placed on fundamentals, and advanced skill development," said NIKE Global Camp Director Sherman Dillard. This idea was conceived to combine the absolute best in superior instruction, professional counseling, and competitive team and individual play. We have sought after and obtained the services of some of the nation’s best, brightest, and energetic “teachers of the game”. Our goal, quite frankly, is to provide for the players in attendance a “once in a lifetime experience”.
The Lebron James camp featured the 70 of the top players from all position groups, but that is a far cry from the 130+ that appeared at the Nike All-American camp in years past. The theme of the camp is great. There is no question that the youngsters in attendance benefited from the tutelage they received. In addition, Lebron James was more than just a star whose name was on the banner. He was present every day and he even went out of his way to work and play with the youngster. Still, the concept needs to be tweaked a tad.
Skill development was obviously under-emphasized in previous incarnations of the camp, but that doesn't mean the old format didn't have its plusses. The intense competition that was present in Indy used to be one of the highlights of summer. That was do in large part to the fact that the camp drew from a large base of players that didn't consist only of those that had already established themselves as the cream of the crop. There were mid-major and high major prospects that had yet to prove themselves in attendance. Those youngsters came in with an edge that helped raise the level of play of the big timers in attendance. Those with established names didn't want to be the one who some unknown guy made his name against. Without those players there, that sort of edge just isn't as prevalent.
Gone also is the excitement involved in seeing a youngster burst onto the national scene seemingly out of nowhere. Al Horford's break out performance at the Nike Camp in 2003 was one of the feel good stories that year. He immediately catapulted himself into being considered a big time prospect. Before that he wasn't even listed on some top 100 lists. If this same format were in place back in 2003 would an Al Horford have been included? There's a good chance he wouldn't have been. Therein lies the final tweak. Expand the camp back to its former size, but move forward with the new mission statement in mind. It obviously would be more difficult logistically and financially, but that's what it will take to make the Lebron James Skills Academy truly the best of both worlds.
Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine for word on some of the Michigan recruits in Akron. In the meantime, here is a complete listing of Scout.com's features on the camp thus far.