The big basketball news of the day yesterday happened when Rick Pitino, Hall of Fame worthy basketball coach and peddler of Adidas products, spoke up about how shoe companies impact recruiting. You may remember shortly after Louisville received a commitment from Antonio Blakeney, he backed out on his commitment only to spark this comment from 247Sports' Jerry Meyer:
I don't play up shoe company angle in basketball recruiting but decommitment of Antonio Blakeney from Louisville is shoe company related.— Jerry Meyer (@jerrymeyer247) September 16, 2014
Not sure if he expected it to happen, but that caused a minor explosion to twitter at the time. Coach Pitino's comments today however, caused a major explosion on twitter...
Only if he gives back what Adidas pays him RT @MarkEnnis: Pitino says NCAA and leagues needs to get shoe companies out of recruits lives.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) October 9, 2014
Many of the responses were over the over-dramatic type, as people are wont to unleash on Twitter (I admit, I favorited that last tweet because I thought it was funny), and few had actually listened to the context of what Pitino was saying. If you're interested in reading what he said, you can catch the transcript here, courtesy of the Louisville Courier-Journal. What Pitino was really trying to get to is the shoe companies' impact on summer basketball. Adidas and Nike fight it out for most of the AAU programs, and Under Armour and Reebok sponsor a few as well. When the shoe companies have contracts, that's how most of the AAU coaches get paid, and how the trips get paid for.
Needless to say, no one involved wants to see that relationship end, which is why some players may feel pressure to support those that have been supporting them. These players get closer to their AAU coaches, who are essentially making a living from these shoe company contracts. And certainly there are players who make their college decisions or professional shoe contract decisions based upon who take care of them and when. How often do you think that really happens? I mean, it's possible that it happened with the Antonio Blakeney situation, but it has to be something that's incredibly rare.
I went back and looked at where several Nike Schools and several Adidas schools got their players. I looked at Arizona, since they have the number 1 recruiting class so far in 2015, and Florida State (the #3 recruiting class) from the Nike Schools. Louisville (who despite Pitino's grumbling, have the #2 class as of now) and Kansas were my Adidas schools. Both KU and Louisville had no trouble landing top recruits from Nike programs, whether is was high school or AAU. After looking at what I had uncovered, I determined that it wasn't much to look at, so here's just L'ville and 'Zona over the last few years.
So what exactly is Rick Pitino talking about?
It is true that when players make the NBA, they sign a shoe contract. I'm not about to start the research on finding out whether a player's AAU team ends up playing a role in their later shoe contract, but I'd be willing to say it's a safe bet. However, the (albeit limited) evidence seems to show that their decision on where they go to college is not based upon who sponsored their AAU team.