ST. GEORGE — Cade Lemcke understands the importance of summer basket-ball to college recruiting, especially in the competitive world of AAU.
For nearly two decades, he’s taken athletes out of state and across the country to have them seen by college coaches during his tenure with the East Coast Fusion and, most recently, Team Loaded.
This summer, the Blue Ridge School basketball coach turned the tables and had the college coaches come to him, thanks to a newly implemented rule that permits high school associations to host recruiting events the last two weekends in June.
The NCAA announced changes after the Condoleezza Rice commission issued suggestions to help clean up alleged corruption, violations and scandals in men’s college basketball over the past decade.
The main objective was to allow high schools to host big team events that showcase players to college coaches that were normally reserved for high-profile AAU tournaments hosted by shoe companies throughout the country.
“I have always felt that summer is about players getting better and getting exposure in front of college coaches,” Lemcke said. “Before this year, that would mean players would train on their own, work with their coaches, maybe attend camps, then they would play with their AAU team in a few tournaments in front of college coaches and scouts.
"With the new rule allowing college coaches to attend these scholastic events, that adds a layer of complexity, but also a layer of new opportunity.”
Last December, the National Federation of High School Associations came out with a decision the excluded schools that were not members of their recognized body of associations that govern high school sports in each state. That decision excluded independent schools in some parts of the country.
Richard H. Kemper Jr., the executive director of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association, said he discussed the ruling with representatives from the Virginia High School League and the NFHS during the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association national conference. The discussion included how the VISAA could host an event for members schools and other independent schools in neighboring states that would not have events for their players to be evaluated by college coaches during the June dates.
After the discussions with public and private school administrators, Kemper said the only way the VISAA and VHSL could have a joint event if it was endorsed by the VHSL and during a week they were hosting. The VHSL elected to pass on the opportunity, opting to wait on more information about the events and due to a concern of potential Title IX issues because the tournaments only featured boys programs.
“I had been in conversation with Cade at Blue Ridge as he was interested hosting an event for our teams,” Kemper said. “At a coaching conference, he was in contact with the NCAA and found out we could apply to host an event, so that’s what we did and fulfilling the request and concerns of the NCAA, our application was approved.”
The Virginia Live Period Shootout at Blue Ridge this past weekend attracted nearly 20 teams, including local programs such as St. Anne’s-Belfield and Covenant as well as teams from Maryland and as far away as New York for the first session. Tandem Friends is scheduled to take part in the second session this weekend.
“The credit goes to Cade for his organization of the two-weekend shootout and getting teams involved,” Kemper said. “The VISAA endorsed the event and helped with the paperwork and the application, but the actual running of the event is due to Cade and Blue Ridge School.”
Lemcke is well versed in the recruiting trail and the pressures for exposure during the summer basketball circuit. He was a walk-on at the University of Virginia and has served as a Division I assistant coach at Longwood University and UVa. He also founded the East Coast Fusion AAU basketball program and most recently served as the co-director of the Team Loaded program in Virginia.
“The new system gives players a chance to display their skills to college coaches while competing with their high school team,” Lemcke said. “More often than not, a player is more comfortable in their high school environment, so that is good.
“College coaches now get to evaluate players in a more structured environment. For the most part, a high school program is going to hold players accountable more, run sets, play defense on both ends and have more of a ‘team mentality’ than the AAU environment has. All of these things are more similar to college environment; thus, the coaches can evaluate better.”
Miller School basketball coach Danny Manuel took his team to a similar event at The Blair Academy in New Jersey, which featured teams from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and some high-profile Prep League teams.
“We attended a first-class event that included many teams chalked full of EYBL-level talent,” Manuel said. “With only two returning roster members, my offseason has been and is busy. Many of our guys met each other for the first time in the hotel and showed progress throughout Saturday. The event had a ton of college head coaches, grassroot influencers and featured ‘name brand” teams with 6-6 wings and 7-foot bigs.”
The talent level of the competitors wasn’t the only eye-popping part of the event. Manuel said that coaches from numerous high-major conferences were there, including Virginia coach Tony Bennett and new Michigan coach Juwan Howard, as well as assistants from Louisville, Georgia, Auburn, Connecticut, Florida and Georgia.
“Coaches want to see as many talent as possible under one roof,” Manuel said. “Coaches are more efficient scouting six prospects on one team as opposed to scouting three teams with two prospects. Throughout the school months, we see a considerable number of college coaches in our gym because we have a considerable number of prospects. I think this will also be reflected in the future summer live events.”
Lemcke likes the makeup of the new showcase tournaments.
“There is no pressure to win, no stats to worry about, no trophy to reach for,” Lemcke said. “There is the pressure to show well in front of college coaches, but it has to be an easier environment than dealing with all those things at the same time.”
The Blue Ridge coach said that one of the biggest draws is the familiarity of the players in a team concept.
“This June, there were only 41 events offered throughout the entire country, 29 part of the NFHS and 12 offered by the NCAA for non-federation teams not part of the NFHS,” Lemcke said. “The biggest pro is that now players who ‘show better’ with their high school team than with their AAU team have a chance to be evaluated by college coaches in that environment. All the eggs are not in the AAU basket anymore.”
“I think that an event like this can be good from a high school coach’s perspective, because it gives coaches a chance to work with their kids during the summer,” he said. “It gives kids who thrive in their school’s system/environment a chance to showcase that with their high school, if those scouts don’t already visit their school during the school months.”
At the public school level, programs don’t typically have that same access. The schools typically attend one team camp a summer and that is it.
Albemarle coach Greg Maynard said he and his brother, Darren, who coaches at Western Albemarle, have been regulars at the Paul Webb camp at Randolph-Macon for more than two decades.
“It’s been good for us, developing good team chemistry and developing as a team,” Maynard said. “That’s the main reason I do it. You get to play against a lot of different teams and you can learn more about your team.”
But the exposure is not the same.
“We see a lot of D2 and D3 coaches, but I haven’t seen many D1,” Maynard said. “The smaller schools can find some pretty good players. In the fall, when coaches are allowed to visit, we invited them to come in and watch practices but we don’t get that many that come through. We take the kid that are local and do the best that we can do with them.”
Manuel believes that could change next year with the success of these showcase tournaments. The Miller School coach believes the VHSL will have a “slew of schools competing” to host events next year, as will other states.
“This will raise the issue of which events college coaches will go to in order to get the best bang for their buck,” he said.
“The VHSL was in a tough position this year,” Lemcke said. “They knew it was something important for their member teams, but with little experience in this area, they were not prepared to run an event. I would imagine the VHSL will be ready to participate next year, or else many of the teams will be even more frustrated, not to mention college prospects and their families who need this time in front of college coaches.”
Despite the initial success of the Virginia Live Period Shootout, Lemcke said there are still things that need to be tweaked. He believes that players that want exposure will be at the mercy of their high school coaches to take them to or host these events, instead of allowing them to spend time with family and enjoy summer break. This puts the onus on the player to convince his coach to participate.
The other con is that college coaches can no longer see a large number of prospects in one place.
“It’s really hard to be efficient with your time when most high school programs only have a couple of college prospects on their team,” Lemcke said. “Only having 20 percent of the players worth your time makes it a daunting task, compared to AAU events where there might be seven to eight players on each team who are recruitable at some level.”
Lemcke said that more than 60 college coaches attended last weekend’s event at Blue Ridge from all three levels of college basketball.
“If you have the aspirations to play in college, there was likely a school there that could be a good fit,” he said. “This is the first camp of its kind this year. Division I college coaches have never been allowed to watch these camps in person during June.”
Lemcke hopes that next year, the NCAA will consider allowing VHSL and VISAA teams to participate together. The Blue Ridge coach said he was contacted by more than 10 teams that wanted to play in his event, but weren’t allowed due to NCAA rules.
He believes that events like this will make the high school basketball program more important in the recruiting process.
“For the past 20 years or so, high school coaches could almost be non-existent from the recruiting process most everything happened through the AAU team,” Lemcke said. “Whether they like it or not, though, high school coaches are going to need to be more engaged, more willing to help their athletes through the process. If not, there will be more families wanting to explore private schools as options for their sons.”