Rick Pitino think it’s shoe company influence in recruiting.
Louisville, a top adidas school, has had trouble recruiting the top prospects on the Nike EYBL circuit in recent years. Most recently, Antonio Blakeney, who plays for Nike-sponsored E1T1, rescinded a verbal commitment to Louisville 11 days after making it. Sources close to the situation insist Nike was behind Blakeney’s shocking de-commitment. Blakeney is now considering Kentucky, Missouri and LSU — all Nike-sponsored schools.
“I think we need to deal with,” Pitino said Thursday. “What I personally don’t like is I can’t recruit a kid because he wears Nike on the AAU circuit. I’ve never heard of such a thing but it’s happening in our world. I never thought that shoes would be the reason that you recruit players but it’s a factor.
“I think we need to get the shoe companies out of the lives of the athletes. I think we need to get it back to where parents and coaches have more of a say than peripheral people, but that’s easier said than done.”
Shoe companies like Nike line the pockets of universities and the coaches at those universities, which makes significant reform all but impossible.
“Nobody wants to talk about it because it’s money-related,” Pitino said. “University of Louisville makes a lot of money from adidas, and other schools. But I think it needs to be cleaned up.”
Pitino says shoe influence in basketball recruiting has significantly increased in recent years.
“In the past five years I’ve seen a tremendous change on this,” said Pitino. “It’s a very competitive thing between these shoe companies. They are competing like we do for recruits. But it’s very tough to address because our pockets are lined with their money.”
“I wish the NCAA would run the camps in the summer,” Pitino said. “So that everybody gets explained the NCAA rules, and they run the camps, when we can watch, and legislate that. That would be a great way to spend that war-chest they have. But I don’t think they want to do that.”
Nike controls a substantial majority of the nation’s top recruits through their AAU programs, which compete on the EYBL, whose semifinals and finals were televised on ESPN this summer. Nike supports AAU programs across the country and for that support expects those programs to direct their top players to colleges also sponsored by Nike.
“It’s a problem that is really prevalent in basketball right now,” Pitino said. “I’m sure the Nike coaches don’t feel that way cause they’re winning the battle.”
Despite his program’s disadvantages in the shoe wars, Pitino has continued to recruit well in recent years. After winning the 2013 NCAA championship, Louisville landed a Top 10 ranked recruiting class. This year, even without Blakeney, the Cardinals still boast the nation’s second-best recruiting class behind Arizona, a Nike program.
“It took me a long time to realize who I’m going after,” Pitino said. “We’ve finally done a good job of that. We know the programs that are really influenced by Nike and Under Armor. I wish it wasn’t there. I think it’s going to be there for a long time.”
Pitino says being an adidas-sponsored program makes recruiting more challenging.
“I think our pool shrinks, but we’re having our best recruiting classes in the last few years,” Pitino said. “The answer for us is to find out what AAU program the athlete is involved with, how loyal is he to that program, will the outside influences in the program push and direct him to Nike schools? We have to do our homework.
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