By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Last weekend’s Midwest Basketball Showcase saw nearly 200 of the top players from six states (Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma) compete in front of more than 150 coaches from all levels.
The uniqueness of the event came with the fact that the showcase was an evaluation or “live” event, meaning that Division I coaches could attend and get an in-person look at many of the players they’re recruiting. Typically these opportunities don’t exist during the month of June, but NCAA changes to the recruiting calendar added a scholastic event in June to help replace the other “live” weekends that were taken away by the NCAA.
To simplify these changes, grassroots recruiting opportunities went from five last summer (two in April, three in July) to just two this season (one in April, one in July) unless a player is invited to a select list of certified camps.
Many grassroots/travel ball coaches and media experts disagreed with the changes initially and still do.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has this to say about the changes last July.
College basketball is about to do something dumb…again. Demonizing summer basketball and blaming “one and done” are red herrings and will not change a thing. But, they’ll do it anyway. https://t.co/z7bOq0dEwS
— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) July 16, 2018
Bilas was hardly alone.
Dale Lamberth – former Missouri State Bear and current director of grassroots basketball program Missouri Flight – has sent more than a dozen players to college over the last few years. He was also worried about the initial changes, particularly for the players not among the nation’s elite.
“Initially, I thought what a bummer for kids,” said Lamberth. “Some of these kids spent their whole lives for this opportunity and then they take away from them. The rules in recruiting were broken. I understand that, but find a different way than to take away from everyone. For some, this is their only chance at being seen and evaluated.”
While the new format is still flawed in the opinion of many in the industry, the Midwest Showcase helped to alleviate some of those concerns due to just how many coaches were in attendance.
As a result, many local players benefitted.
Willard senior Daniel Abreu – an All-O-Zone selection last winter – had received offers from Division II programs and interest from some Division I schools, but immediately following the showcase, the 6-foot-6 wing received his first D1 offer from Jacksonville. The A-Sun member attended the showcase in Liberty and liked what they saw.
Abreu has also heard from Air Force, Nebraska-Omaha and Oklahoma Christian, all of whom were in Liberty last weekend.
Playing for Lamberth, Missouri Flight has become one of the top teams on the newly formed Prep Hoops Circuit. But for Abreu, it was a unique experience playing with and against some of the top players from other circuits.
“It was a learning experience,” said Abreu. “Many of the players had different playing styles. Having to guard them, as well as play alongside them, has opened up my perspective on the game.”
Joplin senior Evan Guillory is no stranger to big games as a current member of Under Armor’s KC Run GMC, but last weekend he was able to elevate his recruitment thanks to the stage.
Guillory has heard from Iowa, Missouri State, Boise State, Texas State and Nebraska-Omaha since the end of the event on Sunday.
The 6-foot-3 All-COC guard has played with other shoe company teams such as MOKAN Elite and Team Griffin, but last weekend’s showcase had a different feel to it.
“It reminded me of a circuit game in a lot of ways but I think the biggest difference was seeing how they were courtside and fully focused on the game,” said Guillory. “It was among the most coaches I’ve ever played in front of.”
Lebanon senior Quenton Shelton, who plays with Team Carroll GoLive outside of major shoe circuits, also saw his stock rise, particularly in a back-to-back stretch where Shelton knocked down nine total 3s.
His ability to shoot the basketball led to offers by D2 programs Oklahoma Christian and Southwest Baptist. In a two-game stretch, Shelton buried nine 3s, helping to solidify his role as an elite shooter against elite competition.
Like Shelton, Webb City senior Terrell Kabala also saw a major boost in his stock.
Kabala, who plays with Victory Ministry on the Prep Hoops Circuit, entered the event with zero D2 offers. But, after his showcase coach made a call to Arkansas-Fort Smith about Kabala, Coach Jimmy Boone made the trip to Webb City to meet with and watch the All-COC point guard play summer league basketball which led to UAFS extending an offer.
South Dakota State, William Jewell, Northeastern State, Pitt State, Drury and Rogers State have all joined in Kabala’s recruitment following the showcase.
Rob Yanders – program director and coach at Yander’s Law – believes the event was able to benefit players that haven’t been on a major stage and/or aren’t on it consistently.
“I think the event was smoothly run and really turned into something great,” said Yanders. “They were able to pack both gyms with coaches and give everyone equal access to that platform. I was very impressed.
“The people that saw the most benefit were the ones outside of the shoe circuits, I think that’s why you’re seeing these local guys finally start getting Division I interest and offers. It was a great inaugural event and I hope they keep it around and continue to build on it. Regardless of if they change the format again, this event needs to be an option in June. Two evaluation periods just isn’t enough.”
Yander’s Law had three local players present in Carthage senior Alex Martini, as well as juniors Anton Brookshire (Kickapoo) and Isaac Haney (Dora). Brookshire, a top-100 player in his class, often had an entourage of Power 5 coaches at his games.
While the event went well, for Lamberth, there are still some questions about if the current system is the best for players at all levels to get recruited.
As currently constructed, the players at the highest levels get more opportunities to be seen by coaches at that corresponding level. But, for potential low to mid-major prospects, those opportunities are far fewer without the invite to select camps.
Lamberth believes events like the Midwest Showcase are here to stay in grassroots basketball.
“It didn’t change my mind about this new format being good for the players,” said Lamberth. “To me it could have been an added opportunity to the April and July live periods. However, showcases like last weekend are the direction that high school exposure is going. And I do think that last weekend was successful and will only get bigger and better, which will benefit the players.
“I just wish it didn’t come at the expense of other events that would be open to more high school players and teams.”