September 2015

Drives too hard to the basket and Misses a layup

Taurasi answers with a three, but on her next possession, she drives too hard to the basket and misses a layup. Robinson hauls down the rebound and answers with a layup at the other end, but her team trails 39-33. Augustus grabs a rebound and races down the court. She dribbles behind her back, hesitates, then banks a shot in to give her team a 41-33 lead. One possession later, Taurasi puts up a monster three. Her ball misses the rim completely. She shrugs. Her team, with Augustus and Nicole Powell, has too much firepower. The buzzer sounds. With that, Nike Camp ends.

A lot has happened in three days

Taurasi has been spectacular and brash. She has announced that although Tennessee is off her list, UCLA and UConn are still in the hunt. Robinson seems torn between Texas and Tennessee, but UCLA has crept onto her list. Powell is feeling good about both Stanford and Duke. Anne O’Neil has lost some of her luster and seems headed to a large Midwestern university. Careers have been made, and careers have been broken.

“But look,” says Powell’s father, pointing to the coaches’ bleacher. “Careers are being made and broken over there too.”

Epilogue

Last fall, the highly recruited class of 2000 made their final college visits. Ashley Robinson spent several days at the University of Texas during a big football weekend; a week later, she drove to the airport to catch a plane for her scheduled visit to Tennessee. A Federal Express envelope was waiting for her at the counter: It was a letter from Texas coach Jody Conradt reminding Robinson of her roots. While she was on the Tennessee campus that weekend, Robinson made up her mind. She told Pat Summitt that she wanted to play for the Lady Vols. The lure of a championship ring triumphed over home state loyalty.

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Nike Camp Coaches

All the coaches at Nike Camp wear shirts with school logos. All except Pat Summitt, who wears Tommy Hilfiger. Summitt is a bona fide celebrity, having appeared on Good Morning America, 60 Minutes II and The Rosie O’Donnell Show. On the second day of camp, Summitt is wearing black silk Tommy dress shorts with a matching knit top and black Cole Hahn loafers. Two heavy diamond-and-gold national championship rings sparkle on her fingers. How does she decide which of her six championship rings to wear? “That’s easy,” she jokes. “The last two.”

Coaches Competing

What competing coaches may not notice is how Summitt’s bejeweled knuckles tighten every time Ashley Robinson glances at Texas’s Jody Conradt. They don’t notice that beneath the impeccable grooming, Summitt is bone-thin and has the exhausted eyes of a person who lives with stress. Summitt doesn’t like to talk about recruiting; she has learned that anything she says can and will be used against her, even by her friends in the business.

That day, Diana Taurasi tells the press that Tennessee is no longer among the schools she is considering.

When Taurasi is asked why Tennessee has dropped off her list of programs, she shrugs. “Pat and I talked on the phone,” she says. “But there just wasn’t that chemistry. I just wasn’t feeling it.”

Texas recruit Ashley Robinson lacks the cocksureness of Taurasi and some of the other campers. “I’m lazy,” she admits. “I want [a coach] who will make me work. I’ve never had anyone push me to my limits. I’ve never won a championship either.” Virtually every coach wants Robinson. They think she has the potential to become the next Lisa Leslie: She is versatile, with a good jump shot–and the looks of a model.

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The campers guess: Five million?

VanDerveer is the immensely likable and learned Stanford coach who transformed a group of athletically underachieving smart kids into teams that won national championships in 1990 and 1992. She coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, a seminal event that helped launch the WNBA. Admissions standards at Stanford restrict VanDerveer to recruiting eight players at Nike Camp, all of whom must have strong academic records. Even for some of those, she will have to plead.

According to VanDerveer, what is preserving women’s college basketball for the moment is the lack of corrupting sums of money; the WNBA, with starting salaries of $26,500, isn’t making anybody rich yet.

Nike Camp counselors try to impart a sense of reality to the players. The three-day schedule includes seminars on balancing academics and sports and choosing a college. Guest speakers such as Jackie Joyner-Kersee, broadcasters Ann Meyers-Drysdale (ESPN) and Fran Harris (Lifetime) come in to talk to the girls. During one seminar, Harris throws out a question: “How many women do you think are playing basketball around the world?”

The campers guess: Five million?

“Eight million,” Harris announces. She repeats it. “Eight million girls play basketball. How many players are in the WNBA?”

Silence.

“One hundred and twenty,” Harris says, adding, “You do the math.”

VanDerveer offers her own math lesson: She says that no more than 10 of the 80 campers will make it to the WNBA.

“These kids are all a stubbed toe away from being regular students,” she says. “They need to understand words like mortgage.”

Anne O’Neil is a Nike Camp veteran. Two years ago, she made a splash as a sophomore, but now she is a prime example of how fortunes change. According to the buzz in the coaches’ bleacher, O’Neil has struggled to live up to her billing. She averaged 28 points and 10 rebounds a game for John F. Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but is having a disappointing camp. “It’s hard to play your best here, because everybody wants to show their stuff,” she admits. (more…)


The Opportunity For a Girl to Strut

The opportunity for a girl to strut her stuff at Nike Camp is not an inexpensive proposition. The camp offers free tuition for players, but parents must pay to get their daughters to Indianapolis, which can mean hundreds–if not thousands–of dollars in plane tickets, plus their own hotel bills, rental cars and meals. “You see parents following kids from tournament to tournament, and you wonder how they’re doing it,” says UConn’s Auriemma. “My parents worked.”

The parents of Nicole Powell, a 6-foot-2 senior from Arizona, resisted getting on the basketball camp merry-go-round until this year. Powell’s mother, Ruth, is a recreation coordinator for the Phoenix parks and her father, Lawrence, is a supervisor in a county juvenile court system. “We couldn’t understand the cost,” says Ruth, who relented this summer because she knew it was important for their daughter to play in front of top recruiters.

Pay for the trip

The Powells told Nicole that she could attend Nike Camp but that she would have to help pay for the trip. She got a part-time job and the Powells bought their plane tickets to Indianapolis six months in advance, getting fares of $200 each. “I couldn’t have imagined doing this every summer,” Ruth says.

At Nike Camp, the Powells’ investment seems to be paying off: Nicole is playing well, and it doesn’t hurt that she has a superb transcript, which earns her the attention of coaches from Duke, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame. Still, the Powells admit they find the process disturbing. “You see 10- and 12-year-olds going to national tournaments where coaches tell the parents, `I can get your daughter to the next level,'” Ruth says.

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Moving Words

“I love your emphasis on building strength, muscle and confidence I’m canceling my subscriptions to fashion magazines.”

–Lisa Jung, Ellsworth, Maine

Yes, Sweat

When I first saw the word diet on your cover, I cringed. But then I read “Move It and Lose It” (January/February 2000), which is the only real way to lose weight. Here’s to the exercise diet!

Julie Parkins

London, Ontario

Tri-umphant

Thank you for three great articles in the January/February issue: “Athlete of the Century: Babe Didrikson,” “Move It and Lose It” and “Sweat Now, Age Later.” The first gave me historical perspective, the second gave me a vision of attainable results in the present, and the third gave me a positive view of my aging body’s possibilities in the future.

Rachel Hollowgrass

Oakland, California

Senior Power

I really enjoyed “Sweat Now, Age Later,” about women who are still active even though many people think of them as senior citizens. The article inspired me to give a Women’s Sports & Fitness subscription to my grandmother, an incredible, fit woman. Keep up the good work!

Angela Gallegos

Raleigh, North Carolina

As a 57-year-old pre-Title IX athlete, I was thrilled with your January/February issue and especially with your story “Sweat Now, Age Later.” Finally, a magazine for female athletes that proves age isn’t a factor. (more…)


The Nike Camp Ball

A few seats away from Summitt sits Jody Conradt of the University of Texas. Like Summitt, Conradt is a Hall of Fame coach; she holds the all-time NCAA record for victories: 725 and counting. A war between the states is shaping up for Ashley Robinson.

The ball goes up quickly at Nike Camp

Suddenly, arms and elbows are flying and sneakers are squeaking as girls take off up and down the court. Every six minutes, two new squads take the floor. Players want to show as much as possible in a short time. They know their stock can rise–or fall–if they don’t live up to their billing. “You don’t want to be the overrated player,” Taurasi explains. The result is that the girls shoot with all the restraint of bank robbers. Even with jitters and sloppy play, the girls know it’s a sellers’ market. “Somewhere along the line, the kids took over the recruiting process,” Auriemma says, sighing. “How many 17-year-olds are going to say, `Stop, please, I don’t want to hear anymore nice things about me?'”

But something even bigger is playing itself out at Nike Camp: the future of the women’s game. Twenty-five years ago, the Tennessee Lady Vols held bake sales to pay for their uniforms. The $5,000 women’s athletic budget at the University of Tennessee covered six sports. Pat Summitt’s starting salary as a physical education teacher and coach was $8,900.

Today the University of Tennessee women’s athletic budget exceeds $8 million; in 1998-99, the women’s basketball team generated $2.3 million in revenue. Summitt’s total compensation now tops $500,000 and attendance at Lady Vols home games has grown from an average of 3,000 fans in 1982 to 16,500 in 1999–higher than some NBA teams.

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Around The Gym

It’s easy to tell the coaches from the parents, the sneaker company representatives, the summer-league officials and the stage-door Johnnies milling around the gym. The coaches wear polo shirts in garish school colors; they carry satchels stuffed with scouting reports; and their cell phones are pinned between their necks and their ears. Most of them are sweaty, their foreheads creased with concentration. There is Pat Summitt, Tennessee’s Hall of Fame coach who has won six national championships, more than any woman or man in the sport today. To her right sits Geno Auriemma of the University of Connecticut, wearing a blue Huskies shirt, Top-Siders and an air of perpetual nonchalance.

They are vying for players such as Diana Taurasi, 17, a 5-foot-11 guard from Chino, California, who plays with the brashness of a guy. “[The coaches] are here to see the young kids who are going to take over the throne in four or five years,” Taurasi says matter-of-factly.

Being a hot prospect

Taurasi brims with confidence, casually exercising the leverage that goes with being a hot prospect. About to enter her senior year, she is a schoolgirl legend who averaged 27 points and almost 13 rebounds a game for Don Lugo High School during her junior season. At a tournament in Santa Barbara, California, earlier in the summer, she sank the winning shot in four consecutive games. She expects a starting position next year as a college freshman, even though most young players don’t see significant game time until they are sophomores or juniors. “I don’t want to waste a year on the bench,” she announces.

Kathy Olivier, the UCLA coach, watches Taurasi intently from the first row. A few seats away, UConn’s Auriemma tries not to show how badly he wants Taurasi. Coaches chat amiably and casually peruse newspapers and stat sheets, trying to throw one another off the scent. “The only thing more entertaining than the play on the court,” Auriemma says, “is the coaches lying to one another up in the bleachers.”

A scrimmage is under way. Taurasi pulls up for a double-clutch jumper, hanging in midair. As the ball leaves her hand, the crowd murmurs a low woooo. The shot goes in. Summitt raises an eyebrow.

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Best High School Basketball Players

For the country’s best high school basketball players, a good showing at Nike Camp can lead to a college scholarship, even a career in the WNBA. But as recruiting heats up for the next star, it’s the coaches who are doing most of the sweating.

Nike’s annual all-star camp

It’s dead summer, and every major women’s college basketball coach in the country is sitting on shaky aluminum bleachers in an Indianapolis gym, blinking under fluorescent lights and wondering what happened to their profession. The 80 best high school players in the United States, aged 14 to 18, are stampeding up and down the court to a continuous shrieking of whistles, while the coaches watch with the gimlet eyes of auction bidders.

This is Nike’s annual all-star camp, an invitation-only event held every July, and it is the tryout of a lifetime. A big performance at Nike Camp can launch a girl’s career, earn her a scholarship to play for a big-time program, and from there perhaps pave the way for a WNBA career.

The large gym on the Indiana University campus has been transformed into a modern-day Baghdad flesh bazaar, except that the girls are wearing jerseys and high-tops. Nike Camp is one of the most important events of the year in women’s high school and college basketball, both for the players and for the coaches who are recruiting them. But Nike Camp is also a window on the state of the sport: It is a story about supply and demand–lots of demand–for the best young athletes in the country. The college that wins the most blue-chip talent may propel itself to a national championship and reap the accompanying riches. For coaches, a winning program can mean job security and national prominence, which lead to lucrative side deals in summer camps and team sneaker contracts.

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How to See The Olympics

How to see the Olympics or add oomph to your serve–she’ll answer anything

What’s better: three sets in a row for each muscle group or three trips around the weight room?

J.C., Medford, MA

Well, others may prefer that you don’t hog a machine, but doing three consecutive sets is better for you. “It takes about two minutes for the muscle to recover completely,” says Wayne Westcott, fitness research director of the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts. So doing three sets with only about 90 seconds rest in between makes muscles work harder. Even better, do three different moves for the same muscle group, like a set of triceps dips, followed by a set of triceps kickbacks and a set of triceps extensions. “Mixing it up helps build more comprehensive strength,” Westcott says, “because you’re involving more muscle fibers.”

I want to increase the power of my tennis serve. Any advice?

P.M., Lexington, KY

Try channeling Venus Williams, who holds the Guinness world record for her 127-mph power serve. Not psychic? Build Venus-like strength. “The power of your serve comes from the legs and the trunk rotation,” says Tim Howell, director of tennis at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai, California. His favorite move: racquet crunches. Hold your racquet with both hands in front of you as you sit up and twist your torso first to one side and then the other. For the legs, walking lunges (try coveting the whole length of the court) will build the strength you need to create momentum for your serve.

What’s the cheapest way to go to the Olympics?

K.P., Chester, NJ

Unless you can stuff yourself into Jenny Thompson’s gym bag, there really is no cheap way to go to the Games in Sydney. Cartan Tours (www.cartan.com) will plan the whole thing for you (airfare, hotels, tickets) with week-long packages that start around $5,000. (more…)