On May 31, 2019 I received an email from the NCAA College Basketball Academy titled “Congratulations!” on my son’s acceptance to participate. Full disclosure, he read on Twitter weeks before that this opportunity required only a self-nomination. The email from the NCAA went on to provide the session assignment (Session 1, Grand Canyon University) as well as provide a high-level overview of what to expect at the camp; drills, educational sessions, games, and college coaches! As I do with other camp “invitations,” I quickly scanned the email to look for the cost. It only took three quick scans, along with a word search for a “$” sign and my search came up empty. As I read further, the email went on to detail that the cost of all travel, expenses, and apparel would be paid for by the NCAA. Now look, I’ve been in the travel basketball dad game long enough to know that this was too good to be true.

For the next 30 minutes, even after I confirmed acceptance of our invite to the NCAA, I contemplated whether to even convey this “invitation” to my son. No need to get his hopes up for something that was obviously a ‘basketball FYRE Festival.’ If I am anything, I am a realist and well aware that there are a number of elite 2022 prospects across the country that would be invited before my son was. Before I communicated this “invite” to my son or anyone else, I did what most would do in this day and age; went to Twitter. There, I found a spattering of “blessed to receive an invite from  #AcademyU” and “excited to be chosen to attend NCAA Basketball Academy”. Could this be the real deal?

For the next six weeks we received updates via email and through a “Teamworks” app; parent agreements, medical waiver forms, travel itineraries, rosters, offensive playbooks. I had done enough research by this point to know that the invitation represented a real opportunity, and the only question that remained open could only be answered through the four-day camp experience itself.

We arrived in Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport fairly late in the afternoon. As we made our way to the meeting point, my son received a phone call from NCAA Academy staff (a team manager for the Fresno State basketball team) reminding us where to go and assuring us that we would have a shuttle (Chevy Suburban) to take us to the Grand Canyon University campus. Once on campus the check-in process at the dormitory was fast and simple. The campers were provided a reversible jersey, shorts, two dri-fit tees, a bookbag, towel, and socks, all unbranded and affixed with the NCAA Basketball Academy logo. Players were ushered to an athletic assessment and a players-only opening session led by Earl Watson Jr, while parents shuttled to a nearby hotel {bar}.

Parent-player interaction would be limited to meal times, if you were lucky, over the next couple of days. The players drilled from 8am to 12pm each day, attended educational sessions provided by the NCAA and NBA players association, and two games per day wrapping up either at 9:30pm or 10:30pm dependent upon their game schedule. The days were long and campers could be found napping in quiet areas of the activity center between evening/night game times. Per the NCAA Academy reps, this schedule was purposely taxing to provide a glimpse into the rigors of D1 student-athlete life.

We have been to all types of camps, from those with a three-dribble rule to camps that promote and encourage “going for self” and 14 dribble drives. It was clear from the beginning that gameplay at the Academy would focus on execution of one of the three offensive sets provided pre-camp and reinforced during morning drills. Other than transition buckets, players were forced to make the correct reads and play unselfish basketball within a structured offense. This camp was also unique in regards to the level of officiating. Each game was officiated by three NCAA officials, with an additional official providing real-time feedback on calls, spacing, etc.

Academy teams were coached by regional HS and college coaches. During gameplay, Academy coaches were required to make periodic substitutions so that each of the team’s 8 or 9 players received close to an equal amount of playing time. I did not count, but there were at least 40 Division 1 schools that could be found watching one of three to four concurrent games. There were games that were standing room-only for coaches and also games not scouted at all; purely dependent upon the players in action. Much has been made of the talent pool in attendance at each of the camps. As I’m a dad and not a talent scout I will leave any assessment of the talent level and how many of the academy attendees were actually recruitable to the experts in the twitterverse. What I will tell you is that the players were engaged, unselfish, and giving 110 percent despite their weariness at times.

Given that this was the first time for the NCAA there are obvious kinks that can be ironed out; the self-nomination process, length of player days, frequency of parent shuttles, regional assignments, and more. I’m fairly certain the NCAA will iron out all of the small bumps given their investment in the Academy. Even for the time being, it is difficult to complain about an expense-paid opportunity to play in front of college coaches in a structured environment with great coaching and college basketball officiating, all within a D-1 basketball facility. We will see what the future holds.