• April 19, 2024

His Basketball Camp Made Hall of Famers. Now He’s One, Too.

Grant Hill was in the form of. introduced to the Five Star Basketball Camp a Sports Illustrated article that was published in 1984 when he was 11 years old. As Hill flipped through the pages of the magazine, he was spellbound. To him, Five Star sounded like basketball nirvana, an exclusive destination where promising players could consume the game.

“It was like this mythical place where you could go – if you were lucky – and then maybe get a chance to play in college,” said Hill. “I remember being overwhelmed by the idea.”

Long before the advent of the internet and the proliferation of online scouting services, and long before the emergence of high profile summer circles for elite contenders, there was a man, Howard Garfinkel, and a standout camp, Five Star, which he co-founded in 1966. For several decades it was the place for young players: the place to study, the place to compare yourself to your peers, the place to get the attention of college coaches who have been teaching.

“Garf influenced more coaches and more players – from Michael Jordan downwards – than anyone else in the history of our game,” said John Calipari, Kentucky men’s basketball coach and former five-star camper and instructor. “It’s just a shame he’s not here.”

Garfinkel is part of a 16-person Hall of Fame class that includes Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, and Chris Webber; perennial WNBA All-Stars Lauren Jackson and Yolanda Griffith; and Bill Russell, who was recognized as a player back in 1975 but is this time honored for coaching the Boston Celtics to two NBA championships.

In a telephone interview, Calipari described Garfinkel as a runyonesque figure, reminiscent of the central casting. He ate onion sandwiches coated with salt. He smoked cigarettes. He didn’t go. He greeted campers every morning by blasting Frank Sinatra out of speakers. He wore orange trousers adorned with stains from lunch, and he would condescend to only wear t-shirts and polos with breast pockets. In fact, he thanked the coaches for giving him pocketless T-shirts and then threw the shirts in the trash.

“He knew what to wear,” said Calipari.

So it was no surprise that Garfinkel, the son of a textile worker, built Five Star based on his model. It was a training camp, said Calipari. The players cycled through stations where they worked on the basics, and the instructors were often luminaries in the coaching world: Hubie Brown, Chuck Daly, Mike Fratello. For them, Five Star was more of a think tank – an opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from one another.

“There’s nothing like it anymore,” said Calipari.

The games were played on cement courts, and opposing teams usually wore jerseys and skins. For reasons that were unclear even to those who knew him best, Garfinkel rejected the idea of ​​putting numbers on the backs of players’ t-shirts. It was a unique form of stubbornness That made it difficult for college coaches to identify the prospects they were looking for.

“You’d say, ‘Garf, you’ve got 400 players here,'” Calipari recalls. “But it didn’t matter. You literally had to go to the top scorer to find out who you were just watching: ‘Who’s that boy in the blue shorts?’ “

Garfinkel forbade immersion. The players were celebrated for voluntarily working on their games in “Station 13”, a kind of basketball outpost where, among other things, Mike Krzyzewski, the male coach at Duke, was a guest. The players paid to attend camp, and while a few received scholarships, they earned them by occupying the tables at mealtimes.

“There was something cool about the way the best players served the other campers,” said Hill. “That was a real life lesson.”

Hill was a high school freshman when he received his long-awaited invitation to Five Star at a small college outside of Pittsburgh that summer. His high school coach handed him a brochure and Hill studied every word, every photo. “It was like ‘wow’,” he said.

Back then, Amateur Athletic Union Basketball was nowhere near the colossus it is today. Instead, Five Star was the hub for aspiring players like Hill, whose coach at camp that summer was a young college assistant named John Calipari.

“It was basketball from sunrise to sunset,” said Hill.

Garfinkel also had a five-star “Hall of Fame,” an extensive collection of newspaper clippings about camp alumni who had graduated from the NBA – players like Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Isiah Thomas – that he posted on billboards and hung up a hallway . Whenever Hill had free time, he read the stories, studied the photos, and dreamed.

“There was so much history and you were starving for content and information,” he said. “It was a very different time.”

Hill was a five-star festival throughout high school, the last time he attended camp before the start of his senior year. By then he had established himself as one of the most sought-after recruits in the country, and North Carolina and Duke were vying for him. Hill said he was probably leaning towards North Carolina when Garfinkel pulled him aside and told him that he thought Duke was a perfect fit for him.

It was no secret that Garfinkel held Krzyzewski in high esteem, and Garfinkel shared his opinion without putting any pressure on Hill, who said he knew it was his decision. But after visiting Duke three weeks later, he understood that Garfinkel had been right all along. Hill won two national championships at Duke before becoming a seven-time NBA All-Star.

“It worked out pretty well,” said Hill.

The landscape has of course changed. Youth basketball is big business, and the best players travel across the country to compete in summer tournaments sponsored by sneaker companies. Her highlights are easily accessible to anyone with a cell phone or internet connection, and college coaches no longer flock to secluded camps in search of undiscovered gems – because there are no undiscovered gems, any more.

There is a natural tendency to be nostalgic about the past. Calipari, for example, mourned the loss of basketball lessons that summer. In that sense, Five Star is a comparable relic.

“Everything now is just go play,” said Calipari.

Still, Garfinkel was, in his own way, a popular forerunner of the power brokers – the scouts and the trainers and the sneaker managers – who now exert an overwhelming influence on the grassroots level. After all, Garfinkel was also a businessman. He ran his camps and for many years sold subscriptions to a scouting report, High School Basketball Illustrated, which he collated with Tom Konchalski, a close friend who died last year.

In a 2013 interview with the New York Timessaid Garfinkel he was concerned about the handful of “bad apples” that young players were taking for their own financial gain.

“I’m certainly not a saint,” he said. “But I can tell you that when it came to basketball, I made an honest living. I’ve never made a dime by sending a player to school. “

Above all, said Calipari, Garfinkel was extremely loyal. As a lifelong bachelor, he looked after the coaches and players who started his family. Hill said there was an innocence of Five Star, and maybe that too was lost.

“Things have gotten more sophisticated now, a little more glamorous,” said Hill. “And I’m not saying that one is better than the other. But I’ll say I’m glad I played and got through when I did. “

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