Travel basketball circuits pulling away from local teams

Scott Kitun/The Medillian

Scott Kitun/The Medillian

From the time they were grade school children, the Mache twins Michael and Matthew, wanted to play NCAA Division I college basketball.

The two boys trained five hours per day preparing for their high school season. With the ultimate objective of attracting the attention of their favorite college coach, Coach K, Duke University head coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

“We really didn’t understand how recruiting worked early on. We just thought, one day we would look up into the stands and there he’d be,” said Michael Mache, the all-time scoring leader at Glenbard West High School.

Coach K never appeared and early on, not many other coaches did either. The Mache twins failed to understand that in order to be recruited by a major college basketball program, they must first play in front of them.

“When you play on a school team or AAU team, unless you make it to nationals, you have almost no chance to play in front of coaches, unless you play in a basketball hotbed,” said Michael Mache. “I mean, think about it, it’s too localized.”

In years past, just playing on your school team or an Amateur Athletic Union team could get you noticed. But not now. These days, anyone hoping to play NCAA Division I basketball joins the “Travel Circuit,” which provides high-profile sponsored events that are well-attended by college coaches.

The Mache brothers did exactly that, joining Chicago Old School, a Northwest Side team playing on the travel circuit.

Travel teams such as the Chicago Old School assemble top players and through sponsorships by companies like Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, teams are able to travel nationwide to compete against other top players in what are called, “camps.”

“We thought we were doing something wrong. Nobody was at our games until a we played against Crete High School’s star Michael Orris [now at Kansas State University],” Matthew Mache said.

“Michael [Orris] told us that we needed to call this guy from the Chicago Old School and that was our introduction into the recruiting world.”

Once the Mache twins got recruited by and began playing for the Chicago Old School, they immediately began to get attention from Division I coaches, such as University of Pennsylvania head coach Jerome Allen and others.

They still played on their AAU and high school teams, but their emphasis and preparation soon switched gears from preparing for conference games to preparing for offseason camps.

“The whole point of offseason teams for high school players is to enhance their skills and increase visibility. Chicago Old School does everything we can to give our players the best chance to play at the next level,” Chicago Old School coach, Scott Lidskins, said.

“It was a real shame to see our best players missing games to be with their other teams,” coach Dacanay says. “It’s just how the recruiting trail works these days. You can hardly blame a kid for trying to get free schooling.”

Michael Mache added, “We loved playing for our local teams and played to win, but we wanted college scholarships and that meant we had to skip games to be at camps.”

Visibility has become the most important part of college recruiting for individual players, but many high school coaches, like former Glenbard South head coach Dave Lohrke, expressed concerns about whether the players are losing skill development and team orientation.

“I think the kids are spending all of this time learning how to stand out, but winning at the highest levels is all about blending in [to your team],” Coach Lohrke said.

Local AAU and high school teams aren’t likely to disappear because they still offer the initial launching pad for players to establish themselves. However, the growth of private travel teams is predicated upon player visibility and that is currently the biggest factor in recruitment.

And “Unless the school and AAU teams expand their reach, I think you might start to see the top players pulling out to attend camps,” said Matthew Mache who with his brother Michael is now playing on the scout team at Marquette University.”

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