Senior Writer

Nearly armed and ready, Vaccaro tries to regain summer throne


Sonny Vaccaro spent decades running the summer basketball scene, almost always luring the nation's top prospects to his events regardless of affiliation. Nike. adidas. Reebok. The company never mattered much. What Vaccaro proved time and again is that he could align with elite recruits and produce the best showcases as long as he was armed with large sums of money and boxes of apparel.

And now he's about to try to prove it again.

"I do think something is going to happen," Vaccaro told "I'm not sure what, but I think something is going to happen."

Though vague on specifics out of fear of "jinxing it," Vaccaro confirmed what multiple sources have told in recent weeks -- that he's being pursued by four different companies, that he will meet with them after Labor Day, and that, if all goes well, Vaccaro will, after sitting out the past three summers, soon begin his quest to again dominate amateur basketball at the grassroots level.

Vaccaro declined to name the four companies that have approached him, but multiple sources said Li Ning -- the China-based giant whose NBA clients include Baron Davis, Evan Turner, and Shaquille O'Neal -- is a strong possibility to back Vaccaro as a way of countering Nike's ongoing and aggressive move into China. Either way, that's not what's important now. What's important now is that all signs point to Li Ning or somebody else providing the money and apparel necessary to make this happen, and that Vaccaro has a plan ready to be implemented.

The plan is this: Vaccaro will secure a deal, put the strength of his name behind the venture, then hire point men in various cities to disperse the money and apparel however they see fit all in the name of securing commitments from elite talents. Grassroots Basketball of America founder Gary Charles would headline things and be the guy in New York. Somebody else would handle Detroit. Somebody else would handle Chicago. Somebody else would handle Oakland. So on and so forth. And each of those guys would be armed with an undetermined amount of dollars and apparel to help sponsor summer teams and convince top prospects to attend what could be -- but won't necessarily be -- updated versions of Vaccaro's legendary Roundball Classic, ABCD Camp, and Big Time tournament in Las Vegas.

If you have to dump 50 pairs of shoes on a kid, do it.

If you have to hire a dad as a "consultant," do it.

Just get it done.

"That's my idea," Vaccaro acknowledged. "I will get x amount of dollars and x amount of equipment or whatever, disperse it to my people, then they'll disperse it to their people, and then things will happen. That's my plan. And if it happens, I think we'll be competitive right out of the gate."

The byproduct will be what's fun to watch.

"It's going to be like the wild wild west again," said one high-major Division I coach, and he's correct. There will be genuine (and technically legal) bidding wars for top prospects, but some actually see that as a good thing because it will by extension create more opportunities for players to travel the country, mostly because Vaccaro's presence will likely force Nike and adidas to spend more money than they've been spending during Vaccaro's absence.

"I do think Sonny returning will make Nike and adidas stand up again," Charles said. "Right now Nike and adidas can do whatever they want, just tell [summer coaches] to take it or leave it. If you don't like it, go somewhere else. Well, there's nowhere else to go. But with Sonny back in, people will have choices. It's always good to have choices, and Sonny keeps people on their toes."

Not to mention the edge of their seats.

"Sonny is the best at this," said longtime AAU coach Keith Easterwood, a strong candidate to be Vaccaro's point man in Memphis. "Nobody understands matchups like Sonny. He knows how to put LeBron James against Lenny Cooke, Tony Harris against Khalid El-Amin. He knows how to give people what they want to see, and that's what he's going to do."

Again, no deal is in place; Vaccaro stressed that a dozen times. Until he has a signed contract, nothing is certain. But during multiple interviews over the course of two days, Vaccaro consistently said he absolutely expects to sign a deal with somebody, and that he has every intention of getting back in and creating the kind of opportunities that have vanished in his absence. So, barring a breakdown in negotiations, get ready for a wild summer next year.

"Sonny getting in will make it interesting again," Charles said. "And there's nothing wrong with being interesting."

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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