It was the summer of 2001, and I had just finished my junior
year of high school.
I received a phone call on my family's home phone in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin — it was a representative from Adidas calling to invite
me to be a participant at the famed ABCD Camp.
A prestigious camp held at Fairleigh Dickinson University in
Teaneck, New Jersey, the ABCD Camp was established in 1984 and
would continue until 2006. The camp was sponsored by Adidas and run
by legendary shoe company executive Sonny Vaccaro. His main claim
to fame was his role in developing and executing Michael Jordan's
Air Jordan brand with Nike. After leaving Nike, Sonny joined
Adidas, where he was able to get the ABCD Camp rolling.
Each year, the camp was comprised of the top high school players
in the country. In 2001, the NBA had not yet set the age limit
restricting high school players from declaring for the NBA draft
following their senior year. Because of this, not only was every
prominent college coach at this event, but so were all of the NBA
scouts and front-office personnel. At that point, the ABCD Camp was
the mecca of high school basketball.
I was beyond excited to get invited, but I must admit, it was
somewhat intimidating. Luckily I wouldn't be going alone, as
several of my good friends received invitations to the camp
My roommate at the camp was Dan Grunfeld, who was, and still is,
one of my best friends. Dan is the son of Ernie Grunfeld, who, at
the time, was my dad's boss and the general manager of the
Milwaukee Bucks. Dan became a star player at Stanford and led the
(then) Pac-10 conference in scoring his junior year, and had a
successful career playing in Europe. In addition, our good friend
and my high school teammate, Coby Karl, was also with us. Coby is
the son of George Karl, who was the head coach of the Bucks at the
time. Coby played a few years in the NBA after starring at Boise
The three of us were teammates as a part of the AAU program,
Friends of Hoop.
Also with us from Milwaukee was Steve Novak, who has been a
friend of mine since we were AAU teammates on the Wisconsin
All-Stars all the way back when we were in middle school. Once
Steve and I got to high school, we had some great battles during
our freshman and sophomore years. (I was at Shorewood High School
and he was at Brown Deer High School, one of our conference rivals.
Steve went on to team up with Dwyane Wade at Marquette, and had a
long successful career in the NBA.)
So there's no denying that Milwaukee was represented well at the
ABCD Camp that year.
For whatever reason, I didn't fly with my friends from
Milwaukee. Instead, I flew by myself to La Guardia Airport in New
York. When I landed, an Adidas representative was waiting and drove
another player, DeAngelo Collins, and I to the hotel in New Jersey.
It's probably not a name that will ring a bell for many people, but
at the time, he was a well-known player. As soon as I saw him, I
knew who he was — although we had never met before. DeAngelo was
one of the top-ranked players in the country, became a McDonald's
All-American and entered his name in the NBA Draft after his senior
year of high school. (Unfortunately, he went undrafted and only had
a short professional career overseas).
Anyway, as I was sitting next to DeAngelo in a van heading to
the camp hotel, my nerves kicked up another notch. I knew that, at
the end of that ride, the rest of the top high school players in
the country awaited.
When I arrived at the hotel, my friends from Milwaukee were
there. We had to sign in, collect a bag full of Adidas gear and
take some photos. When Dan and I finally got to our room, we had a
moment where we talked about how excited we were to be there. The
whole experience was exciting and fun, but intense at the same
time. Whether it was the top-ranked player in the country or the
last guy invited, we all wanted the same thing — to improve our
stock. The ABCD Camp was the biggest stage any of us had played on
at that point in our careers. It was an opportunity to move up in
the player rankings, which would subsequently lead to more
scholarship offers or even interest from NBA teams, for some.
Coby, Dan and I had somewhat similar backgrounds, as we all grew
up around the game, as our dads and families all had careers
working in the NBA. As I was growing up, my dad would often
suggest that I "get some shots up" or do my "Pistol Pete"
ball-handling routine instead of playing video games, but
generally, my family never put a lot of pressure on me to be a
great player. I never got the impression that Coby or Dan felt much
direct pressure from their families either. However, I think I can
speak for the three of us in saying that we all put a significant
amount of pressure on ourselves due to our backgrounds. And at the
ABCD Camp, I certainly felt the pressure. But I was motivated and
determined to move the needle!
The first night, all of the players went to the gym for Sonny's
welcome speech. He spoke to our group to set expectations for the
camp, and gave some general advice. We then split up to join our
assigned teams and had a light practice. That allowed us to meet
our teammates for the camp and our teams' coaches. The coaches
tried to implement some basic offensive and defensive principles
during that practice. However, the reality was the camp was
"pick-up ball" with some freelance referees.
My team's head coach was Chris Grant, who worked for my uncle,
Pete Babcock, the general manager of the Atlanta Hawks at the time.
(I don't think that was a coincidence). Chris started his career as
an intern for my uncle after playing in college at the University
of San Diego. Years later, he worked his way up and became the
Cleveland Cavaliers' general manager. The top player on our team
was Josh Smith from Atlanta, Georgia. He was a year younger than
me, but he was a high-profile prospect. A couple of years later,
Josh was selected in the first round by the Hawks directly out of
high school. He had a successful NBA career, and was one of the top
players for the Hawks for years.
Following practice, we returned to our rooms for the night. Dan
and I talked about our teams. He told me he had a player on his
team that was good. I had never heard of him before — his name was
We had a few things to do the following day before live games
began. First, there was a guest speaker, but not just any guest
speaker; it was Kobe Bryant. He talked to us about some of his
personal experiences going through a lot of the same things we were
all going through as high school players. It was incredible to
listen to a player who had been living the life that every one of
us dreamed about for ourselves. To say Kobe's talk was inspiring
would be an extreme understatement. Although just a young guy at
the time, Kobe had such distinct confidence and determination. It
was a privilege to meet Kobe and listen to him speak.
Following the session with Kobe, the players had to take prep
ACT and SAT classes. We were seated at tables with about a handful
of players per table. I remember sitting with Travis Outlaw, who
was a hilarious, nice guy. Travis declared for the 2002 NBA Draft
after high school, and was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers
in the first round. He went on to play in the NBA and had a good
At the table directly next to me was a younger player that I did
not know. Like most of us, he didn't seem interested in that class.
Halfway through picking out his braids and leaving half of his hair
in an afro, he decided he would lay his head down and take a nap.
The teacher wasn't happy about that and kept lecturing him, saying
things like, "This is important, your future depends on this" —
something along those lines. Finally, the player sat up and said,
"I'm going pro!" and put his head back down.
Soon after, I found out the player's name was LeBron James.
Finally, when classes finished up, the real reason we came to
town was about to begin. It was time to hoop.
The games started, and they were great! There was so much talent
in each game. I had the opportunity to share the court with future
NBA All-Stars like Carmelo, LeBron, Chris Bosh, Deron Williams and
many other soon-to-be standout pros. The gym was buzzing, and it
was quite the scene. "Oohs and ahhs" could be heard left and right.
The stands were filled with famous coaches, including Coach K, Lute
Olson and Rick Pitino. NBA scouts and media members were busy
taking notes and trying to find the next NBA star.
The actual gameplay was pretty sloppy, as expected. In most
showcase types of events, players will play "to get their's." Also,
there is not much of a game plan without much practice time, which
usually results in poor ball movement and limited opportunities for
lower-ranked players (like myself) to have the ball in their
Despite the challenges, I played pretty well. I shot a high
percentage, and even had one game where I scored 15 points and hit
a handful of three-pointers. Because I had limited opportunities to
have the ball in my hands, I made an extra effort to be as
effective as possible without the ball. I noticed that the referees
were quick to call offensive fouls during this camp, so I decided
to get in the lane when players would drive to the hoop to draw
charges. My strategy worked well, and I drew several charges.
However, I tried this tactic in one particular game and my plan
backfired, as the player on the other end was LeBron. He laid one
of his now-signature tomahawk dunks right on me. I flew back
probably 10 feet, and the gym went crazy. That was my formal
introduction to "King James."
It's been said that the 2001 ABCD Camp is when LeBron broke onto
the scene and the whole media frenzy began for him. His legendary
battle with the No. 1 player in my class, Lenny Cooke, happened at
this camp. Dan and I were sitting together in the bleachers
watching that game. I am happy to say that I was a "witness" to the
making of one of the greatest stars our game has ever seen.
All in all, I did well at the camp, and I was able to generate
more interest from schools, which was my goal. However, more than
20 years have passed since that ABCD camp, and the most valuable
experience turned out to be the memories that I will cherish
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