The start of the college basketball season is four months away. With rosters for 2018-19 mostly set, this is the month when grassroots basketball takes center stage.
The first of three live recruiting periods begins Wednesday. During this time, college teams will start building foundations for 2019 and beyond and evaluators will identify the next wave of one-and-done NBA prospects.
You can except to see players gain momentum over the course of the month and rise up the recruiting rankings (Maryland's Jalen Smith is a good example from last year).
But you can also expect to see a renewed focus on recruiting and grassroots basketball from the NCAA as a result of the FBI investigation into bribery and corruption in the sport.
Here's what you need to know about the most important month on college basketball's recruiting calendar:
What happens in July and why is it important?
It's pretty simple. It's a chance for college coaches to see potential recruits play.
There are three five-day periods (Wednesday to Sunday) over the next three weeks, during which thousands of players will play in dozens of events across the country.
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College coaches are allowed only to watch the players -- they're not allowed to speak with them until each period is over -- and NBA scouts are not allowed to attend.
July is the only time college coaches can watch prospective recruits until early September, when in-home visits and high school workouts begin. It's also the first time they'll have seen prospects play since April.
The basketball isn't perfect, but it's also not horrible. Events sponsored by shoe companies like Adidas, Nike and Under Armour ensure a talent-dense environment which makes it like one-stop shopping for a college coach. Coaches can track a prospect's development and find new ones to monitor.
Most important, since rosters are mostly set, coaches can focus on future prospects and become fully immersed in the next couple recruiting classes.
Programs that are less reliant on one-and-done prospects, such as Purdue or Washington, don't need six or seven players in each recruiting class. They can exit July with two or three primary targets and put most of their energy into those prospects.
"It's vitally important," one high-major coach said of the July period. "Your net is so big and you see so many kids in a simplified manner, playing in a team setting against other good players."
"Peach Jam is high, high-level basketball," another coach added of the South Carolina event that runs Wednesday-Sunday. "You learn a lot about a kid in that setting."
Who are the top players and programs to watch?
The trend of top prospects waiting to commit is being taken to a new level in the 2019 class. Of the top 35 prospects in the ESPN 100 for 2019, only five are currently committed.
Some of that has to do with players reclassifying to the 2018 class, but many prospects are simply choosing to wait.
James Wiseman, No. 1 in the ESPN 100, is considered to be a Kentucky-Memphis battle. Vernon Carey Jr. (No. 2) will have crowded gyms for each of his games, with Miami, Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State and North Carolina all still involved. Cole Anthony (No. 3), son of Greg Anthony, is the best guard in the country. He was uber-productive during the spring playing for PSA Cardinals, and his recruitment is tough to read. Jaden McDaniels (No. 4) was perhaps the biggest breakout star of the spring and is going to be under the microscope in July. Isaiah Stewart rounds out the top five, and he just recently cut his list to 10.
Kentucky and USC are off to a strong start in the race for the No. 1 class. That's nothing new for John Calipari and the Wildcats, but landing two five-star prospects -- Tyrese Maxey and D.J. Jeffries -- this early in the process is impressive.
Andy Enfield's Trojans also have two five-star pledges in frontcourt prospects Onyeka Okongwu and Isaiah Mobley, both of whom play for the Compton Magic AAU program. It's worth noting that USC recently hired Eric Mobley, Isaiah's father and a former coach with the Compton Magic, as an assistant coach.
So why is the NCAA taking action to change the July period and grassroots basketball in general?
The Commission on College Basketball, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, recommended an overhaul to the July recruiting period. Details of any potential changes haven't been revealed, but there's been a strong movement to make changes, mostly in an attempt to limit the influence of shoe companies.
It's a misconception that grassroots basketball is the cause of all the ills in college basketball. Critics point to the involvement of shoe companies, which sponsor dozens of travel teams and tournaments. They say representatives of those companies are too involved with prospects at a young age and seek to influence them when it comes time to choose an AAU program and potentially a college.
As for the AAU coaches, there's a misconception that they are getting rich off these players and teams. While there are certainly some bad apples in grassroots basketball, the majority of coaches aren't making much money, if any at all. The big sneaker companies give a team a contract, but the contract is generally half-money, half-apparel, with much of the money going toward travel. The coaches making significant money are responsible for upward of 15-20 teams and promoting the brand.
The grassroots model is far from perfect, and there is a large segment of the coaching industry that wants to put more control of a player's recruitment back in the hands of high school coaches. But because there's so much money at stake -- shoe companies are banking on finding the next nine-figure sneaker contract -- combined with the fact most of the business happens behind the scenes, it's hard to envision meaningful change being implemented.
So what changes might be on the horizon?
The Division I Board of Directors is expected to meet in August to consider new legislation. One idea comes from a proposal from the National Association of Basketball Coaches, which, according to Jeff Goodman, put forth a proposal that recommended that college coaches be prohibited from attending events sponsored by apparel companies in July. In their place, the NCAA, in collaboration with the NBA, USA Basketball and the NBPA, would combine to run regional camps for one week in July.
The reported NABC proposal also includes a national camp for the top prospects across the country, and the addition of two weekends in June during which coaches can go to high school-sanctioned events.
It's unclear what would happen with events sponsored by Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. If they are scheduled concurrently, it would be interesting to see the battle for players.
What are the pros and cons of the recommendations?
There aren't many pros. Despite the recommendations coming from the NABC, it's difficult to find any coaches who actually support the changes, and it's easy to see why.
First, camps are generally considered to be the worst possible evaluation setting. Players have limited time with their teammates, and the games are often sloppy and lacking in structure. If a criticism of AAU basketball is the quality of play, wait until camp basketball goes under the microscope.
The logistics of seeing so many prospects will make it difficult for coaches as well. Right now, a coach can go to the Nike Peach Jam and watch eight or nine high-major prospects on the floor every game. A camp with 500-750 players would include only one or two high-major prospects per game.
"It's a horrible evaluation," one high-major assistant coach said. "There are AAU teams that are better coached and more organized than high school teams. Now you're going to throw a bunch of kids together who don't know each other, and in a four- or five-day camp setting, expect to have some kind of organization and have a good evaluation."
Another coach added: "You're going to have a top-10 player in America as maybe the only high-major player out there, going against a Division II player. How are you going to evaluate that?"
As for the influence of the shoe companies, well, they're not going anywhere. When there are nine-figure sneaker deals being handed out at the professional level, it doesn't make sense for a shoe company to give up on grassroots basketball when some prospects are only a couple of years away from being drafted.
Additionally, shoe companies also sponsor plenty of high school teams, and there's no proof that high school coaches are inherently "cleaner" than AAU coaches. Nike also sponsors USA Basketball.
If events sponsored by shoe companies move to August -- or to "dead periods" when coaches aren't able to attend -- how will the coaches monitor and track potential prospects? By talking to scouting-service operators and AAU coaches. That doesn't remove third parties from the equation; it only makes them more influential.
It's also unclear how the NCAA plans to create the infrastructure to operate camps for thousands of kids.
So why the push to make changes at all?
College basketball was crushed by the FBI investigation unveiled last September, and there is pressure to fix things. The biggest issue revealed by the investigation was the influence of agents and third parties, and the NCAA has identified grassroots basketball as the place where change is most necessary.
That's understandable, but the proposed changes feel rushed.
"What a college program gets out of summer basketball, the benefits outweigh the negatives, 10 to 1," an assistant coach said. "Time will tell. What's wrong with college basketball isn't July recruiting. You're very naive if you think the root of all problems is July recruiting. It's been completely sensationalized. All that [in the FBI investigation] would have happened with or without July recruiting."
There seems to be little support among coaches for the NABC proposals.
"I would love to know who supports this," one high-major coach said. "Not one person has owned it. Why has not one coach owned it?"
Summer basketball is essentially being made the fall guy, the bogeyman for what ails college basketball.
"You have some bad people and the majority are good people," one college coach said. "You have some bad people in it for themselves, trying to sell kids, asking money for visits. Yeah, you have people like that, but that's not exclusive to summer basketball. You don't get rid of every investment banker because of Bernie Madoff."