The Nike-Under Armour battle for high school stars is heating up

The Under Armour Elite 24 is one of the nation’s best events for college basketball recruits — evidence being the way it’s consistently lured top prospects to New York each August.

Jaylen Brown and Cheick Diallo are among the stars who participated last year.

D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay played the year before.

It’s a game that’s grown in terms of popularity and prestige — somewhat because it’s one of the few high school events NBA executives and scouts are allowed to attend, mostly because Under Armour has never had to compete for prospects with another shoe company. But that second part is suddenly changing. Because multiple sources told CBS Sports that Nike has created, pretty much on the fly, a new event designed to draw players and attention away from Under Armour, one that was also certified by the NBA within the past week.

And the best part?

The event will be held in … the Bahamas!

Which means Nike has decided the best way to prevent prospects from wearing Under Armour at an Under Armour event is to offer them an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas on the exact same days as Under Armour’s Elite 24. In other words, prospects are now picking between three days in New York or three days on an island with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

“That seems to be a pretty fair interpretation,” Nick Blatchford, Under Armour’s director of grassroots and college basketball, told CBS Sports on Thursday. “It’s a paid-for vacation.”

And, predictably, it’s working.

Blatchford said at least two prospects he planned to have in the UA Elite 24 — specifically Class of 2016 stars Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum — have recently declined invitations even though they both played in the UA Elite 24 last year.

“So we have to assume they’ll be going to the Bahamas,” Blatchford said.

That’s likely a safe assumption.

(And it’s probably worth noting both Giles and Tatum are consensus top-five prospects who starred this summer with USA Basketball and will likely enroll at Duke next season, meaning there are multiple strong Nike-ties in play with those two. But I digress …)

Either way, it’s all fascinating, right?

The so-called Shoe Wars have been mostly quiet since Sonny Vaccaro, the godfather of grassroots basketball, left the summer scene several years back. But this is a tangible sign that high-stakes fighting over players is returning, and it’s also proof that Under Armour is making an impact in the world of basketball — both at the professional and amateur levels.

Under Armour has the NBA’s reigning MVP, Stephen Curry, under contract.

UA’s event in Charlotte last month featured Class of 2016 stars Josh Jackson and Thon Maker.

Translation: Under Armour is a real player in the game that matters.

To be clear, Nike is still king and probably will be forever; don’t get it twisted. But there’s absolutely no reason for Nike to, rather abruptly, create an event in the Bahamas for the exact same days (Aug. 20-22) as the Under Armour Elite 24 unless it felt threatened in some way.

This event is a clear reaction to Under Armour’s growing presence.

There really is no other intelligent way to perceive it.

“The fact that they’re putting something together, kind of last-minute, tells me they’re trying to play defense,” Blatchford said. “It’s interesting to see them react to our event in this way.”

Harry Giles (MaxPreps)
Top prospect Harry Giles won’t be returning to the Under Armour Elite 24 event later this month. (MaxPreps)


Source link

Leave a Comment