Summer all-star basketball camps have become a vital source of high school talent for college teams - from NCAA Division I powers to the smallest NAIA college.
The camps attract the nation's finest prospects; a list of former campers reads like a Who's Who of basketball: Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, Patrick Ewing , Mark Aguirre, Michael Jordan, et al.
These players, in turn, attract college coaches from across the nation. As many as 200 college representatives may attend each one-week session at a typical major camp.
''Coaches from virtually every school in every major conference will be on hand at each of our four sessions,'' said Bill Cronauer, co-director of B/C All-Stars Basketball Camp.
The B/C Camp in Milledgeville, Ga., together with Five-Star Basketball Camp in Pittsburgh and Sportsworld's Superstar Invitational Basketball Camp in Santa Barbara, Calif., tops the summer all-star circuit.
The all-star camps greatly reduce the time and expense of college recruiting. Rather than traveling icy winter roads to remote high school gyms, college coaches can view the nation's best prospects at a central location.
The camps' intense competition also gives college coaches a unique opportunity to see if a prospect can hold his own against players of comparable size and talent. The NCAA prohibits contact between college coaches and campers at the camps, however.
Not only are the camps a boon for college programs, but for promising high schoolers as well. A good showing at one of the big three all-star camps can vault a youngster from the hinterlands into national recognition.
Rodney Johnson, who coached Buzz Peterson at Asheville High School in North Carolina, gives much of the credit for Peterson's signing with the University of North Carolina to the Five-Star and B/C Camps, both of which Peterson attended as a rising high school senior.
''The all-star camps were very, very important for Buzz. He got the exposure (at the camps) that he missed in not being from a metropolitan area,'' Johnson said
A typical day at Five-Star begins with reveille at 7:30 and includes fundamental drills, individual instruction from high school coaches, lectures, films, and plenty of full-court action until lights out at 11:30.
A week at the camps costs around $200, which can be paid only by the player's family or school, said Tom Yeager, an NCAA official.
The camps are not restricted to blue-chippers, said Will Klein, director of Five-Star Camp. ''There are, of course, a handful of great, great ballplayers (at camp), but there are also many first-rate ballplayers who will go Division II, III, or NAIA,'' he said.
The level of size and skill varies. This year's B/C Camp expects more than 80 campers to measure in at 6 ft. 7 in. or taller. ''We'll have kids 6-7, 215 pounds running all over the place,'' Cronauer chuckled.
Cronauer enjoys telling about the summer of l978, when Sampson and a handful of other top prospects landed on the same team. The team's record for the week was 5-11. ''Of course, that was before Sampson was as great as he is today,'' Cronauer said wryly of the three-time College Player of the Year, who was the No. 1 pick in this year's pro draft.
While B/C and Sportsworld seek to attract the best players with invitations, Five-Star, now in its 18th summer, relies on its reputation to draw the top prospects. The man responsible for Five-Star's reputation is program director Howard Garfinkel.
Garfinkel, who edits and publishes the High School Basketball Information newsletter, maintains daily contact with nearly 100 prep and college coaches, and nearly l50 colleges subscribe to his newsletter and scouting service. Garfinkel is considered by many to be the most powerful figure in college basketball recruiting today.
Corporate sponsors have jumped on the all-star camp bandwagon. McDonald's Superstar Basketball Camp (funded by local franchises) in Evansville, Ind. held its first session this summer.
Athletes for Better Education, a nonprofit organization striving to expand athletes' academic and career horizons, also is running its first national camp in Princeton, N.J. Players will spend more than six hours a day in the classroom, compared to four on the court.
The camp is designed to ''debunk myths'' about professional athletics and to prepare the youths for college, said Harry Brooks, an ABE official.
In addition to all-star and sponsor camps, coaches of major college programs - Jim Valvano, Bobby Knight, John Thompson, Dean Smith, and others - run their own summer camps. These camps can be a lucrative supplement to a coach's income, equaling or exceeding his annual salary.
More important, these camps aid in recruiting. Potential recruits become familiar with the campus and basketball program, and the practice of hiring coaches from area high schools as camp instructors gives a college coach contact with local prep talent.
''Half of recruiting is recruiting the player; the other half is recruiting the coach,'' said Duane Thomas, a high school coach from Missouri who coaches at several camps each summer.