A guy walks into a basketball gym ... and just about every major college coach in the country spends an April weekend in Lexington.
That's the result of Tom Bower's decision to travel to South Carolina last July and pitch the Bluegrass to the bigwigs of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League, the most successful summer circuit in the nation.
Bower, the senior sports director at the Kentucky Basketball Academy, wanted to bring a major, NCAA-certified AAU event to Lexington, and he knew that the Nike EYBL is as good as it gets.
So he decided he'd go to North Augusta, S.C., for last summer's Peach Jam finals, the championship of the Nike league and the culmination of summer basketball recruiting.
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Bower had no appointment with anyone at Nike. He didn't even know who he should talk to. He simply knew he wanted to bring the EYBL to Lexington.
"I just kind of showed up unannounced, a cold-call type of deal," Bower said.
When he walked into the madhouse of college coaches, scouts, recruiting analysts, fans, parents and high school players, he didn't know where to turn.
There were some familiar faces, including Scout.com analyst Evan Daniels, who lives in Lexington and has known Bower for several years, and Andre Mahorn, the head coach of the Lexington-based Travelers EYBL squad.
He told Daniels and Mahorn why he was there. They weren't optimistic.
"They didn't think it was going to go," Bower said. "It was like, 'Well, good luck.'"
Finally, after two days of shaking hands and asking around, Bower was introduced to Carlton DeBose, the man in charge of the EYBL.
They spoke for about five minutes.
"He didn't even know we had a facility," Bower said. "He said it sounded like a great idea and we would talk about it."
Two months later, DeBose traveled to Lexington, toured the Kentucky Basketball Academy and eventually granted Bower an EYBL site, one of only four in the country leading up to the Peach Jam in July.
"I knew when they came that we were up against some serious competition," Bower said. "There were major, major cities that wanted this. We were by far the smallest. But, at the end of the day, Lexington is basketball central. And I knew the passion of the fans. The atmosphere, I think it'll be incredible."
The EYBL games in Lexington will be played Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the KBA, and all games are open to the public with tickets priced between $5-10 per day.
Daniels said he tried to explain to Bower that landing an EYBL session was a long shot. The locations for the past few years have all been the same: Virginia, Minnesota, Texas and California, which is the state Kentucky took a spot from.
"At first, I thought it was maybe too ambitious," Daniels said. "But Tom is a very driven person. He had his eye set on bringing a quality AAU tournament to Kentucky."
The EYBL consists of 40 teams from around the country, and each one is made up largely of players from that team's home state. The squads travel to each of the four locations and play a round-robin schedule.
At the end of those four stops, the top 24 teams move on to Peach Jam, where the Nike summer champion is crowned.
There's little debate that it's become the best summer league in the country.
The past few EYBLs have included such players as Jahlil Okafor, Stanley Johnson, Tyus Jones, Emmanuel Mudiay, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
Every contributor on this past season's UK squad played in the EYBL except for Aaron and Andrew Harrison, who played for their father's Under Armour program, and Karl-Anthony Towns, who played virtually zero AAU ball once he got to high school. All three UK signees for the class of 2015 — Skal Labissiere, Isaiah Briscoe and Charles Matthews — competed on the EYBL circuit, too.
"This is not just your normal AAU tournament," Daniels said. "This is an elite-level event with elite-level players. The type of players that play in this event are the type of players that are going to impact college basketball. And there's going to be a bunch that are going to impact the NBA one day.
"From a pure basketball standpoint, it's a big deal."
When Lexington got Nike, the other big shoe companies scrambled to keep up.
The EYBL coming to town would be a major occurrence on its own, but this weekend also marks the final open recruiting period of the spring for college coaches. That means guys like John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Rick Pitino will probably spend part or all of the next few days in Lexington.
That confluence of college coaches caused others to look toward this area. This weekend's Under Armour event will be played in Louisville and the Adidas session is set for Indianapolis.
Several other smaller events are planned for Lexington and the surrounding area this weekend, and those are also likely to draw some college scouts.
"Tom basically set the live period for Nike and some of these other big tournaments," Daniels said. "It's pretty crazy that this guy who hasn't really been involved in the AAU world to a major degree was able to set where all of the college coaches are going.
"And there's no telling how much money he's going to bring in to the cities of Lexington and Louisville with all of these teams staying at hotels, going to malls, eating at restaurants."
The local hoteliers and restaurateurs are likely pleased. So is John Calipari.
Bower was in Hampton, Va., this month for the first EYBL session of the season. He was there to learn more about how these big-time events are managed, but he also ran into the UK coach.
"He said he's happy that he's going to get to sleep in his own bed," Bower said.
Calipari is also surely pleased that most of his top recruiting targets for the next couple of classes will be spending three days in Lexington, playing in front of UK fans and getting a feel for the city.
Those players can't take campus visits while the EYBL session is going on, but they're free to take a closer look at UK as soon as the games end Sunday afternoon. A few high-profile players have already said they plan to do just that.
"Any time you can get a guy on campus, and they have the ability to see your facilities and see your program and see everything you have to work with — it's a factor," Daniels said.
Mahorn and the Travelers are happy they'll be getting a home game.
The Travelers coach was among those initially skeptical of Bower's chances of bringing the EYBL to town. But Mahorn lauded the KBA director's hard work and "vision" of making the state more of a national player on the AAU scene.
Both Bower and Mahorn said bringing events like the EYBL to the Bluegrass will show local players, coaches and parents just how good the competition is around the country.
They hope it raises the level of play and commitment in the state.
At the very least, it should be a pretty good show.
"I personally think it's going to be crazy," Mahorn said. "I know how Kentucky loves their basketball. And I think seeing these kids that get recruited by (UK and Louisville) will definitely lift fans here even more.
"These are the next group of kids that are coming. You're going to see the best."