In these difficult economic times, one Reebok Summer Championships team was not deterred from again paying a high price to make the trek to Las Vegas: Quebec’s Ste-Foy Basketball club.
Even with tournament pool entries dwindling and airfare and hotel prices rising, Ste-Foy made the 2,744-mile trek to Las Vegas for the fourth time in five seasons.
And it’s not as if the team has major sponsorships it can rely on.
"We’ve got a few things we do to raise money, but most of the money comes out of the kids’ pocket," Ste-Foy coach Jacques Paiement said. "For sure, the prices are up at hotels, airfares, everything. But for us, it’s always been a lot of money to come here. It’s not any different."
Bob Gottlieb was used to having that sponsorship money, though — until this year.
Gottlieb’s Branch West Basketball Academy in Southern California, which sent six teams to the tournament, was sponsored by Reebok for five years until this one.
He said most major sneaker companies are cutting their sponsorship commitments as the economy worsens, relaying the cost to parents. Those inflated prices have caused a drastic cut in participating teams this season — from 268 in 2007 to 200 this year, a reduction of more than 30 percent.
Paiement said each of his 12 players pay roughly $1,000 for the week-long experience.
While that money can be seen as an investment for some, eventually paying off in the form of a college scholarship, most of the Ste-Foy players won’t play at the next level.
"We have a guy or two who gets a chance at a scholarship, but most of the guys aren’t gonna play," Paiement said. "It’s a little easier that way — we don’t have all of those guys expecting to get exposure and all that stuff. We want to win as much as the next team, but we want to get a little more out of it."
So Paiement sells the tournament as a life experience, not one based just on basketball.
There’s a trip to Hoover Dam scheduled and nights walking up and down the Strip.
And on Friday, a real treat — Paiement plans to take his players to watch their countrymen play the U.S. Olympic basketball team at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"We try to make it more than just the four or five games," Paiement said. "And we try to make sure that everybody plays. Obviously, some guys are gonna play more than others, and most of the guys want to win as many games as possible. But it’s hard to make sure that everybody gets their money’s worth and we’re still competitive."
Said Ste-Foy power forward Francis Mayer: "We’re here for the ambiance of the tournament. It’s a big tournament; we’re used to six-team, 12-team tournaments. We don’t see anything like this in Quebec. We can feel that other players know that we came from far away, and they’re cool with us and our game."
For Gottlieb’s program, however, the week’s worth of AAU games is entirely about the payoff.
"A Brandon Jennings doesn’t need exposure," Gottlieb said of the former prep star, who will forgo his freshman season in college and play in Italy. "For everybody else, it’s important to be here. The kids who aren’t Division I players, there’s still a gleam in their eye — a dream — that they’re going to be seen."
No matter what the cost.
Contact reporter Jon Gold at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4587.