Arizona Holds Unsanctioned All-Star Game

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.3, March 2006,

Is high school basketball getting too big? This April, Arizona’s top seniors will put their skills on display in the state’s third annual boys’ and girls’ all-star games. Following closely behind the state tournament, they expect to have thousands of fans in the stands. But they won’t have the support of the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA).

“There are pros and cons,” AIA Director Harold Slemmer told The Arizona Republic, whose writers help select the game rosters. Slemmer says that in order to protect student-athletes from specializing in any one sport, the AIA has decided not to support the contest or allow the event to be held at a high school.

The AIA would rather see the all-star games played in the summer, which would give student-athletes the chance to compete in multiple sports during the school year. But instead, the all-star games have continued without their approval, and in accordance with AIA bylaws, have been held without Arizona high school coaches, uniforms, or equipment.

Organized by Northwest Sports & Entertainment, which also hosts college exhibition games and professional charity matches, this year’s Arizona Republic All-Star Classic will be held on April 8 at America West Arena, home of the Phoenix Suns. Although the event takes place during a period when college coaches are restricted from attending high school contests, John Hines, Director of Northwest Sports & Entertainment, says the game is about showcasing high school talent to college coaches. After the 2005 game his company received over 30 requests from college coaches for videotapes of the game.

“They were usually looking for a specific kid,” says Hines, who makes it a point to highlight unsigned players. “Before the game, we make note of the kids who aren’t signed and make sure they get plenty of playing time.”

Fast-paced and high scoring, both 2005 games featured the typical all-star recipe of porous defenses, acrobatic individual moves, and a slam dunk contest. Of the 20 participants on the boys’ teams, which were coached by former Phoenix Suns Eddie Johnson and Tim Kempton, 13 were signed or committed to play at four-year colleges—including 11 to Division I schools. None of the athletes involved played a spring sport.

This year, Hines says there are some changes in the works. For instance, the event will not be held before a Suns game and will be promoted as a stand-alone event. Fans of Arizona high school basketball can also expect one more big change. “We’re working on a television deal and think the game will be shown live on Fox Sports Net,” says Hines. “We want to get it on TV and let everybody in Arizona see the best of what the state has to offer.”

But how big is too big? At Scottsdale Christian Academy, where three student-athletes were chosen to play in last year’s game, Head Boys’ Coach and Athletic Director Bob Fredericks sides with the desires of his players, even when they conflict with his state association.

“I’ll speak from my heart, and I won’t take a line driven by my AIA affiliation,” Fredericks told the Arizona Republic. “As long as the game is limited to seniors and if the players invited are not currently involved in spring sports, then the game would have almost solely upside, in that those players who have been overlooked get a chance to shine.”