Prospect Watch: Economic woes hit club ball

Elan Brown (left) and Vanessa White could be taking in fewer Georgia Metros games with high gas prices possibly putting limiting travel. Glenn Nelson/ESPN

The Georgia Metros, a club basketball program with a long history out on the national summer circuit, has several teams in the traveling age groups. Their top team is sponsored by Nike, yet they still are feeling the crunch. In years past they've made trips to national tournaments on both coasts, but several factors have led even this team to scale back.

"Five of our teams are all taking one less trip than we normally would," said Charles Huddleston, the Georgia Metros director.

The Metros have traditionally traveled via chartered bus as it has been more cost effective than air travel. A trip the Metros have made since its inauguration as a staple of the spring evaluation period is to Hampton, Va., for the Boo Williams Spring Invitational. The trip is approximately 600 miles each way, and they could rent two buses and take four teams to the tournament. In years past the buses ran approximately $3,000, which includes fuel. For two teams of 12, plus coaches and chaperones, that made the 10-plus hour drive around $100 per person. When planning this year, Huddleston found the charter busses ranged from $5,000-$6,000.

We read it in the news every day and see it around us -- the economy is struggling. A can of soup is $3.95, mortgages are defaulting all across the nation and the average gas price nation wide according to AAA is more than $4.00 per gallon. A majority of airlines are not only increasing prices to offset fuel costs but also hedging their profit margins by charging for luggage. The girls' basketball community is not immune from being impacted by the economy.

The summer circuit is undergoing some changes even before the Youth Basketball Initiative has the chance to change the rules. If the national economic pundits are right and we're looking at $5.00 for a gallon of gas next summer, traveling 10 to 12 teenagers across the country becomes decidedly less feasible.

Most teams planned and committed to tournaments months ago, before the last price spike in gasoline and before the airlines pushed prices up and even more airlines began charging for bags. But the consensus among club team coaches who spoke with ESPN HoopGurlz this week has been that teams will be looking for more regionalized events for next year.

Universities on the other hand have not felt the squeeze as much. Coaches from three BCS conferences said they are not cutting back on their scouting schedule. Even one West Coast school in a non-BCS conference with no football team to supplement their budget said they've gone over budget historically and have not been asked to push back. The coach of this school did note that what used to be a $1,200 ticket to Australia in years past is now $3,000 but the trip was still booked all the same.

The increase in the cost of buses for the Metros club team of course is fuel related because diesel has increased in price even more than your standard 87 octane unleaded. One bus can transport two teams; so the cost is effectively $3,000 per team before tipping the driver which more than doubles the per person cost from a few years ago.

Airfare from Atlanta to Norfolk is $450-$650 round trip per person and, given the fact that summer team rosters are usually not set until after the high school season ends in March, there is little families or teams can do to purchase early when prices are a bit lower.

The only other feasible option for teams is to rent 15-passenger vans. These are surprisingly hard to find because of safety and insurance issues. Huddleston's son, Matt, who is also a director with the Metros, said one major Atlanta-area rental agency had cut back on their fleet with only two locations having the vans available. The agency told Huddleston that the cost to insure the vehicles is too high and there have been too many rollover accidents.

The vans run $100-$125 per day plus fuel and insurance options, and one team would need two vans to transport bags and the team members themselves. The team is looking at a five-day rental for of $1,250 ($625 per van). The drive is mostly freeways so a generous estimate on fuel economy of 13 miles per gallon and total of 1,300 miles (600 miles each way plus in-city driving to games and meals of approx. 100 miles) requires 100 gallons of gasoline. The fuel cost is at least $800 dollars ($400 per van at $4.00 per gallon).

The two vans cost a team making the trip from Atlanta to Norfolk at least $2,050. The van option is still risky because you don't have a professional driver and you have a dangerous vehicle on the highway.

The economy has not only led to increased costs on travel but on everything else as well, affecting a family's ability to pay these costs.

"The economy is not good," Huddleston said. "We have families that can't pay."

With all these factors in mind, many club team coaches see their teams transitioning to a more regional schedule because traveling across the country wasn't necessarily affordable to begin with and is nothing less of impossible for most teams in the current economic climate.

-- Chris Hansen

Glenn Nelson's Rim Shots
" Rich Slater, who coaches the Long Island Lightning club team and was Nassau Coach of the Year for Locust Valley in 2006, has been named head coach of the U.S. national junior girls' team that will play in the 2009 Maccabiah Games, the quadrennial "Jewish Olympics" held in Israel the year after the Summer Olympic Games. Slater is looking for players of Jewish descent (at least one parent must be Jewish) who were born in 1991, 1992, 1993, or 1994. Tryouts will be conducted on both coasts in September -- at Long Island Lutheran High, where Slater currently coaches in Brookville, N.Y., Sept. 6-7, and the Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, Sept. 13-14. Those interested in trying out can contact Slater at heelhoop@aol.com.

" One prospect on the rise this summer will be Taber Spani, the 6-1, 2009 wing out of the Metro Academy in Olathe, Kan. Although sidelined with a back injury until participating in last month's Nike Regional Skills Academy, she dazzled with her strength and basketball IQ. She isn't a blazer but impressed HoopGurlz last summer with her competition speed and ability to fend off faster guards with her size and strength. Spani is expected to be at Nike's National Skills Academy later this month, where she will join club teammate Chiney Ogwumike, a leading candidate for the No. 1 ranking in 2010. Spani recently committed to the Cy-Fair Shock, where she will join Ogwumike and Monique Smalls, a top point-guard prospect in the 2009 class.

" Further evidence that an ACL injury does not spell the end of a player's dream of playing college basketball comes from Devon Kane, one of ESPN HoopGurlz's top 100 prospects who committed this week to Villanova. The 5-9 point guard had a spectacular sophomore season at the Academy of Notre Dame in Villanova, Pa., then suffered an ACL injury during the national AAU semifinals last summer. Kane had surgery in August and, remarkably, was back on the court in six months and showed that she'd not lost much of her speed and explosiveness during the spring evaluation period. Kane also had offers from Louisville and St. Joseph's as well as strong interested from Notre Dame, Penn State and Stanford.

" Meghin Williams, a 6-3 post out of Fontana, Calif., still has a long list of pursuers. The first-team, all-CIF and league MVP has: Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Northridge, Colorado, Loyola Marymount, Northern Arizona, Pepperdine, San Diego, San Jose State and Santa Barbara in a big recruiting battle.

Chris Hansen covers girls' high school basketball nationally for ESPN.com and leads the panel that ranks and evaluates players for the network. He can be reached at chris.hansen@espn3.com.

Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the McDonald's All-American and Parade All-American Selection Committees, he formerly coached girls club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.

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