During a normal summer, Chet Holmgren would be getting ready to play in front of a who’s who of college basketball coaches during the month of July.
North Carolina, Memphis, Georgetown, Michigan, Gonzaga, Ohio State and Minnesota are the universities in contention to land the 7-foot Holmgren, ESPN’s No. 1 player in the Class of 2021 out of Minnehaha Academy in Minnesota.
But this isn’t any normal summer given the coronavirus pandemic.
If Holmgren and his Grassroots Sizzle team travel to youth hoops events in Las Vegas and elsewhere next month, they won’t compete in front of college coaches or large groups of fans.
“If my team decides to play it shouldn’t be weird not having coaches around because coaches are only around a small percentage of A.A.U. weekends anyway, but with this pandemic, live-streams seem to be the best option for coaches to tune in and I wouldn’t expect any other method,” Holmgren said.
Brian Sandifer, the director of Grassroots Sizzle, said his team was considering playing events in Iowa and Las Vegas. The Sizzle, which also include Hercy Miller, a son of the rapper Master P, are slated to play in the Las Vegas Big Time Tournament, scheduled from July 23 to 26. Three other major showcases are also slated for Las Vegas in July, including the Main Event, scheduled from July 8 to 12.
Nevada has had more than 17,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, with just over 500 reported deaths, mostly in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas.
Gary Charles, who runs the Big Time event, said he was surprised to see the demand among teams for the Las Vegas events.
Normally, Charles said, he would take 1,000 teams for his event, but this year he will cap the number at 300. So far, more than 100 have committed, Charles said. Of those, 25 have already paid an entry fee of $475 or $675, depending on the age bracket.
“I’m going to have to stop this at some point,” Charles said in a phone interview. “Because of social distancing and the fact that I’m going to have to change game times to allow us to clean out the gyms after every game, we’re not going take as many teams as we normally do. So there’s going to be some disappointment.”
Often, gyms for high-profile summer A.A.U. events can be packed with fans and celebrities interested in seeing the next big college or N.B.A. stars before they get famous. When Zion Williamson’s team played LaMelo Ball’s squad in Las Vegas in 2017, the gym was so packed police officers had to barricade the doors and push back against a standing-room-only crowd. N.B.A. players Damian Lillard and Andrew Wiggins sat courtside.
Charles said he hopes to know by July 10 whether any fans will be allowed to attend the games. Referees, players and other officials will have their temperatures checked before entering the gym. And to participate, players will have to sign waivers saying they will not hold Charles or the tournament responsible if they get the virus, a practice that has received pushback in college sports.
“Ten fans per team might be able to get in, which is obviously family members,” Charles said. “But it’s not confirmed yet. The governor has to make that decision.”
There will be no bubble, like the N.B.A. is planning for its restart near Orlando, Fla. Teams will stay at a variety of hotels and other locations around Las Vegas, and figure to be in contact with employees at local restaurants and stores, Charles said.
David Holmgren, Chet’s father, said he believed the Las Vegas events would be shut down before being allowed to begin.
“I would consider not sending him, absolutely,” David Holmgren said in a phone interview. “When he asks, I say there’s no point in talking about it now until it gets to be the time because I think it’s all going to be shut down anyhow.”
He said he feels for Sandifer, the Grassroots Sizzle director.
“Brian’s got a top-of-the-world squad right now and it’s just not good timing for him,” David Holmgren said. “I know he was anxious to get out there and do it and it’s just not good times, man.”
Said Charles: “If it’s happening, they’re coming.”
At least one East Coast team, the Boston Spartans, has already dropped out because of the prospect of traveling during the pandemic.
Updated June 24, 2020
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“The numbers have spiked in Nevada, it’s not worth it,” said Joe Chatman, the director of the Spartans.
Nick Tsikitas, the director of the Long Island-based Heat Elite A.A.U. program, said he was not only considering flying his players to Las Vegas, but also planned to take his team to events in Georgia and Boston before then.
He said he would have players take coronavirus tests, wear masks and sign an additional waiver saying that Heat Elite was not responsible if anyone gets sick.
“We actually bring them to the facility in New York to get them tested,” said Tsikitas, who personally funds the 128-player Heat Elite program. “We’re going to take every precaution necessary.”
Tsikitas said his overriding motivation is to help his players get seen by college coaches, even if only possible on live streams.
“I’m more looking to help those that haven’t got the opportunity yet,” he said.
Shane Mahoney, vice president of business development for BeTheBeast, a youth sports company that plans to stream games from the Big Time event, said college coaches will pay a fee to get access to the streams and statistics. Mahoney will share that revenue with Charles, the tournament organizer, though the details of that split are not clear.
A promotional video for BeTheBeast says players will be notified which college coaches watched them after they play games. Because of the pandemic, the N.C.A.A. is enforcing a recruiting dead period for July and August, preventing college coaches from watching players in person in the valuable summer months and placing an increased emphasis on live streams.
David Holmgren said that his son, already being the top-ranked player in his class, doesn’t really need to impress coaches this summer, no matter the format. “Chet’s sitting in a different spot than the majority of these kids out here that need these tournaments in order to showcase how much they’ve improved over the last year,” David Holmgren said. “Those are the kids that I feel for because Chet doesn’t need tournaments.”