His basketball camp made Hall of Famers. Now he is too.

Grant Hill was featured at Five Star Basketball Camp as a Sports Illustrated article published in 1984 when he was 11 years old. As Hill flipped through the pages of the magazine, he found himself transfixed. To him, Five Star sounded like basketball nirvana, an exclusive destination where up-and-coming players could consume the game.

“It was like this iconic place where you could go – if you had the chance to go – and then maybe get the chance to play in college,” Hill said. “I remember being blown away by the idea.”

Long before the advent of the Internet and the proliferation of online testing services, and long before the emergence of high profile summer tours for elite prospects, there was a man, Howard Garfinkel, and a preeminent camp, Five Star, which he co-founded in 1966. For several decades, it was the ideal place for young players: the place to learn, the place to compare with his peers, the place to attract the attention of college coaches who have worked as instructors.

“Garf has touched more coaches and more players – from Michael Jordan to the bottom – than anyone in our game history,” said John Calipari, Kentucky men’s basketball coach and former camper and instructor. Five Star. “It’s just too bad he’s not here.”

Garfinkel is part of a 16-member Hall of Fame class that includes, among others, Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh and Chris Webber; Eternal WNBA Stars Lauren Jackson and Yolanda Griffith; and Bill Russell, who was previously listed as a player in 1975 but will be honored this time for coaching the Boston Celtics to two NBA championships.

In a phone interview, Calipari described Garfinkel as a runyonesque figure, a throwback from the central cast. He ate onion sandwiches covered in salt. He chain smoked cigarettes. He didn’t drive. He greeted the campers each morning by blasting Frank Sinatra through loudspeakers. He wore orange pants adorned with lunch spots and he deigned to wear only t-shirts and polo shirts with chest pockets. In fact, he would thank the coaches who had given him t-shirts without pockets, then toss the t-shirts in the trash.

“He knew what he wanted to wear,” Calipari said.

So it’s no surprise that Garfinkel, the son of a garment worker, built Five Star in his blue-collar image. It was a teaching camp, Calipari said. The players roamed stations where they worked on the fundamentals, and the instructors were often leading figures in the training world: Hubie Brown, Chuck Daly, Mike Fratello. To them, Five Star was more like a think tank, an opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other.

“Nothing like this exists anymore,” Calipari said.

Matches were played on cement courts, and opposing teams usually wore shirts and skins. For reasons that were not clear even to those who knew him best, Garfinkel objected to the idea of ​​putting numbers on the backs of player T-shirts. It was a unique form of stubbornness this made it difficult for college coaches to identify the prospects they were looking for.

“You were like, ‘Garf, you have 400 players here,’” recalls Calipari. “But it didn’t matter. You literally had to go see the goalscorer to find out who the hell you were looking at, “Who’s the kid in the blue shorts?”

Garfinkel banned the dunk. The players were celebrated for willingly working on their games at “Station 13,” a sort of basketball outpost where guest clinicians included Mike Krzyzewski, Duke’s male coach. The players paid to attend camp, and although a privileged few received scholarships, they earned them by carrying tables at meal times.

“There was something cool about the way the top players served other campers,” Hill said. “There was a real life lesson in there. “

Hill was a freshman in high school when he got his long-awaited invitation to Five Star that summer at a small college outside of Pittsburgh. His high school coach handed him a brochure, and Hill studied every word, every photo. “It was like ‘Wow’,” he said.

Back then, Amateur Athletic Union basketball was not the colossus it is today. Instead, Five Star was the hub for up-and-coming players like Hill, whose coach at camp that summer was a young college assistant named John Calipari.

“From sunrise to sunset, it was basketball,” Hill said.

Garfinkel also had a five-star “Hall of Fame,” which was a large collection of newspaper clippings about camp alumni who had graduated from the NBA – players like Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Isiah Thomas – that he tied up. to billboards and would hang. a corridor. Whenever Hill had free time, he would read the stories, study the photos, and dream.

“There was so much history, and you were hungry for content and information,” he said. “It was such a different time.”

A five-star device throughout high school, Hill last attended camp before the start of his senior year. By then, he had established himself as one of the country’s most sought-after recruits, with North Carolina and Duke vying to land him. Hill said he was probably leaning towards North Carolina when Garfinkel pulled him aside and told him he thought Duke was the right fit for him.

It was no secret that Garfinkel held Krzyzewski in high regard, and Garfinkel shared his opinion without pressuring Hill, who said he knew it was his decision. But after visiting Duke three weeks later, he realized Garfinkel had been right from the start. Hill won two national championships at Duke before becoming the NBA All-Star seven times.

“It worked pretty well,” Hill said.

The landscape has of course changed. Youth basketball is big business, and top players roam the country competing in summer tournaments sponsored by sneaker companies. Their strengths are easily accessible to anyone with a cell phone or internet connection, and college coaches no longer flock to remote camps in search of undiscovered gems – because there are no more. undiscovered gems, not anymore.

There is a natural tendency to be nostalgic for the past. Calipari, for example, mourned the loss of teaching basketball in the summer. In this sense, Five Star is a comparative relic.

“It’s all now: go play,” Calipari said.

Yet in his own way, Garfinkel was a folk precursor to the powerful – the scouts, coaches and sneaker rulers – who now wield inordinate influence at the local level. After all, Garfinkel was also a businessman. He ran his camps and, for many years, sold subscriptions to a screening report, High School Basketball Illustrated, which he reunited with Tom Konchalski, a close friend who died last year.

In a 2013 interview with the New York Times, Garfinkel said he was troubled by the handful of “bad apples” who took advantage of young players for their own financial gain.

“I am certainly not a saint,” he said. “But I can tell you that when it comes to basketball, I honestly made a living. I never made a dime sending a player to a school.

More than anything, Calipari said, Garfinkel was fiercely loyal. A longtime single, he cared about the coaches and players that made up his family. Hill said there was an innocence in Five Star, and maybe that was lost too.

“Things have gotten more sophisticated now, a little more glamorous,” Hill said. “And I’m not saying one is better than the other. But I’ll say I’m glad I played and got through when I did.

About Kimberly Alley

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