Dime Q&A: The Re-Emergence Of Five-Star Basketball

When I think back to my childhood years and developing my basketball game, like many others my age, I think of the summers when I attended Five-Star Basketball camps. About 10-15 years ago, Five-Star was the most prestigious grassroots basketball organization and helped develop the skills of players like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant. The business of basketball camps has changed tremendously in the last 10 years with top players and sneaker companies starting their own camps and tournament circuits, and as a result Five-Star took a backseat. Now under new ownership, Five-Star Basketball is ready to step back into the spotlight and reconnect with the youth with the launch of fivestarbasketball.com, a content heavy site with player rankings, blogs, highlight reels, camp history and much more.

Dime made a visit to Five-Star Basketball’s new digital compound and spoke with CEO Nick Blatchford about their efforts to re-brand the organization and step back into the forefront of the basketball world.

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Dime: What sparked the re-branding of Five-Star?
Nick Blatchford: Five-Star has such a great legacy and brand heritage in basketball dating back to the 1960s. The contribution the company has made to the game has been extraordinary. Before there was AAU, before there were sneaker camps, there was Five-Star. There was a place where teaching never stopped and players and coaches went to learn and play against the best, so it’s always been synonymous with greatness.

When we got our hands on the business and the brand, we were very focused on making it breath greatness and breath premier. We knew we needed to do some things to reintroduce the brand to the younger demographic and the young, competitive, elite player. What Five-Star was to Jordan in 1980, Five-Star really isn’t to the young player playing today. We’re really trying to link the heritage of Five-Star with the current involvement surrounding the game. It’s really important to us to celebrate the heritage but do it in a way that respects the current kid, the current coach, the younger generation of player and coach.

Dime: What kind of changes can we expect to see with Five-Star camps?
NB: Five-Star will continue to run a great on-court teaching product. The curriculum, the stations, all the things that Five-Star has been known for, we will continue to innovate and try to be a best-in-class on-court program. What we do hope to do is began to migrate the teaching and instruction of the game onto a digital platform and really create on-court and online instructional products for kids and coaches. Kids that are competitive and learning the game outside of school are either on the court playing or online, so we want to be able to create an online experience that supports and complements what happens on the court. That’s what you expect to see in the future for our company.

Dime: What kind of tournaments and events are in the pipeline?
NB: What we’re going to do is focus on partnerships with tournament and events operators. There’s a lot of really good ones out there doing a great job already and we can lend our brand to it and we can partner with them to really create this digital and media platform with video capture of games and event highlights – the things that people that are associated with these events really want to experience. Usually the people that participate show up, play games, leave and all they have is the memory. It is our goal and ambition to create content at these events that parents, coaches and kids will want to access. In terms of the event business, we will probably do a big summer event that we’ll run and a big high school event that we’ll run, but beyond that, as far as the large scale travel tournaments, we will try to create experiences that support what they’re already doing.

Dime: Will re-branding include collaborating with sneaker companies and other sports brands?
NB: Eventually it could. Our focus right now is on re-launching the brand and reenergizing the brand. We’re doing that through the digital platform that we’ve launched, the content we’re creating, engaging with the top players in the country that are doing video blogs and really just building our audience online. Beyond that, partnering with the right companies and brands that are active in youth basketball, we’re going to let that evolve and come to us over time. We did inherit some great relationships with Reebok and Gatorade that are still active for camps and we’re going to look at where to build out beyond that in the future.

Dime: Is there an audience you want the digital presence to cater too? Is it more for players, fans or recruiters?
NB: Initially we’re really focused on the players. Five-Star has always been focused on the players, their lives, development, etc. Early on we’re going to focus on that 12- to18-year-old competitive youth basketball player. We’re going to generate content with them, from them, and about them that they think is interesting, cool and meaningful. We’re going to do that through event coverage, a lot of video, play of the day, previews, etc. We’ve pioneered the first ever Top 25 for club teams and travel teams at the 17- and 16-and-under level which is released once a week and has become enormously popular. We’re getting a lot of great feedback from the basketball community, but our focus will remain on those players, those teams and what the 12- to 18-year-old youth basketball player is experiencing every day. With that will come parents and coaches that are surrounding those kids, and over time, we’ll create content that will cater to those different audiences. But right now, that’s where our focus is.

Dime: What role does academics and education play in Five-Star’s philosophy?
NB: Five-Star has been a place that’s been focused heavily on basketball, but really helping young players develop the life skills necessary to be successful in life and be prepared for college. A lot of it has been driven by exposure and basketball skill development, but there’s a lot of life skills intertwined in that. Being a complete player includes not just your physical development and basketball skill development, but also your emotional development, cognitive development, character, communication skills and all the things that make great players great. We’re going to be looking at trying to develop a curriculum for on-court and online that focuses on more than just dribble/pass/shoot and really is concentrated on the whole person and whole player.

Dime: What are your thoughts on the increase in players who start their own basketball camps and tourney circuits?
NB: I think it’s great. What’s great about that is you’re really seeing a lot of accomplished players give back and that should be celebrated. Josh Smith is an example. We recently did a feature on him and the Atlanta Celtics, one of the great AAU programs that our country has seen. He came up through that program along with Dwight Howard and many others. He’s going to spend a lot of his time this summer with the 17-and-under team and the program. That’s great for the game and it’s great for young kids to have that connection with guys that have reached that level.

Dime: What does having alumni like Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kevin Durant do for the face of Five-Star Basketball?
NB: Credibility. There’s a real legacy of teaching that this brand and company has been known for and we have a great story to tell. As we re-launch and reinvigorate the brand this year, it’s really about getting out in front of the audience and telling a story. We published a magazine that we gave away to 75,000 kids, coaches and people within the grassroots basketball environment and it really helped us tell the story and show people that Durant, Chris Paul, D-Wade, LeBron, and all the way back to Moses Malone, Alonzo Mourning and Jordan, have all been a part of Five-Star. And that’s meaningful. Not a lot, if any, companies in this space can claim that kind of legacy.

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