Riverside-Brookfield Summer Shootout impresses again

The 21st annual event is where basketball coaches at all levels, fans, media, insiders and movers and shakers of the sport congregate for a few days while watching high school basketball.

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Rich's Al Brooks (24) moves the ball against Stevenson at the 2024 Riverside Brookfield Summer Shootout.

Rich’s Al Brooks (24) moves the ball against Stevenson at the 2024 Riverside Brookfield Summer Shootout.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The Riverside-Brookfield Shootout in mid-June was once again reminiscent of an offseason state basketball summer reunion.

The 21st annual event is where basketball coaches at all levels, fans, media, insiders and movers and shakers of the sport congregate for a few days while watching high school basketball.

There were three other Illinois “live” high school events in June, but it’s a little different at Riverside-Brookfield. There is always a bit more of a buzz with constant basketball banter and storylines that emerge out of R-B, partly due to it being the first weekend date of the live periods and also because of the history.

There are 200-plus college coaches scurrying about the six different courts to catch glimpses of the top players in Illinois. There was even one, the recently hired Doug Gottlieb at Wisconsin-Green Bay, who had to make time for his national radio show Friday afternoon while he was at R-B.

High school coaches discussed how their teams have looked in the summer and what they think they can be when the season tips off in just five months. Even some recently retired coaching legends were back in the gym, including Simeon’s Robert Smith and Stevenson’s Pat Ambrose.

There were current college stars watching their old high schools compete. Iowa standout Owen Freeman was there to check out his younger brother Braden who plays with Moline. Caden Pierce, the Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton this past season, watched the Hilltoppers of Glenbard West.

There was NBA player Max Christie, who came to see his old Rolling Meadows high school team, and NBA lottery pick Matas Buzelis, who played his early high school basketball at Hinsdale Central and was drafted by the Bulls last week.

What’s also evolved in recent years is having more teams from outside the Chicago area making the trip to Riverside-Brookfield. That’s a massive win for all involved — from the players who get a chance to be seen to the coaches who are able to play teams from other geographical parts of the state for a change and for the rabid fans who get to take it all in.

The likes of Metamora, Moline, East St. Louis, Rockford Auburn, Peoria Manual, Peoria High, Alton and others playing here in the Chicago area is fantastic.

There are no titles awarded, just scholarships earned and team development a given.

But with all the engaging basketball conversations and games played, along with the good vibes and normalcy of a sport returning, the team sport we love to think of as pure and innocent continues to evolve. And that evolvement continues to sway towards what feels like more of an individualized one. In reality, it’s much like everything else in sports.

Even with the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout, an annual summer event which is about as tradition-rich as an offseason event could be in Illinois high school basketball, the shift to highlight individuals is clear.

With college coaches in attendance for the fourth straight year as part of the re-tooled “live” evaluation period, it’s inevitable that individualism creeps into play more than before.

But the weekend now includes many wondering where individual players are headed before school starts back up in August. Would some of these players even be with the team they were playing with in June?

There have always been transfers, but it’s never been like this. The transfer rumors and outward recruiting stories within the prep ranks that were heard at R-B? Sheesh.

There are also now endless videographers catching any individual highlight they can of a player. The average high school player –– and by average we’re talking “so-so” –– continues to look so much better in those 90 second video clips posted on social media than they actually are on the court.

There is much more of a “me, me, me” feel to events like this where you can’t help but feel like it’s just a tad bit more AAU-ish than ever before.

But to be fair, there needs to be some give and take, along with some acceptance, as individual and team goals collide. The two weekends in June do provide a terrific platform for prospects to be showcased. Illinois is one of the few states in the country who have gotten it right and taken full advantage of the change in the basketball evaluation calendar and passed that opportunity down to its student-athletes.

These “live” periods in June, which consists of a pair of three-day weekends where players compete with their high school teams, have been welcomed by college coaches.

College coaches, especially those at the Division I low-major and mid-major levels, continue to tell me they enjoy the opportunity to see players with their high school teams. They simply don’t have the time during their own regular season to get out and evaluate players in the winter months. This is a chance to see players in a different team environment and setting than the club basketball travel scene.

The high-major coaches feel a little differently. Their absence at Riverside-Brookfield this year was obvious but expected. Illinois is lacking in numbers when it comes to high-major talent, particularly compared to 10 years ago and the decades before that. (Do we remember the old Morris Shootout days in the late 1980s and into the 1990s?).

Plus, high-major college coaches still prefer to see and evaluate a surplus of high-level players and athletes all on the floor together, which they get in settings like Nike’s EYBL in the spring and later this summer.

Although a little more of the “me” focus is prevalent, the event was again a hit. As always, this specific shootout is so well run, especially for an all-encompassing one. The organization at R-B tends to be taken for granted; this isn’t how they’re all done. And we can still appreciate all the good that comes out of an off season event like this one.

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