There isn’t a coach, player or referee who will have a larger impact on this year’s NCAA tournament than Leigh Klein.
Klein owns New York-based Five-Star Basketball Camps, arguably the most famous roundball summit in the world. Dozens of NBA stars from Michael Jordan to LeBron James to Kevin Durant have donned the infamous orange shirt as teenagers.
It’s a no-frills, old-school experience in a world where high-profile basketball recruits are coddled and showered with attention. At Five-Star, Klein and his staff have players dribbling around chairs, shooting free throws and actually playing defense. Double dribble or slack off and you’re doing push-ups.
“Coaches know the work the campers put forward at Five-Star and our emphasis on skill development,” Klein said. “Five-Star camp is going to bring their talent forward and show them the right way to play the game. The results, I think, speak for themselves.”
In a prep basketball scene where money is exchanged for access to top players and athletes get free sneakers for just showing up, Klein doesn’t seem to care about name recognition or hype.
Perhaps it is just that level of nonchalance that has produced more than 100 alumni of Five-Star in this year’s brackets. Two years ago, Klein boasted 21 first-round picks in the NBA draft. The names change every year, but the results remain the same.
Klein recalls Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski going to Five-Star not to watch Jay Williams play in scrimmages but to see how the future NBA point guard practiced and held himself during the rigors of the camp. This year, March Madness will again be dominated by alumni from the camp, with Klein able to rattle off a half-dozen players on each of the top-seeded teams who are Five-Star alumni. In 2009, eight of the 10 starters in the championship game between eventual winner North Carolina and Michigan State went to Five-Star.
Perhaps the first time in their young lives, someone stressed fundamentals and playing defense. When television glorifies the eccentric play of the And1 Tour and the neighborhood court is dominated by the free-flow antics of street ball, college coaches are finding players who can fit their system in Klein’s camp.
“Alumni of the camp like Chris Paul and John Wall all progressed after learning to play the game the right way,” Klein said. “They put the work in. They did it. They developed their game to be amongst the best in the world.”