This week is the start of the evaluation period in basketball, a crucial time when prospective high school recruits like Admiral Farragut’s Max Eaton and Boca Ciega’s Dallas Moore play for summer travel teams in hopes of landing a scholarship.
College coaches regularly show up at these athletic apparel-sponsored tournaments to study the players’ moves.
And so do agents, some of whom use unsavory methods to make inroads with top-level prospects in hopes of landing them when they become NBA ready.
The NCAA does not allow agents or AAU coaches to have “undue influence on prospective student-athletes” and shook up the summer league circuit last week by banning four teams from participating in NCAA-sanctioned events because of their association with a sports agent. One of those teams was the St. Petersburg-based Adidas Florida Rams, founded by Clearwater High graduate Matt Ramker.
It was a move that left players — Eaton and Moore included — scrambling to join other programs. And it brought an end to Ramker’s basketball empire.
The NCAA said the Rams and three other teams had contact with Andy Miller, who urged Ramker and others to steer players toward his ASM Sports Agency. By rule, non-scholastic teams associated with agents are prohibited from competing in NCAA-certified events.
The NCAA also limits contact between colleges and AAU coaches. The intent is to return the bulk of the recruiting process to high schools, where coaches with better credentials — and no financial incentive — can act as a buffer between the college coach and player.
As far as agents, some states are trying to enact reform bills to keep the rogue ones in check.
“Agents are allowed to attend summer tournaments,” said Tom Topping, coach of Nike Team Florida and a teacher at Osceola Middle School. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Most go about things the right way. There are some who go about it wrong. I can’t say I’m surprised by the NCAA’s decision this past week.
“Nothing surprises me in the youth sport circuit. Anyone, whether it’s a coach, agent or player, is trying to gain an upper hand. There have been some agents who have tried to build a relationship with me or a player. I can’t speak for others, and I’m not trying to single out Matt or the Florida Rams or anyone else, but that’s not how I’m going to approach things. I’m an educator and so is my wife. And that’s where our priorities are first.”
Ramker cannot be involved with the Rams in any capacity. The banned teams will not be allowed to operate under their established team names, use the same uniforms or gear, or use lodging, meals or transportation provided by any of the administrators.
The NCAA was able to establish a link between the administrators of the four travel teams and Miller based in part on an email from Miller’s account:
“I get tired of being the 1 guy that has to get 1st rd picks every year. I’d be happy to help you get guys + lend support. You have to want it + have to hustle. …We’re facing a summer with no revenue. Yet, everyone will expect their checks, expenses reimburse, etc. I try to give a consistent platform in order to facilitate production. Am I getting the level of production in return that I want or expect? & You decided to be apart of it on some level & Do more than just give it thought, act on it.”
Ramker, who declined comment, got his chops down in amateur basketball by helping organize the Hooters High School Invitational. He went on to the AAU ranks and established the Rams in 2005. Ramker worked with some of the best players in the country, including former Gibbs and Admiral Farragut standout Marreese Speights, who played at Florida before declaring for the NBA draft in 2008.
Ramker became Speights’ financial adviser. Speights’ agent? Miller.
Ramker has worked with other NBA players, including Taurean Green, both of whom signed with Miller.
This isn’t the first time Miller has been in trouble for his methods of landing clients.
In 2010, the New York Times reported that Miller was ordered to pay $40,000 in damages to another agent for tampering with a client. The Times also said that in 2002 a jury ordered Miller to pay $4.6 million to his former employer, Eric Fleisher, for taking 16 clients when he left Fleisher’s firm. Among the players were Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups. The case was settled for an undisclosed sum while on appeal.
Ramker’s former players have joined Tampa-based Elite Florida and are playing this week in Indianapolis.
“It’s unfortunate the timing of the NCAA decision,” Florida Elite director Conrad Foss said. “But I knew this was coming because that investigation had been going on for a while.”
And the summer circuit will continue. Adidas has a tournament this week. Nike holds one the week after.
“The thing that is frustrating is that everyone who is an opponent of AAU basketball is going to look at this NCAA decision and paint a broad brush and assume we’re all the on the take,” Topping said. “It does give us, even the ones who are doing it right, a black eye.”
Bob Putnam can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo: Former Florida standout Marreese Speights