Phil Knight and the folks in charge of Nike’s grassroots basketball division should be beaming right now. Their rivals at Under Armour? Not so much, and here’s why:
DeAndre Ayton, the top high school prospect in the Class of 2017, on Tuesday announced he is transferring from a private school in San Diego to a prep school in Phoenix. Which also means he’ll be leaving behind his Under Armour gear and suiting up in Nike swag.
The news of Ayton’s transfer set basketball junkies abuzz largely because Ayton, a 7-1 post player from the Bahamas, will be joining Marvin Bagley, who is 6-10 and one of the top prospects in the Class of 2018, at Hillcrest Prep. But those who monitor the sneaker wars quickly noted the other angle.
Under Armour put money into the program at Balboa City School because Ayton was on the roster.
“The shoe companies, it’s a battle for the top players,’’ said Brian Hershman of indihoops.com, which rates AAU teams. “This puts Nike in possession of the top player of the (2017) class.’’
On the summer basketball circuit, the competition between Nike and Under Armour has been heating up.
In August, as Under Armour was making final preparations for its signature summer all-star game, the Elite 24 in New York. Then, unexpectedly, Nike announced it was hosting its own event that same weekend in — get this — the Bahamas.
So, kids, what’ll it be? A weekend in New York, or a three-day, all-expenses trip to the Bahamas?
Just like that, Nike lured to its event a dozen of the top prospects from the Class of 2016 and 2017. That and word of Ayton’s transferring to a Nike-sponsored high school program surely will please Knight, the co-founder of the apparel giant who in a recent interview with USA TODAY Sports acknowledged Under Armour is a legitimate rival.
Until now, Ayton not only played for a high school program sponsored by Under Armour, but also played for an AAU team sponsored by the sports apparel company. It’s a good bet he’ll be wearing the swoosh year-round now.
“It’s not confirmed DeAndre Ayton will play on the Nike (summer) circuit yet,’’ Hershman told USA TODAY Sports, “but this definitely helps.’’