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Zach Crisler, like the rest of the current high school junior class, knows the importance of these final two weekends in April.
The April live recruiting periods, as they're known around the hoops recruiting scene, are two 48-hour windows — 5 p.m. Friday through 5 p.m. Sunday — when college coaches at all levels can watch and evaluate prospects at dozens of tournaments around the country.
Commonly known as AAU basketball, though the Amateur Athletic Union has only a small slice of the pie these days, these massive tournaments can bring together hundreds of AAU teams that can play as many as six or seven games over the weekend, all in hopes of impressing coaches from at least one college program, whether that's Division I, II, or III.
The two periods in April, along with three more five-day windows in July, represent the only time between the end of the last high school season and the beginning of the next one when college coaches can really see prospects in a competitive atmosphere.
And considering that most college coaches don't get to see many out-of-area prospects during the season, this first April weekend is a great time to make a good first impression.
That fact isn't lost on the participants.
"I think for everyone it's just a chance to boost your stock and show everyone on a national scale what you really have to offer and show college coaches what you could add to their program," said Crisler, a junior at La Salle High School. "I think it's a good chance for people who have already been on the map to show they can play at a high level and show there is a couple sleepers who can definitely boost their stock as well."
Crisler certainly belongs in that first group. The mobile and versatile 6-foot-9 forward enters the weekend with an offer list a dozen schools long, from Penn State, Temple, St. Joseph's, and Drexel to TCU, Tulane, Iona, and more.
But if he wants to pull in offers from the likes of Stanford, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and other high majors that have been keeping tabs on him, he'll need to play well over the next couple of weekends.
As long as he does, Crisler won't have to worry about getting seen by the elite programs. He's playing this summer with Team Rio National on the Under Armour Association circuit, one of the major "sneaker circuits," along with Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League and the Adidas Gauntlet.
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The UAA and EYBL will follow the same schedule, in the Dallas area the first April period and in Indianapolis in the second. The Adidas Gauntlet circuit will be in various locations the first weekend and then Atlanta the second.
With Team Rio, Crisler will be on the same squad as five-star wings Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis, both of whom have offers from Duke, Kentucky, and the rest of the blue bloods. Villanova coach Jay Wright recently visited Lewis and brought three assistants with him to show how serious he is about the Ranney School (N.J.) junior, and he's not the only one who has done so.
"Almost every school in the country will be there to watch them as well as to watch other players on the team," Crisler said. "Everyone is a high-caliber, high-major player."
First Weekend: Irving, Texas (Drive Nation sports facility)
Second Weekend: Westfield, Ind. (Pacers Athletic Center)
Notable local participants: Team Final
Overview: The ninth year of the Nike EYBL features 40 teams from around the United States — and a couple from north of the border — vying over four sessions from April to May for the right to be one of 24 teams playing in the Peach Jam, arguably the biggest event of the July live periods. The Philly-area entry for all nine of those seasons has been Team Final, which has produced such current local talent as Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Villanova), Shizz Alston Jr. and Trey Lowe (Temple), Lamarr Kimble (St. Joseph's), and plenty more. Roman's Seth Lundy and Church Farm's Jon Bol Ajak are two of the biggest draws on a 17-under team that features three local sophomores — Lynn Greer III (Roman), A.J. Hoggard (Archbishop Carroll), and Mikeal Jones (Girard College).
First Weekend: Dallas, Texas (Duncanville Field House)
Second Weekend: Indianapolis, Ind. (Best Choice Fieldhouse)
Notable local participants: Philly Pride, WeR1
Overview: The UAA isn't quite as old as the EYBL, rounding into its current shape in 2014, but it has turned out plenty of high-major prospects and future pros in its own right. Both the Philly Pride and WeR1 rosters are filled with local talent, and both will be in the running for the UAA championship in July. WeR1 features Villanova recruit Eric Dixon (Abington) along with Bonner-Prendergast guard Isaiah Wong, who enters the spring with a bevy of high-major offers. Philly Pride has Chris Arcidiacono, headed to Perkiomen School for a prep year, though the stars are on the wings, with Imhotep's Donta Scott and Jamil Riggins plus Roman's Hakim Hart. And don't miss Team Rio, on which La Salle's Zach Crisler plays alongside five-star wings Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine of the Ranney School (N.J.).
First Weekend: Dallas/Los Angeles/Indianapolis/Washington
Second Weekend: Atlanta (Lakepoint Champions Center)
Notable local participants: K-Low Elite
Overview: Not to be outdone by its two sneaker competitors, Adidas has developed its own summer circuit, though it is run somewhat differently from the other two. It has Gold and Silver levels as well as the ability to play into the circuit's July championships at one of several qualifying events around the country. K-Low Elite, formerly known as Team Philly but now named after one of its most famous alumni and benefactors, Kyle Lowry, is on the Gold circuit, playing in the Washington event during the first weekend, at Athletic Republic. This year's 17-under group had a strong summer last year on the 16-under circuit and returns Dahmir Bishop (Imhotep Charter), Christian Ray (Haverford School), and Amin Bryant (Archbishop Ryan) . They will be joined for the next two weekends by Archbishop Wood senior Seth Pinkney.
First Weekend: Pittsburgh (David Lawrence Convention Center)
Second Weekend: Manheim, Pa. (Spooky Nook Sports)
Notable local participants: Jersey Shore Warriors, S.J. Hoops Elite, East Coast Power
Overview: The HGSL isn't quite the same as the other circuits. It's more of a group of showcase teams that Hoop Group has playing high-level games on the opening nights of tournaments before jumping into the massive Jam Fest brackets in the second or third rounds. But the Warriors have been the area's preeminent non-shoe team in the area for years, with players such as Ryan Young (Northwestern), Taylor Funk (St. Joseph's), and Eli Brooks (Michigan) on the team in recent years. This season, look out for Lower Merion wing Jack Forrest and Episcopal Academy sophomore Alex Capitano to lead the way. Seniors Nick Alikakos (Hill School) and Malik Slay (Downingtown East) will also be playing the next two weekends.
First Weekend: Washington (Catholic University)
Second Weekend: Manalapan, N.J. (Sportika)
Notable local participants: Jersey Force, Dream-Phenom