The powerhouse AAU program that has produced Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and eight other players in this year's NCAA tournament has a game show to thank for its newfound prowess.
As Zach Schonbrun reports in the New York Times, eighth-grade teacher and youth basketball coach Mike George hit it big on an episode of "Deal or No Deal" in 2007, winning $144,000 and putting half of that into his newly formed youth team, C.I.A. Bounce.
George had joined forces with Tony McIntyre, father of current Syracuse star Tyler Ennis, in the endeavor, and together the two purchased new uniforms, equipment and gear with their fortune. They started traveling across North America in search of better competition and accepting players who might not have been able to pay the entry fee.
"Without putting that money back into the program," McIntyre told Schonbrun. "I don’t think a lot of what we've done would have been possible.”
The top flight talent that has come out of C.I.A. Bounce the past few years is impressive, to say the least. Tristan Thompson (No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft), Anthony Bennett (No. 1 in 2012) played for George, while Wiggins, Ennis, Iowa State's Melvin Ejim and Naz Long and a handful of other players in the NCAA tournament can trace their roots to C.I.A. Bounce.
“It gave me a chance to come over here and play against the best competition, but also get recognized by schools,” Ennis said of C.I.A Bounce's new resources. “That’s the only way you can pretty much make it out of Canada to get the opportunity.”
Ennis has made the most of his opportunity, going from a top-30 prospect in his class to a potential lottery pick should he decide to leave Syracuse early. He was instrumental in Syracuse's stellar start, and he hit an unforgettable game-winner against Pittsburgh to keep the Orange undefeated. In Syracuse's victory over Western Michigan on Thursday in the NCAA tournament, the 6-foot-2 guard led the Orange in minutes (36) and assists (6) while going 7-for-11 from the field.