Anthony Davis, John Wall, and DeAndre Jordan warm up during USA Basketball training camp.
In August, at a private event at the nightclub XS, 46-year-old Isaac Brown strode past nearly a dozen professional basketball players to accept an award. This was no bored-at-work daydream for the hotel developer. Instead, he was at the USA Basketball Fantasy Camp, where his team had won the championship that caps the four-day event at Wynn.
As memorable as the basketball was for Brown, however, sharing the experience with his 4-year-old son, who got to watch his father play among some of the best basketball players in the world, was even more meaningful. “This is something that I never imagined he would actually get to see,” Brown says. “And him meeting all these professional athletes at that age, it’s going to sink in.”
For Brown, the reward came in the form of meeting and training in the same environs as Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kawhi Leonard. And just to add a little more star power, basketball legends like Hall of Famer David Robinson were on hand, regaling attendees with stories of past triumphs.
“The camp and its related events are just outrageous,” says Ric Elias, CEO of Red Ventures and a veteran of nearly every major fantasy basketball camp there is. “You don’t see this anywhere. There’s no cutting corners at Wynn.”
Since Jerry Colangelo took over as managing director and chairman of USA Basketball, the sport’s governing body, in 2005 and named Mike Krzyzewski head coach, Wynn has hosted the organization for nine of the last 10 summers. It will do so again in the summer of 2016 as the US team prepares for the Olympics in Rio.
Three years ago, USA Basketball, in conjunction with Wynn, created the official USA Basketball Fantasy Camp to heighten awareness and build excitement for this summer training block. The result is a four-day hospitality and sports extravaganza, highlighted by a stay at Wynn, a competitive amateur basketball tournament, coaching by top collegiate coaches, and all the camaraderie and good-natured ribbing of one’s letterman days.
“Wynn just does it right,” says John Calipari, head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Kentucky, who has moonlighted as a coach at the fantasy camp for the last three years. “And they’ve been unbelievable supporters of USAB for a while now.” Beyond the basketball fix the camp provides, campers enjoy the same luxuries that USA Basketball players do, from Nike gear to access to a training room in the hotel, complete with ice bag service and a masseuse.
The campers, typically men aged 35 and over who are fit enough to handle three consecutive days of on-court competition, come from all over the country for the experience. They relish the fact that coaches like Calipari, who are usually busy recruiting the nation’s top high school prospects each summer, are just as concerned with their fantasy camp team’s ability to run a zone defense or a pick-and-roll off defense. In nightly recap events, celebrity camp administrators Jay Bilas and P.J. Carlesimo analyze the campers’ performances with the same fervor they do the pros’ on their ESPN broadcasts.
And just as the USA Basketball Men’s National Team returns to Wynn each year, so do the fantasy campers. The camp has sold out every year of its three-year existence, and interest is already growing for this summer. Ed Henry, the White House correspondent for Fox News, is a regular. And last year actor Jerry Ferrara, best known as Turtle on HBO’s Entourage, went head-to-head with more than 60 campers. Apparently, not even fame on the small screen can replace playing among the big boys.