â€‹Jordan Howell of the Cape Henlopen High School boys basketball team.
Slam Dunk organizers include (seated, from left): Bob Cilento, Matthew Robinson and Jerry Kobasa. (Standing, from left): Jerry DuPhily, David Arthur, Martin Donovan, Linda Parkowski, Marc Steigerwalt and Chris Giacomucci.
Four of the participating teams finished last year ranked among the country’s top 30, and all of the non-Delaware entries have at least one player holding multiple Division I scholarship offers. Five players ranked among the nation’s top 100 seniors, and three were among the top 50 juniors. Tyus Battle, of Gill St. Bernard’s School (Gladstone, N.J.), is the No. 1 shooting guard in the Class of 2016. Also scheduled to appear are Isaiah Briscoe, a senior at Roselle (N.J.) Catholic, who was selected to the USA Men’s U18 National Team, and V.J. King, a St. Vincent-St. Mary junior ranked No. 6 overall in the class of 2016.Out-of-state coaches seem enthusiastic about coming to Delaware—particularly those from distant schools. “We’re a Nike school, and those people strongly recommended it to us as a good tournament,” says Kyle Lindsted, who’s in his 16th year as head basketball coach at Sunrise Christian, which has 15 players signed or committed to Division 1 colleges. “This will be a different neck of the woods for us. I’m looking forward to enjoying some seafood.” Gonzaga’s Steve Turner participated in the first iteration of Slam Dunk as both a player and a coach. “Looking at the teams they’re bringing in, I think you’re going to have some great games and great competition,” Turner says, while noting that some of the Jacobs-inspired bells and whistles may be missing. “Based on Position Sports and other events they’ve run that I’ve been a part of, I think it’ll be first class.” Joe Arbitello rode the bench for Christ the King in the 1994 Slam Dunk. He’s now the head coach there, and his New York state champs boast several Division I-caliber players holding scholarships from basketball powers like Indiana and Kansas. Arbitello predicts that this Slam Dunk may actually be “a little bit better” than the original—at least in the caliber of play. “They’re bringing in more national teams, which will make the competition better, which will make the tournament better.”
In July 2007, after a 14-month nationwide manhunt, Bobby Jacobs was tracked down and arrested by U.S. Marshals in Miami. Extradited to Delaware, Jacobs looked to have aged dramatically behind his beard and long hair—a sharp contrast to his former clean-shaven self. A Kent County grand jury indicted him on one count of theft greater than $50,000 and 12 counts of conspiracy. Jacobs pleaded no contest to one felony count of misappropriation of property for taking thousands of dollars from the Slam Dunk fund. Sentenced to two years in prison, with one year suspended, he was ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution. But Jacobs wasn’t through. In June 2009, he was charged with stalking three people associated with the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association—all formerly involved with the tournament. He had sent letters to their supervisors, alleging a variety of misdeeds by the three, who had aided police in their original investigation of Jacobs. He pleaded guilty to two counts of stalking and was sentenced to two additional years in prison in December 2009. Earlier that same year, the Delaware Sports Commission (DSC) was formed, and it soon became apparent that Slam Dunk’s positive legacy overshadowed the ugly way in which it ended. Governed by an all-volunteer, 30-person board of directors, the DSC is a nonprofit corporation charged with attracting and hosting regional and national sporting events to enhance the economy and promote Delaware “as a destination for amateur and professional sports.” Sound vaguely like a basketball tournament that used to be held in Lewes? That’s what the DSC thought, too. A six-member Slam Dunk Committee was formed. With an $80,000 grant-in-aid from the state, they brought in Position Sports, a Phoenix-based company that runs other basketball tournaments and has connections with many of the nation’s schoolboy powerhouses.
The committee is headed by Matthew Robinson, who also serves as the current chair of the DSC. Robinson is a professor and director of the Sport Management Program in the University of Delaware’s Lerner College of Business and Economics, so he knows sports and marketing. “Slam Dunk is a brand,” he says. “And there are a lot of people who have strong feelings positively about it. Our goal now is to rebuild the brand, and bring back positive associations with it.” Another key member is Linda Parkowski, the state’s director of tourism, who was the first chair of the DSC. “Sports and tourism. The role of a sports commission is to bring those two entities together,” Robinson says. Soon after the field for the new Slam Dunk tournament was announced, Jacobs demonstrated that prison hadn’t sapped all of his chutzpah. Now living back in Milford, Jacobs sent a cease-and-desist letter by certified mail to the DSC, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association and some of the schools scheduled to participate. Written and signed by “Robert Forrest Vandergrift Jacobs III,” the letter claimed that he owned all rights to the tournament and its name, logo and tag lines. It threatened legal action against anyone who continues “as a participant in the renewal of the Slam Dunk to the Beach tournament.” The letter also claimed that the Cape basketball court was short of regulation dimensions and that “a major construction and architectural debacle” had reduced seating from “the previous 3,200 … to less than 1,850.”But the tournament committee had done its due diligence. Robinson says they had full rights to the Slam Dunk to the Beach name and its new logo. Regarding court size and seating capacity, Jacobs was way off on the numbers. Cape Henlopen athletic director Bob Cilento told The News Journal that the court was well within regulation. “The old building [seating capacity] was about 2,300,” he says. “And in the new building, we’re at 2,200.”
Jordan Howell (right), David Kwan and the rest of the Cape Henlopen High School boys basketball team will compete in Slam Dunk to the Beach in the comfort of their own gym.
As for the cease-and-desist letter, it can hardly be called an “order,” since no administrative agency was involved. As a result, it caused only a ripple of concern among the committee and the teams. “[The letter] did kind of shock me for a second,” says Sunrise Christian’s Lindsted. “But I called the people at Slam Dunk to the Beach, and they said there’s nothing to worry about.” Not surprisingly, the tournament committee has distanced itself from Jacobs. “We’ve decided that the best path forward is to focus on what’s ahead, not what’s in the past,” says Scott Klatzkin, media coordinator for the event. A “shoot-first” high-school point guard, Robinson fairly rubs his hands in anticipation of the upcoming tourney. Thanks to Position Sports, he says, “We’ve got the right teams.” Unlike the previous version, the new Slam Dunk has a predetermined schedule, with no brackets. The goal is to create the best matchups, not crown a tournament champion. “We want every game to be an exciting game—no team getting beat by 30 or anything like that,” Robinson says. “It’s going to be good hoops, the best going against the best.” And the word is out that Slam Dunk is back. Robinson says Notre Dame’s Mike Brey (a former UD head coach) is among those who’ve indicated they will have a staff member at the games.
Robinson is also looking toward next year. Some teams who weren’t able to come in 2014 because they were already booked for another event “are eager to participate in 2015,” he says. Bottom line: The tournament should provide a bump to the Sussex County economy, helping offset the usual winter doldrums. A 2002 study by UD’s Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research estimated that the 20,000 in total attendance that year generated $3.5 million for the local economy. At the initial press conference, Robinson boldly noted that, while Slam Dunk’s previous iteration brought in thousands of fans and infused millions of dollars into Delaware’s economy, “we fully expect that performance to be repeated and, in fact, surpassed.” Recently, he added, “I don’t want to put a figure out there, but we’re going to measure it this year.” The Slam Dunk Committee’s first goal, however, is to present a high-quality experience for players, coaches and fans. “A lot of parties have put their faith in us to do it the right way, and we take that seriously,” Robinson says. “We want to live up to those expectations, and we want it to be done in a first-class way.” Visit www.slamdunktothebeach.com.