Gabe York and Parker Jackson-Cartwright aren’t among the Top 50 basketball recruits in UA history, but they are the only two to star in a movie.
You’ve got to see it.
“At All Costs” was released on Netflix last week, and I was dumbstruck after watching it.
If Hollywood reviewers used exclamations about “At All Costs,” they would be:
NOT FOR THE NAIVE!
I thought I knew how recruiting worked in college basketball. After watching “At All Costs” I was humbled by how much I don’t know. (And how much I don’t want to know.)
It’s not Nike v. Adidas.
It’s not Arizona v. UCLA.
“The answer to most of these questions is money,” says ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. “There are people making millions.”
The principal figure in “At All Costs” is neither York nor Jackson-Cartwright. They are co-stars. The leading role is played by Compton Magic director Etop Udo-Ema, who looks into the camera and says he doesn’t coach basketball as much as he produces a “brand” for Adidas.
“We are sexy as (bleep),” he says.
York lived with Udo-Ema during the summer of his junior year in high school. Before him, Arizona State guard Jahii Carson lived at Udo-Ema’s impressive Southern California house, one that looks like something off the “Modern Family” set.
Former Arizona guard Jerryd Bayless refers to Udo-Ema as “the don of West Coast basketball.”
CBS basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb says: “When a college basketball job comes open in Southern California, they’re going to ask Etop who to hire.”
York and Jackson-Cartwright may not be actors, but they are important to the plot of “At All Costs.”
Jackson-Cartwright’s father, Ramon, is the best supporting actor in this project, a profane, with-it parent who isn’t about to get played by Udo- Ema, Nike, Adidas or anyone in the AAU system.
“I’m a loudmouth parent,” he says, a noble protector for his undersized son, a point guard who struggles with ankle injuries for most of the film. “The perfect storm for (Adidas) is to have a single mom with a phenomenal ballplayer, with a mom who doesn’t know anything about the sport.”
That’s where York comes in. His working-class, single mother, Deborah, trusts the system. Fortunately, Udo-Ema delivers. He takes care of York, and even accompanies him to the Amtrak station when York leaves to enroll for his freshman year at Arizona.
Here’s some irony: In the high-finance world of AAU basketball, when teams spend as many as 30 nights in hotels a season, from coast to coast, York took a train from Los Angeles to Tucson because his mother couldn’t afford a plane ticket.
“I feel like a surrogate father for Gabe,” says Udo-Ema, who sometimes forgot his Adidas brand to wear an Arizona Nike jersey. “Gabe became a household name because of Adidas.”
That “household name” stuff didn’t stick at Arizona. York struggled to get playing time as a freshman in 2012-13, averaging 2.4 points and not getting off the bench altogether in 20 games.
In one of the most compelling scenes in “At All Costs,” York visits Udo-Ema’s hotel suite during the Pac-12 Tournament at the Las Vegas MGM Grand.
York: “I’ve earned more than two minutes a game. (Sean Miller) took my whole freshman year away, literally just ripped it away.”
Udo-Ema: “If we do meet, the conversation between me and (Miller) will be, ‘He’s going to have to be on the floor the whole time; that spot is his.’”
York didn’t become a full-time starter and offensive priority until he was a senior, and wasn’t taken in last summer’s NBA draft. He now averages 16.2 points for the NBA D-League’s Erie BayHawks, which is more than he ever scored at Arizona.
The pulse of “At All Costs” is how much teenagers sacrifice each summer to audition for college recruiters. They play as many as 100 games from April through July, which means they don’t go to the beach, spend time at the movies or build a relationship with a girlfriend or even consider playing baseball or soccer.
“There are many, many abuses; 12-year-olds are playing 100 games a summer,” former NBA Commissioner David Stern says in “At All Costs.” “But that’s what happens when the rewards are so high.”
Jackson-Cartwright and his father are shown in the gym at 5 a.m., shooting 3-pointers.
“The moment you let up, you’re gonna get your throat cut,” Ramon Jackson-Cartwright says. “It’s all about getting a Division I scholarship.”
Finally, on letter-of-intent day, after 18 months of injuries and worry, the Jackson-Cartwright family pours celebratory glasses of champagne as Parker signs the coveted letter to attend Arizona.
“I’m speechless,” says the soft-spoken PJC, on the verge of tears.
On Tuesday, vacationing with his family in Paris, Etop Udo-Ema tweeted a photograph from the Champs Élysées. He was at an Adidas store.