Among basketball camps that cater to future major-college players, the Nike-run LeBron James Skills Camp and Reebok All-American Camp are regarded as the best.

The all-expenses-paid camps run simultaneously during the first few days of the NCAA's first summer evaluation period for college coaches. And the shoe companies wouldn't have it any other way.

It forces athletes to decide between the camps. And it also tests the loyalty of up-and-coming players to the shoe companies, which sponsor the high-profile AAU teams for whom star high school players compete.

The shoe companies often steer athletes to schools with whom they have relationships, which can include lucrative promotional deals with those schools' coaches.

With that said, what will be the lasting memory of this year's Reebok camp?

Some will say the event at Philadelphia University, which showcased 120 of the nation's top high school players, served its purpose of providing exposure for potential Division I athletes in front of college coaches. Others say it was a down year for the four-day camp, which concluded yesterday.

"Last year was way better than this," said camp participant Tony Chennault, a senior guard at Neumann-Goretti, referring to the level of talent.

Chennault would have an idea, having also competed in last summer's camp.

The Reebok event may have been hurt by having to cut back the duration of the camp and some individual workouts because of the economy.

Also, Reebok was hurt because some top-flight athletes who are on Nike-sponsored AAU teams, such as junior guard Michael Gilchrist, who plays for Delaware County's Team Final, chose to attend the Nike camp. Gilchrist, from Somerdale, is regarded as the nation's top college prospect, regardless of class.

"I expect Michael Gilchrist to go to LeBron," said Chris Rivers, Reebok camp's co-director. "It's not just that their camp is legitimate. That's how it works. That's what we do to create relationships."

But Gilchrist wasn't the only blue-chipper who chose LeBron James over Reebok.

Of the 86 campers at the Nike camp in Ohio, 45 were ranked among the nation's top 100 players in the Class of 2010, according to Prep Stars Recruiter's Handbook. Thirteen others were ranked among Prep Stars' top 25 juniors.

Reebok, however, had only 11 of the top 100 rising seniors and three of the top 25 rising juniors.

"That's why [LeBron James] obviously came out best even with only 86 players," said Brick Oettinger, who is the recruiting analyst/editor of Prep Stars.

Rivers agreed that LeBron James had more of the nation's premier players.

But . . .

"We have 120 other good players here that are getting good opportunities" to obtain scholarships, he said.

The experience, however, isn't what it used to be.

Looking to spend less money, the camp dropped from five days in the past to four this year. There were 30 fewer campers than a year ago. And Reebok cut out most of the individual skills drills it had in the past.

Even so, Norm Eavenson, a recruiting analyst for Bob Gibbons All Star Sports, believes it was a good camp.

"There are 150 college coaches showing up, and these kids get the exposure from their presence," he said. "It's never a bad camp that way."

Well, that was hard to tell based on some college coaches and players' reactions.

An assistant coach at a Mountain West Conference school was overheard telling someone on the phone that the camp was "trash" in terms of talent level.

Dissatisfied, several players opted to leave early. Others, such as point guard Brandon Knight of Florida and Delaware County's Markus Kennedy, didn't show up after committing. Knight is a consensus top-five player in the Class of 2010. Kennedy, who is a Team Final teammate of Gilchrist's, is regarded as a top 100 player in the class by most recruiting analysts.

Kennedy, a Villanova recruit, opted to go to the LeBron James event. Kennedy, who was listed in the Reebok media guide, said he notified Reebok of his decision weeks ago. Rivers, however, said, "We got a call late."

"It's nothing against Reebok or anything," said Kennedy, who plans to attend Winchendon School (Mass.) in the fall. "It's just that Nike brought in the better players. I went where I knew I would get better and play against the best."

Kennedy said that playing for a Nike AAU team and having committed to Villanova, which is a Nike school, did not factor into his decision to attend the Nike camp.

Junior LaQuinton Ross of Mississippi was one of the few can't-miss players who chose Reebok over LeBron James.

Loyalty to Reebok, which sponsors his NBA Hoops Elite AAU team, was one reason. The other had to do with a package deal.

"This year, all of my AAU teammates got in here with me," said Ross, ranked 14th nationally by Prep Stars. "So if I would have gone to the LeBron camp, they probably would have been at the house."

A few players probably wished that they were home.

According to Chennault, that's likely a reason why several left early to compete in AAU tournaments.

"Last year was kind of better," Chennault said. "People were excited and wanted to stay. People didn't want to stay this year and just left."

Notes. Chennault was one of four local players selected for last night's All-Star Game. Guards Jesse Morgan (South Kent School's prep team) and Tyrone Garland (Bartram), and power forward Dominic Morris (Friends' Central) were the others.