THEN AND NOW
(Second installment of a week-long series on the State of Basketball at the youth level)
When I browse bookstores, mainly the sports section, there seems to be so many more books written on the history of baseball than basketball. Story telling in hardball is legendary. Roger Angell and George Will are amazing. I wish sportswriters would compose more books on the good old days from the hardwood.
People like to reminisce about back in the day. Others enjoy reading about the history of sports, my favorite is reading and hearing about the old school players.
My eyes light up when someone tells me a basketball story from back in the day. To me, there will never be another two decades of basketball like the 1970′s and 1980′s.
“When I was younger we used to go to the Garden…”
“Back in my day, when the game was tied and both teams had point game, you couldn’t go to the basket without getting fouled…”
“Man, you should have seen so and so play defense…”
In today’s blog entry covering youth basketball, I talked to a few coaches about what has changed over the past 25 years in the game. But first, two stories that I have heard regarding two of the greatest players to ever lace up sneakers.
Larry Bird worked very hard to turn himself into a great player. Part of his success was due to his work ethic. After practicing with his high school team after school Bird would walk home for dinner. But before he would go inside for dinner, he would take his basketball and shoot outside for another hour.
Magic Johnson used to go to the grocery store for his mother but would always carry his basketball so he could work on his dribbling while he walked in both directions. Ball in one hand, bag of groceries in the other. Always looking up…
Mott Community located in Flint, Michigan has been one of the most dominating community college basketball programs in the country. Steve Schmidt, men’s head basketball coach says, ”There is no doubt that the biggest change in the game is the lack of commitment and focus of the players. They have too many distractions.”
Schmidt played high school basketball in the Lansing area back in the late 70′s and then played at Central Michigan University during the 80′s. He’s won National Championships, State titles and is one of the best basketball minds I have ever heard.
“I am looking for ‘gym rats’ when I recruit. You just don’t seem to find them anymore. Kids want instant results without putting in the work. It seems like they are looking for whatever short cut they can take – the “easiest” way possible.” Schmidt told me.
Gym rat is a term we use when describing a player who spent a ton of time in the gym working out.
John Harmatuk is a highly successful high school head basketball coach entering his 10th season at Cypress Springs in Houston, Texas. He see’s the motivation factor changing. ”I would say the biggest change I have seen is what motivates players? Growing up, when we played it was because we loved playing basketball, we didn’t expect anything from the game.”
Coach Tuk makes a great point. Back in the day, we would play for the love of the game. Today, it almost seems like you have to beg kids to come out and play. One AAU coach told me he can’t get enough kids to field a team.
“No one wants to play.” Harmatuk explained.
That last point bugs the heck out of me, especially when I see the empty courts.
“We played pick up games in the park and at various gyms in our area.” Harmatuk explained. “I wanted to play for Coach Knight at Indiana.”
When I coached AAU back in the late 80′s for Brooklyn USA we lost a very good player to another organization because they were promised shoes and gear.
“Today kids play organized games with the promise of shoes and scholarships. It seems kids expect something from the game that we know owes them nothing.” Harmatuk said.
How do we change this mentality around? How do we get it back to where it once was?
Jim Boone, men’s head basketball coach at Tusculum College has been coaching college basketball for a very long time. Boone has been a head coach since 1986. He is more than qualified to speak on this topic.
“I have not really seen that much change with today’s kids, other than they have more opportunities regarding their time and how to spend it.”
More opportunities, is that a good thing? You hear many different versions of what it takes to be a success.
Specialize, play other sports, be a well-rounded person. This is getting interesting…
(Next: Outside Influences)
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