(First installment of a week-long series on the State of Basketball at the youth level)
It happens every summer.
The guys with a computer show up and become experts on youth basketball.
These certified cynics arrive to an AAU event. They talk to a handful of college coaches, talk to a few parents, watch a few minutes of a game, hit the hospitality room and feel they have their material.
They write about all the so-called problems in travel basketball; Too many games, lack of fundamentally sound players, zero defense, selfish play, uninspired play, inexperienced coaches, loud and obnoxious parents in the stands screaming at officials, and overpriced roster books.
Been there, done that. These complaints have been going on for a long time.
In the college game, recruiting is the number one priority so that means summer basketball is important.
Many high school players dream of signing a letter of intent to D-1 school. College coaching staffs have to deal with AAU coaches, scouting services and don’t forget about the players on their own teams not happy with their playing time so they decide to transfer.
July is the biggest and most important month for travel basketball. Journalists around the country need something to write about so it turns into open season on teenage basketball players.
On Tuesday I came across an article by Terry Foster of the Detroit News on the State of Michigan losing ‘clout’. I have no clue what that means but after reading the story, Foster explains that the talent level has been down in the State because of the lack of players being drafted in the NBA. In the article a D-2 assistant coach takes a cheap shot at high school coaches.
I have reached out to basketball people who have been in the trenches and have a feel for what is going on in the game. I talked to coaches at every level and in the next few days I will hit on a few topics regarding the State of the Game at the youth level.
One thing that grabs my attention when I read these stories on youth basketball is that kids are not spending as much time in the gym as basketball players used to from back in the 1970′s and 1980′s. Matter of fact, I will be the first to say that our school yards are empty. Most of them anyway.
There’s a simple answer to that; kids have more options today.
A few people I spoke to for this series mentioned technology. Text messaging and video games were the most popular reasons for the distractions. Playing Wii in their basement, walking around the mall or hanging out at the movies has also been time consumers.
Observers of the game often blame the AAU circuit for the lack of fundamentals in today’s players. Others claim that participating in other sports (baseball, 7 on 7 football, soccer, Lacrosse and Golf) vacation time with family, and weak work ethic are all halting kids progress. I tend to disagree. I want kids to play other sports and spend time with their family.
I think it’s unfair when people say players don’t work hard enough. I know a lot of players that are in the gym working on their game. Maybe what they mean is ‘not enough kids‘ are in the gym working.
“My kid won’t shoot outside with me anymore.” a friend recently told me. “I love shooting outside.” he explained.
I’ll tell you why they won’t shoot outside. It’s too hot! Wednesday afternoon the temperature in East Lansing was 102.
Back in the day we had no A.C. in the house and our mom told us to, “go play outside.”
So everyone met at the schoolyard and we played. We had no other choice. We played all day long. We took breaks, sat under a shady tree, drank some water and started back up again.
There was nothing for us to do at home.
Today kids have a nice air-conditioned home to hang out in (or they go to their friends crib with the AC) fully equipped with a big screen T.V (imagine these kids trying to play X-Box on a black and white television?).
Plus, with all the child abductions do we really trust our kids on the streets?
“He (John Williamson) used to walk on his tippy toes to school every morning to improve his jumping ability.” Ray LeBov told me when talking about some of the things Williamson would do to improve. The man they called ‘Supa J’ was a great scorer back in the 1970′s and early 80′s in the ABA and NBA.
Walking seems to be a lost art. Do kids walk anymore. The streets seem empty to me. How about riding a bike? Do kids hop on their bikes and ride to a court? Is there even a destination to walk or ride your bike to find a game? Some blame rec centers closing down or they can’t get into the high school gym.
The media, recruiting services, the pursuit of success, work ethic, coaches, love for the game and finding a solution on improving the game at the youth level will be covered over the next few days.
And of course, the parents. How influential have they become over the years? Or are they visible enough in a teenager’s life?
(Next up: What has changed and why?)
Follow me on Twitter: @CoachFinamore