Jul 27, 2014
For those who don't know me, basketball is far and away my favorite sport.
To me, there is nothing more exciting than watching two good teams going back and forth, two good coaches making adjustments and the fans so close to the floor that you can hardly hear yourself think.
These days, there is noise coming from other places, though: noise you can't ignore, even though we would all be wise to do so.
For many years, there has been a dark side to basketball. Many people point to AAU as the source. I won't even say AAU because AAU is just one organization in what has become a sea of club basketball leagues.
Heck, there are many tournaments that are held that aren't sanctioned by any league.
Does club basketball hold responsibility for the problems our sport has today? Without a doubt.
Club basketball has become so much about one thing for many kids and parents – the scholarship. And for some coaches and directors, they seek power, influence, and – in some cases – money.
We've lost focus on what the real purpose of youth sports should be (and yes, club basketball is still a youth sport). It's about teaching life lessons, instilling character, learning how to work as a team, being committed to something bigger than one's self, and preparing kids to become adults. There are club basketball organizations who say they’re doing this, but saying and doing are two different things. Ask yourself, what are they doing to instill these things?
It's cliché, but it's true; at some point, the air comes out of the basketball and the ball stops bouncing. Then what?
According to the NCAA, there are 538,676 high school basketball players in the United States, and of those, 153,907 are seniors. There are 17,984 NCAA basketball players, and just 5,138 freshman roster positions. At this point, we're not even talking scholarship positions, just roster spots.
What the NCAA is trying to say is, don't bank on a scholarship. If that's your plan, you don't have a plan.
The same NCAA numbers indicate that there are 3,996 senior college basketball players. And how many NCAA basketball players get drafted into the NBA? 46.
You can do the math.
Club basketball should be used for exposure, but not in the sense you're probably thinking. Club basketball should expose kids to tough competition; it should expose kids to themselves. Kids should learn the reality of their abilities. When you're exposed, you learn your weaknesses.
For many club basketball programs and coaches, the term “exposure” simply means being seen. Are you being seen by people who truly matter though? Or are you being exposed by being fooled?
This is where the high school coach should come in. These are people who spend hours and hours each day with kids – something club basketball coaches can’t do. They are involved in their academic life. They’re involved in their school community life. They see how they interact with teachers. It’s about more than just basketball with the high school coach, and after all, life is about a lot more than just basketball.
If the NCAA were smart, it would drastically reduce the number of live periods during the club season and sharply increase the number of live periods during the high school season. That one move would make a world of difference in the sport of basketball. And with advances in technology allowing for easy sharing of film over the Internet, college coaches can still see as many kids as they want.
So many adults involved with club basketball are seeking the feeling of power and the ability to influence – whether it's amongst other adults, other club programs, other coaches or even the kids. The exposure events, the "showcase" tournaments, the attention received from so-called scouts, it all goes to people's heads.
There are some things to consider though.
First, it's 2014. Anyone with a half-decent computer and an Internet connection can create their own website, log on to Twitter and call themselves a scout.
It doesn't make them a scout though. It also doesn't mean they have any idea what they're talking about, that they have any real connections at the college level or that they have even scouted before.
What are their credentials? What makes them credible? What is their track record? What are their motivations?
Don't take people at their word. We're talking about the futures of kids, and that demands some scrutiny.
There are people out there who are going to tell kids they're great because it benefits them. If you hear how great you are from someone and they never give you some constructive criticism, be wary.
Even LeBron James goes to practice and is coached. And I've got news for you: you're probably not the next LeBron.
Here's a good example. Let's say I'm paying money to a private trainer or I'm paying to go to an "elite" camp. Do you think that trainer or camp coach is going to say, "Nick, you really haven't gotten any better. I don't think you can play this game at the next level." Of course not! Trainers and people who run camps make money because people come to work out with them. If you're not getting any better, why would you continue coming? That's why you have to question the motivation of some.
Credibility is important too. What makes someone credible? A track record. That takes a lot of time to build and very little time to destroy. Any professional scout, coach or member of the media understands that concept.
Our jobs revolve around our credibility. If I didn't work the last eight years to build my credibility, this column would not be worth my time because no one would read it. There will be some who don't like what I have to say, but that doesn't mean it is not credible.
There are some people in our area who have a credibility issue. Here's why: recruiting is not something confined to state lines or regions of the country. When you rank players in small areas, your scope of understanding is small.
I'm not big on player rankings anyway – I think they're bogus. And if I were coaching, I would tell you not to even look at them. Don't compare yourself to others, compare yourself to yourself. Are you better than you were yesterday?
But rankings are part of sports now. When it comes to ranking players for recruiting purposes, it has to be done on a national scale. The 50th best senior in the country is probably a pretty good college basketball player. But the 50th best senior in North Carolina may not even be capable of playing college basketball. It's all about perspective, and geographically-limited rankings lack perspective.
Another question I'll ask: What is a trainer? I saw a tweet not long ago that stated basketball was the only sport where any "average Joe" can walk in a gym, call himself a trainer and people don't ask questions.
This is where credibility comes into play again. What have people done in the past to earn the right to call themselves a trainer? What is their track record? If there isn't one, again, be skeptical.
Parents, you have to educate yourself. Don't take someone else's word, especially if they have something to gain from your situation. If you're paying someone to be a trainer, they're not going to tell you that it's a waste of time and money, because it's making them money.
Kids, be honest with yourself. Be real. Understand that Division I scholarships are not easy to come by. It's great to have that goal, it's great to have that ambition, but that cannot be your plan.
Question what you're told. When coaches tell you something, ask them how they know. When a "scout" (I use that term loosely) tells you something or says something about you, ask yourself why they're credible. When you get feedback from a trainer, ask yourself what they have to gain.
I love basketball, and there are a lot of great people involved in the sport. I've had the privilege of meeting and working with several of them. But there are some shady characters too … people that have weaseled their way into the sport and dug out a spot just for themselves. The best way to combat that is by asking questions, by educating each other and by being honest with ourselves.
Club basketball is a necessary part of the sport, but it must be cleaned up.
We also need to hold the adults around the sport responsible too. The so-called "scouts" (or "Twitter groupies" as I like to call them) should be questioned. What makes them an authority? What credibility do they have? What is their experience?
Trainers are necessary, too. Being coached and working on your game is a good thing. But be careful and be smart.
Parents, there is nothing wrong with asking questions, no matter how deep they are. Anyone who is on the up-and-up won't be offended because they understand what is at stake. And if you do offend someone by looking out for the best interest of your child, well guess what, there are plenty of other club basketball teams, plenty of other coaches and plenty of other trainers to choose from.
Just choose carefully.
Part two of this column: High school coaches should play a bigger role
Follow Nick Stevens on Twitter @NickStevensHSOT