Big time basketball recruiting was once an addiction to me. I loved to keep track of the nation’s best players and following the college coaches as they lure them to sign. Coaches who waited on Mom’s front step to get the first signature on signing day is a thing of the past. Today it’s all about individualism, hype and an out of control environment that has had a troubling effect on youth basketball.
Why are 10-year olds being recruited by AAU programs? Do 12-year olds really deserve to stay in Marriott Hotels, fly all over the country, and play a mind-numbing amount of games? How do these standards for today young players trickle down to the local YMCA and the fledgling high school programs? These are troubling questions for unsettling times in our youth basketball environment today.
All of this sets the table for what the game is really all about. On one hand you have Norman Dale, the hard-nosed coach in the legendary film, Hoosiers. On this side of the tracks, fundamentals are and will always be the beginning, middle, and end of all coaching philosophies. Teams are more important than individual players, coaches, or parents. A stark difference is reflected in today’s game of fancy rides, shoe contracts, and jumbo sized financial deals. This game is about clearing the side for a display of one-on-one moves and thrilling body control at the rim. The player is clearly the highlight, putting the team on the back burner. It’s about “My game, My jumper, and My contract” and not about the team. For the first time in the early 90’s I heard this frightening comment, “Hey Coach, you’re messing with my game.” No son, it’s not YOUR game, it’s OUR game. The team has become no more than a name on the front of a jersey.
I wrote an article recently entitled, “How Michael Jordan Killed the Game.” Now I love MJ as much as anyone but there is truth in the title. His game became the goal for all young players who quit shooting jumpers and began taking EVERYTHING to the basket. Not until I saw a high school player run over 3 defenders at the AAU National Tournament one night did it dawn on me that MJ had convinced a nation of players how to play. He is in no way to blame, but I think you can see my point.
On the ESPN College Basketball web site prior to Championship Monday, an article caught my eye. The focus of the article stated that three of the Final Four’s teams made it that far with a “team concept” instead of a “Star concept”. How refreshing it was to know that in 2007 we were reminded how great the team game once was. Stars will never conquer the game, only teams. Thanks to the Florida Gators and their team first attitude, there is hope for the game after all.