My friend Dave Telep, ESPN’s recruiting analyst, wrote a thought-provoking piece on “The entitlement culture of elite HS hoops.” I don’t agree with some of his generalizations, but that’s okay. The important thing is we’re talking about these issues. The question is, What can we do to improve basketball at all levels and, at the same time, improve the experience for players?
Telep believes there is an entitlement culture. Telep used the Elite 24, which takes place at Venice Beach, California, to highlight the problems:
“Most of the guys loafed around the bench, feigned injury and couldn’t have been more disinterested.”
“But the behavior off the court may have been even worse. One player said of the buffet at the Ritz Carlton, ‘They should have just gotten us pizza.’”
“In today’s grassroots basketball culture, there’s always another game, another camp, another event. Forget that. Winning matters. A return to that simple maxim could go a long way toward reclaiming our values and culture — and game — on and off the court.”
It’s easy to cherry pick examples that paint young players as coddled, lazy and unappreciative. But, more context is needed.
The following is not intended as a criticism or even a rebuttal. If anything, Telep does a great job putting important issues on the table, which are worthy of further discussion.
First, the Elite 24 is an all-star event. Do NBA players, the best, most competitive players around, play as hard as they possibly can at NBA AllStar? No, the emphasis is on entertainment and on not getting injured. Certainly NBA players have earned the right to coast. They have made it; high school guys have not.
Second, we’ve turned summer basketball into a “silly season.” It’s endless travel and games that really don’t mean anything. Instead of emphasizing skill development, summer basketball is about showcasing talent for college recruiters. If we want young players to perform at a higher, more intense level, we need to reduce the number of games they play and emphasize skill development. In recent years, both Nike and Adidas have responded with more focused programs, the EBYL and Adidas Nations.
By the end of the summer, most players are burnt out from travel and games. That’s no excuse. But the reality is, by the end of summer, the level of play declines. And players, naturally, get tired of the travel. Is this entitlement? If you want to call that, fine. I call them young teenagers who are probably bored and a bit jaded by our basketball culture. Telep and others lament the poor play and poor attitudes, but that does not tell the whole story.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time with players at all levels, from high school to the pros. It was not only an opportunity for me to share my insights on the business of college and professional basketball, but also a chance for me to watch players working on their fundamentals and to hear their views on the game and the worlds they inhabit. My de Tocqueville-like journeys has given me a unique look at the weird, crazy world of basketball and also an increased respect for the players.
For all those who think the players are a significant part of the problem, I wish they could see the other side: intense workouts, genuine camaraderie, thoughtful discussions and an overall interest in self and team improvement. Are there selfish, arrogant, law-breaking basketball players? Absolutely. And they will always garner the bulk of the media coverage.
Let’s turn the focus to what elite players are doing to improve their games—and their knowledge – during the summer. As former North Carolina coach Dean Smith used to say about the offseason: “We have one rule here: We do what’s best for the player out of season and what’s best for the team in season.”
Summer used to be time for players to get away, relax and recharge their batteries. Today, players work out year-round and endure hours and hours of daily practice, exercise and physical therapy. Many pro athletes hire personal trainers, message therapists and chefs. Anything to get the slightest edge.
It’s not hard to see what separates those who are decent high school or college players from NBA players. With rare exceptions, those who make it are professional in every way, from their work ethic to their off-the-chart competitiveness to their passion. Yes, they have tremendous raw ability, but these days, that is not nearly enough to make hoop dreams become reality.
High-school players work hard, too, despite the somewhat dysfunctional environment they operate under. They understand that even though they are not compensated, there is still a lot at stake, including college scholarships and, ultimately, pro contracts.
But, as Michael Jordan once said, “You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way.”
Despite the common refrains that the younger generation doesn’t read, they are reading my book, Money Players.They’re also listening and asking questions. And they are talking about issues that affect their lives, whether it is the economy or politics. Players want to make the right decisions. And, above all, they want to avoid the common or even subtle mistakes players who have become before them have made. The powers who control basketball—the NCAA and its members, shoe companies, AAU, coaches and agents—all need to set a better example. If—and it’s a huge if—they do, young players will follow.
Date Posted: Friday, April 10th, 2015 , Total Page Views: 1003
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