Every now and then I get the urge to share my thoughts about all things youth basketball. Sometimes those thoughts are about what I saw at a particular tournament or camp; sometimes it’s about players that I saw and really liked or sometimes it’s about more significant issues that affect youth basketball both good and bad. Every so often I plan to publish my thoughts in writing and share them with my viewers. These thoughts are random, are in no way meant to offend, and simply represent one man’s view of the world of basketball. Hopefully, what you read will be thought provoking and add to the national debate, or sometimes I simply want to provide more exposure to some hardworking kid with a dream or an organization that is doing things the right way. I hope you enjoy the initial installment of “Random Thoughts.”
Prior to AAU’s recent rule change that halted the practice of kids allowing playing down a grade, “Reclasses” (moving a kid down to a lower grade) was changing the face of youth basketball. Whether you agree with the practice or not, reclassifying kids was the wave of the future. While the debate continues about the merits of such practice, kids were moving down at a higher rate than ever. In most cases, parents and coaches are attempting to give their child more of a competitive advantage by placing their child in a lower grade. In the past, reclassing a kid was more about giving a smaller kid more time to develop physically. However, much of the time, changing classes is more about rankings and exposure. This year, several high profile reclasses intensified the debate to an all-time high, and parents are very angry. Feeling that their child is being over looked while older kids are getting all of the attention, parents often turn to message boards (see the 260 plus comments in response to our earlier story) to voice their frustration. In some cases, kids are reclassified on multiple occasions in order to maintain their dominance and status. It’s been my experience that most of the benefits of reclassing are short term, and at some point down the road the smaller kids with more developed skills eventually even the playing field a bit. With that said, reclassing a players can still have long term benefits in terms of added exposure and opportunities to participate in elite level events, which increases their development and profile to scouts and college coaches. The belief (and hopes in some cases) that all of the reclass kids are going to disappear from the national scene someday is not the reality. Truth be told, they will continue to enjoy some of the benefits of reclassing and go onto to play high school college basketball. No doubt, this debate will rage on as parents, teams and tournament organizers try to determine how best to react to the bomb shell AAU dropped on the game. To what extent “the circuit” adopts AAU’s stance remains to be seen. From what I'm hearing, there are a lot of teams who are unwilling to blow up their rosters just yet, and will continue seek out the best competition they can find.
Mixtapes and highlight videos are all the rage right now. Although they are not a new phenomenon, the number of videos depicting aspiring young ball players during games, showcases and even training sessions are exploding onto the scene. Almost anybody with a video camera is putting together highlight videos. Of course you have the big boys like Ty Kish of Middle School Hoops, Ball is Life, Court Cred, etc, but moms and dads are often the ones mixing up tapes and publishing them on YouTube hoping to create buzz and recognition for thier child. Personally, I like them. In fact, my when my son, Stevie was in high school and being recruited, Ty Kish pumped out a ton of videos that proved very helpful to college coaches who, much to my surprise, were using them to evaluate his talent. Also, there are some real high quality videos that are doing a great job of displaying a players basketball talent, while many others are of poor quality, have over the top editing (music and jazzy fonts and features) and don’t really show much of the actual action. Whether you like them or not, the explosion of highlight videos is here to stay.
Super teams are dominating the middle school landscape right now. Once upon a time, kids played with their neighborhood friends in local leagues and tournaments. In an age where bigger is better and winning is everything, local teams have gone the way of the dinosaur. In the current landscape, rosters made up of players on the east coast, west coast and the Midwest are commonplace. In most cases, in order to compete nationally, teams have to recruit from far and wide. It’s not enough to secure the best talent in the city or state; to truly be elite you have to bring kids from several states away. Of course there are rules in place to prevent such practices, but there are ways of getting around those. Some believe that super teams are killing youth basketball by stifling competition. Where there were once competitive games, now super teams role into town and beat teams by 30 plus points. Although high school teams have taken this approach for many years, it’s a more recent issue for elementary and middle school teams.
There appears to be a “changing of the guards” in terms of middle school basketball media. Although middle school basketball has had several “national” voices over the past several years, new voices have emerged. As we speak, the current state of middle school media is evolving and is now concentrated with just a handful of websites and scouting services. While I will stop short of predicting the demise of any media outlet, I think we can all agree who’s speaking the loudest for middle school basketball at the moment. As an example, within the past couple of years, I’m not sure anybody has had the impact, from a media standpoint, than Bill Francis. With his flamboyant and entertaining style of writing, Francis has captured the attention of the middle school basketball community, and now represents a significant force in the business. Mike Melton’s Basketball Spotlight website gets thousands of hits per day from across the country. Once more of a regional source of information; Melton is currently building his national reputation and his number of followers reflect his growing influence. Ty Kish and his Middle School Hoops organization has the middle school video game on lock. If there is a hot highlight video on the market, you can bet Kish produced it. Throw in this website and maybe a handful of others and that’s about it in terms of mainstream middle school basketball media coverage at the moment.
Normally when I hear a parent or coach proclaim “rankings don’t matter,” it’s usually because their son/player was either not ranked or was ranked lower than they thought he should be. Are rankings always an accurate predictor of success? Not always. Do rankings guarantee future success? Probably not. Do rankings matter? To a lot of people they do. I agree that where a player is ranked at a young age is not as important as the fact a kid appears on a list/in rankings. I can tell you right now, college coaches are looking at these lists and they know what kids are listed among the best. Right now, there are a number of 8th graders receiving letters of interest from college coaches. No they aren’t scholarship offers, but those letters represent proof that “somebody is watching.” College coaches don’t go to middle school tournament, camps or showcases so how do they know about these players? That’s right, rankings and middle school media. Standout performances at elite tournaments and exposure events often lead to write-ups and rankings, all of which are closely monitored by college coaches. Although gaining the attention of college coaches is the ultimate goal, a player must first gain the attention those individuals responsible of selecting players for elite events (i.e. John Lucas & CP3 Camps, etc) where players compete against other elite players and have the opportunity for a high level of exposure). Players ranked highly and who have earned a certain amount of exposure receive those opportunities, whereas other do not. So bottom line, rankings do matter, to those they matter to. With all of that said, can middle school rankings have a negative effect on kids and parents? Most definitely; it’s all about how the rankings and exposure are managed. I have always said; rankings/exposure should be used as motivation for kids to continue to work hard and develop.
Well that’s it for the inaugural “Random Thoughts” piece. Hopefully it serves as a platform for discussion and debate. I want this website to be more than simply player profiles and rankings, so from time-to-time I don't think it's a bad idea to spark debate. I fully understand that we all don't agree on everything, but stating a position is everybody's right. With that said, going forward, future editions will probably contain less philosophical issues, and will feature more local and regional, player and teams-related news. Let the comments flow!