One interesting piece of news that came out this week was that Der Commisar of Hoopdom, David Stern, is floating the idea of building and maintaining a “basketball academy” of elite high schoolers, similar to those that already exist in tennis and golf. The obvious impetus for this idea is the embarrassing performances of USA, er, NBA Basketball in recent international competitions, which has been (rightly or wrongly) excoriated in the national media as predicated on a glaring lack of player fundamentals such as shooting, boxing out, and solid defense.
While there is absolutely no question that the current system dominated by AAU basketball is a broken one, we’re not sure that Stern’s basketball academy is the answer. For starters, the academy would only take “several dozen” underclassmen in a given year, which begs several questions: who would be selecting these 8th, 9th and 10th graders as the chosen ones? What role would politics play in getting a certain kid into the program (see: McDonalds All-American game)? Since scholarships are not tied to performance on the courth, how do we handle the late bloomers (Tracy McGrady) and the early phenoms who don’t progress past age 16 (Schea Cotton)? Would these kids then be pressured to attend certain “most-favored” schools by virtue of their newfound pedigree? The larger question is left unsaid, but Arn Tellem touched on it in his thoughtful LA Times op-ed this week. This program seeks to help the top 30 or so players in a given year to keep their heads on straight, but what about the hundreds of other kids who end up at NCAA programs every year as well? Is this a basketball-based or an education-based decision? There are so many questions that would need to be answered before we could definitively state whether this is a good idea or not.
What we like about this idea is that someone on high is finally addressing the problems that exist in the cesspool that is known as the AAU and summer basketball circuit. We’ve had the privilege of attending a few of these events and can say without reservation that many of the same problems derives directly from the me-first mentality of this scene. Maybe Stern’s basketball academy or something similar can help to emphasize education and basketball fundamentals amongst the very best players. Maybe not. But the key point here is that there is recognition of the existence of a problem, and important people are talking about how to fix it, which is a start.