Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘National Basketball Association

The extraordinarily long odds of making the NBA

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Indianapolis has always considered itself a hotbed of basketball, and having (along with Los Angeles) five straight years with a native as a first-round pick has made that thought more than just Hoosier hype. (That number doesn’t count second-round pick and current Indiana Pacer Josh McRoberts, who grew up literally right around the corner from my parent’s house in Carmel, Ind.)

However, Jeff Rabjohns of The Indianapolis Star has a story with a message for all those little Indianapolis-area kids who are dreaming of keeping that streak alive: You are indeed dreaming if you think you can. Just in case that message wasn’t clear, Rabjohns noted the incredibly long odds of your kid making the NBA:

Just 0.00545 percent of the 550,000 boys playing high school basketball each year in the United States become a first-round draft pick — 1 in 18,333. Considering, on average, foreign players accounted for five of those spots in the past 12 drafts, the numbers shrink to 0.00454 percent — 1 in 22,000. …

From 1998-2007, fewer than 30 percent of the annual top 100 high school seniors eventually (290 out of 1,000) were drafted in the first or second round. The misses included 14 players ranked in the top 10 of their recruiting class.

Alas, like the lottery, as a parent you’re sold on the idea that you can’ t win if you don’t play, so plenty of parents and kids throw their money and time down that rabbit hole of an NBA dream. Part of the temptation is that if you’re a player who competed — well — at some point against someone who does get drafted, you wonder: Where’s my spot? Again, from the Star:

Robert Glenn, who played against [2007 No. 1 pick Greg] Oden and [2009 first-round pick Jeff] Teague in high school and followed [2008 first-round pick George] Hill at IUPUI, adopted that approach after watching them make it.”It makes it seem that much closer,” said Glenn, who had NBA workouts but was a long shot to be drafted. “I see people I’ve played with make it, and I know I’m good too. I know I can step up and do the same thing they’re doing.”

No, Robert, you probably can’t.

This is the sort of story that proves my maxim that Your Kid’s Not Going Pro. I really don’t mean that be as negative as it sounds. I like to use that phrase as something liberating for parents and children. With the pressure of feeling like a pro career is a real thing, parents and children can make decisions on sports on what is enjoyable, rather than the best (often the most expensive) track for a pro career that won’t come.

If your child does make it, wonderful. But counting on your child making it? Not so wonderful. Heck, it’s extremely difficult to get a college athletic scholarship, much less go pro.

Written by rkcookjr

June 28, 2010 at 12:03 am

Chicago Tribune profiles fifth-grade basketball prodigy, doesn't read this blog

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It seems like yesterday — well, it was only seven days ago — that I wrote about breathless coverage of an Atlanta child basketball prodigy named Dakota Simms, and warned that while he was impressive, it’s way too early to anoint anyone a future star because child basketball prodigies are fairly common. One concurrent example I gave was fifth-grader Jaylin Fleming.

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Either the Chicago Tribune doesn’t read this blog, or it wrote this story to spite me, because in today’s newspaper — on the cover of the newsstand edition, no less — is breathless coverage of Jaylin Fleming himself.

Actually, the story itself turns out to be a fairly balanced look. However, the Tribune takes advantage of the hyperventilating over Jaylin by people of some basketball authority to give breathless front-page treatment to a 10-year-old, 5-foot-1 basketball player — a decision validated, I guess, by, as of this writing, it being the second-most read story on the Tribune Web site.

But my bigger criticism is of those people of some basketball authority who are hyperventilating over a 10-year-old. Jaylin attends the Chicago magnet elementary school where current Bull Derrick Rose once attended. Here’s Rose hyperventilating on Jaylin:

“He’s better than me — that’s what’s crazy about it,” said Rose, who coached Jaylin at his camp last summer. “His talent is one of a kind. Kids his age rarely do the stuff he does….He does moves that a grown-up does.”

Easy, Derrick. As someone who knows of pressure on young ballers (and who famously had his big brothers running interference to make sure that pressure wasn’t too great), you might ease up a bit on saying Jaylin Fleming is better at the same age than an eventual No. 1 overall NBA draft pick.

The good news for Jaylin is that, unlike many NBA players, his father is married to his mother and a strong influence in the home. That influence might not be all a good thing. While current Bull Lindsey Hunter says he’s called off all the dogs who want his 9-year-old son on their travel teams, John Fleming isn’t so circumspect. He coaches his son two or three times a week with local high school coaches, and his son has worked out with the Knicks and Bulls.

John Fleming disagrees with those who say Jaylin is on the wrong path. “One of our family quotes is, “Why not me?” Fleming said. “Why can’t you do it? Who puts the limitations on you? He’s encouraged and taught and allowed to dream like that, as long as his aspirations are to serve the greater good. I teach him that basketball is about inspiring other people.”

To be fair, the Tribune gives plenty of space to people like Hunter who criticize a child’s too-quick ascent into the basketball system, and it also quotes former NBA player Marcus Liberty, a childhood chum of John Fleming’s, saying the dad is doing a good job keeping things from getting too extreme after learning how the wolves went after Liberty at an early age. Jaylin, an A and B student, also seems very happy.

The Fleming family is in a difficult position with a prodigy — you want to encourage and nurture him, but on the other hand, given how difficult it is to make the NBA, you can’t let that overtake everything else in life. From the Tribune article, it sounds like they’re walking that balance now, but it’s going to become harder as Jaylin gets older — especially if he keeps getting better.

The best thing about the Tribune article — and, really, where in the end I can’t crank too hard on it — is the examination of what is wrong with a system in which a 10-year-old is getting chased by college and pro scouts, compelled to scout young so they don’t fall behind in the talent wars (and in which that relationship with the high school coach might be his way of ensuring Jaylin plays for him someday), in which perhaps John Fleming is right to keep a strong hand on his son’s training and career, and in which those same college and pro scouts will toss Jaylin Fleming in the garbage if he doesn’t grow tall enough or if his peers start catching up.

“He represents much of what is wrong with our athletic system,” said one NBA assistant who asked not to be identified. “He already has so many hands in the batter it is almost sickening. … If he gets big and strong, stays healthy and is actually coachable … he may succeed. (But) the track record for child prodigies is not an uplifting one.

You might ask — hey, above-it-all blogger, aren’t you exploiting Jaylin Fleming for web views, just like the Tribune? I’d like to think not. I think there is a careful way to cover stories like Jaylin’s. I think the writer of the story, Anne Stein, effectively presents the hyperventilation and the caution about child basketball prodigies to make a meaty story about the basketball development system as it exists. I’d like to think this blog does the same.

Believe it or not, despite the name of this blog, I wish Jaylin Fleming and his ilk luck in their dreams. However, I think it’s worth writing about and pointing out the ridiculousness of heaping you’re-a-future-NBA-star pressure on a kid that age, of college and pro scouts feeling compelled to talk him up and woo him.

It’s not an insult to the Jaylin Flemings of the world to write about them not solely as inspirations, but also as warnings — particularly about the slime oozing through the player development and recruiting system.

(Hat tip to the folks at Jackie Robinson West Little League baseball in Chicago, located near Jaylin’s home turf, for passing this story along.)

Baltimore parks budget slashed. Hopefully the drug dealers will step up.

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In Tom Farrey’s excellent book on the state of youth sports, “Game On,” he devotes a chapter to the development of future NBA star Carmelo Anthony, and why drug dealers were so essential to it.

While Baltimore lavished all sorts of resources on Camden Yards, the Orioles’ stadium (and later, the Baltimore Ravens’ football stadium), it was gutting its parks and recreation department, closing many facilities and turning others over to the Police Athletic League, which ran them like little athletic gulags. Anthony found another parks department court, but he still needed financial help to advance his career, and that’s where the drug dealers came in. And why to this day Anthony is loathe to speak out against them.

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Carmelo Anthony, in red, in his world-famous “Stop Snitchin” cameo.

It appears that things haven’t gotten worse for the parks department in Baltimore since Anthony was growing up there in the 1990s. Hopefully the drug dealers are in good shape, because future Carmelo Anthonys are going to need them. From WBAL:

Fewer city pools and no more bulk trash pickup are just two items on Baltimore City’s budget chopping block.

On Monday [March 29], both the department of Parks and Recreation and Public Works gave their take on the doomsday proposals. The city’s $121 million budget deficit is leading to cuts in nearly all departments in the proposed 2011 budget.

“The reality is this is a devastating hit to recreation and parks,” Parks and Recreation Director Dwayne Thomas said. … They’re losing more than $8 million of city money in the proposed budget. The agency is looking at closing city-run pools and 29 recreation centers.

Judy Atkinson, with the Roosevelt Park Rec Center, said that could be devastating. “It’s gonna mean a lot more children out on the street that you’re gonna have people with idle time on their hands,” Atkinson said.

The cuts announced Monday in the Parks Division include cutting back on the maintenance at the parks including taking care of ball fields used for youth and adult sports leagues. “If we’re not able to maintain the fields at the level that we might want, maybe there aren’t as many activities going on,” Thomas said.

St. Patrick, elite N.J. basketball program, is banned from postseason

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Not a good last few days for elite high school boys’ basketball programs. First, on Feb. 26, the high school behind faux high school program Findlay College Prep says it’s closing. Today, a federal judge in Newark denied St. Patrick, New Jersey’s No. 1 team, injunctive relief that would allow it to participate in the state tournament, as well as the ESPN RISE Tournament of Champions for the faux high school boys basketball national title.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association banned the Elizabeth, N.J., school because head coach Kevin Boyle held several illegal practices before the official start of the preseason — a charge Boyle has copped to. His athletic director got suspended for three months without pay for the rules violation, and St. Patrick offered to suspend Boyle if that got St. Patrick into the postseason. But no dice.

The St. Patrick case was full of questionable actors — including the NJSIAA. The case started when the father of two players transferring in from Texas called the NJSIAA to question how his estranged wife could afford to move there. The NJSIAA found no recruiting violations (and the players ended up back in Texas), but the NJSIAA — in what was to be an extremely controversial move — hired a private investigator to follow the players and videotape any goings-on. Sayeth Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage to the (Newark) Star-Ledger: “I find that extremely fascist on behalf of the NJSIAA.”

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Chris Bollwage dedicates this one to the NJSIAA.

By the way, who was that father who tipped off the jackbooted thugs at the NJSIAA? None other than Chris Washburn, one of the biggest busts of the bustfest that was the 1986 NBA draft. A bust so bad, No. 2 pick Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose before his first practice, and he arguably had a better legacy than Chris Washburn, the man taken behind him. Washburn lasted three years before the NBA drummed him out for repeatedly failing drug tests.  And now, here he stands, the voice of the rules of athletics.

cwChris Washburn, bringer of excitement.

If youth sports is professionalized, then pay the kids

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The Village Voice’s Graham Rayman is shocked that the AAU, the high-level cesspool every young basketball player must swim through if he is to reach the sunny beach of the NBA, has started putting together its own national rankings of its affiliated boys’ basketball teams — including the 10-and-under teams. And Rayman isn’t easily shocked, not with his own experiences coaching elite-level boys basketball. In his catatonic state, Rayman wonders what this says about the state of youth sports:

So, where’s it all going? Maybe toward the professionalization of youth sports?

We’re kidding here, of course, but let’s just play out the logic here, and suggest why not just have an NBA for kids. There’s a Swiftian “Modest Proposal.”

Let’s do away with the BS and just pay kids to play. The more competitive teams already play something like two tournaments a week year round, and practice at least two times a week. A lot of teams practice five times a week. It’s pretty much a job already. So, seriously: contracts, agents, drafts, the works.

Anyone want to invest?

(Raises hand.)

Graham Rayman, I’m way ahead of you on this one. In a 2006 column for NBCSports.com, I called for participants in the heavily sponsored, big-money Little League World Series to strike for their share of the booty:

Young people, you have two choices. The fight for what is yours can end in, as Marx put it, “either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

“The common ruin of the contending classes” is what happens when your teachers gives the whole class a pop quiz because one guy threw a spitball. So that means you have only one choice. It’s time for a revolution! It’s time to strike!

That’s right, strike!

We’re not heading for the professionalization of youth sports. We’re there. It’s just that kids are the only ones not getting paid.

The reason the AAU is ranking its own clubs is to continue to build its hype as the place you have to be if you have any pro dreams whatsoever, thus causing parents to shell out big bucks to be on a team, and those teams to shell out big bucks in AAU affiliation. (By the way, you can only be ranked if you participate in a certain number of AAU tournaments against other AAU teams.)

I’m sure Rayman knows this, but the AAU sidelines are rife with hustlers and cheats trying to worm their way into the hearts and minds of single-digit-aged players (and their coaches) so that someday they can be that kid’s agent or paid hanger-on. As this Yahoo Sports investigation showed, the coach is often a willing participant in these shenanigans, to the tunes of hundreds of thousands dollars sent in the direction of his team.

Rayman might think he’s kidding, but I’m not sure in his heart of hearts he is. Or should be. If the agents and AAU coaches want to give little Johnny Hotshit a retainer, then why not? I’m sure the parents and/or guardians would be more than happy to sign a contract. The biggest danger would be signing a rip-off deal that ties a kid to an agent for a long, long term, and/or notes that all monies are advances on an NBA contract and must be paid back. But that could be worked out. And the kid would get something while he crisscrosses the country, all in the likely vain hope that he’ll go pro.

How vain is that hope? Check out this piece from 2004 giving an unofficial top 25 AAU team rankings (hey, the AAU might have been thinking if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.) Check out the names. You’ll recognize Greg Oden, Jeff Green, Brook Lopez and Gerald Henderson. But most of the names are who-dats and cautionary tales, such as Edwin Rios, who went from big-time star to burglary arrestee. And those names, not counting anything they got under the table, didn’t see a dime for their time and hard work.

Written by rkcookjr

January 22, 2010 at 12:47 am

Brandon Jennings, and why your child might be better off without college

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Around this time last year, the consensus was that California hotshot point guard Brandon Jennings made a disastrous decision by electing to play professional basketball in Italy instead of following through on a college commitment to the University of Arizona. This Washington Times story from Dec. 4, 2008, was typical:

When last season’s consensus No. 1 prep player, Brandon Jennings, headed to Italy instead of college, becoming the first high school player to choose that path since the NBA instituted its minimum-age requirement after the 2005 draft, some observers dubbed Jennings the pioneer of a new era.

“I think we’re going to have a revolution,” said former shoe executive Sonny Vaccaro, who advised Jennings during his decision-making process. “And Brandon Jennings, a kid from Compton [Calif.], is going to start it.”

A month into Jennings’ European experiment, the reverberations of said “revolution” have given way to deafening silence.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound guard has all but vanished from basketball’s collective conscious. Jennings is the fourth member of Lottomatica Roma’s backcourt rotation. Buried in the depth chart behind guards like former All-Big East performer Allan Ray (Villanova) and former Ivy League player of the year Ibrahim Jaaber (Penn), Jennings exited the team’s first eight games averaging 4.9 points and 3.0 assists in 17.3 minutes.

Jennings is being well-compensated for his spot duty. Contracts with the Rome-based club and UnderArmour are reportedly earning him in excess of $3 million this season. But the long-term wisdom of his career choice remains questionable. Instead of enjoying a high-profile role at Arizona, where he would have served as the Wildcats’ primary perimeter complement to versatile forward Chase Budinger, he’s struggling to earn minutes for a 4-4 squad in the Italian League. As a result, his draft stock is falling.

“He began the season in the top 10 on everybody’s board, but his slow start has everyone re-evaluating,” an NBA scout said at the Old Spice Classic.

It didn’t look good either, when Jennings rushed into the NBA Draft inexplicably late, well after Milwaukee drafted him 10th overall, the fourth overall point guard taken.

Of course, you don’t need a college degree in foreshadowing to know what happens next.

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Jennings takes an early lead for NBA Rookie of the Year, what with performances like the one against Golden State (which took Stephen Curry ahead of him) Nov. 14, scoring 55 points, the most by a rookie since Earl Monroe’s 56 in 1967. Suddenly, analysts are wondering whether more hotshot players are going to jump to Europe for a year in their intense pro league instead of the relatively sedate college life, and Jeremy Tyler’s struggles with a team in Israel are less an indictment of him than necessary growing pains for his future NBA career.

So, you might ask, what does all this mean when I plainly state in the title of the blog that Your Kid’s Not Going Pro?

Well, like in basketball, there are a lot of people going to college who have no business going to college, who are going only because they’re told it’s the only way to a lucrative career, who are better served finding their own way in the world before determining whether college is right for them.

College is a wonderful place. I spent some time there myself. But given how expensive college has gotten (in part because of the message that everybody’s gotta go), if your child is looking at a career path that doesn’t necessitate college, or at least if he or she wants to get a little taste of the real world before going to college, what’s wrong with that? Or do you want massive student loans to pay for an unmotivated or unready college student?

In Jennings’ case, it appears spending a year’s apprenticeship, not being treated like the golden god of basketball, did far more for his game and maturity than a single season at Arizona ever could.

True, most people who eschew college are going to end up the opposite of Jennings on the income scale. I’m not saying you shouldn’t push your kids into strongly considering college. But it seems like, as parents, we also need to figure out the wisest course for our kids, wherever that might take them.

Written by rkcookjr

November 15, 2009 at 10:48 pm

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