Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

170-35: Why such a lopsided basketball score happens

with 10 comments

We have a final in the Houston Independent School District: Yates 170, Lee 35. Yates is 14-0 and Lee is 1-12, but that doesn’t even come close to explaining this margin, which reflects Yates’ national championship aspirations. Yes, I said national championship.

But first, it sounds like it was as wacky a game as the score indicated. Yates set a Texas state high school record for single-game scoring, but not before a fight broke out in the third quarter, and the referees ordered (with the consent of the coaches) that only five players from each team would finish out the game. Yates became the first Texas school to score 100 points in a half — to Lee’s 12. The fight was precipitated by Lee’s frustration that despite the enormous margin, Yates continued to play full-court press defense and otherwise did not step off the gas.

As you could probably predict, the Yates-Lee game, reminiscent of the infamous 100-0 girls’ basketball game in Dallas a year ago, has opened up the usual debate on who is in the wrong when a team scores such a blowout. On one side you have people wringing their hands over poor sportsmanship, about how the winning team should back off once it’s clear the margin is in hand. On another you have people balling their fists that this is America, dammit, where winners win and losers lose, and that if a team doesn’t want to get beaten so bad, maybe it shouldn’t be such a bunch of pussies.

The view of Yates coach Greg Wise is that his team couldn’t let up because, well, once it did that in a blowout and ended up losing. The other reason is that its eye is on the prize of a mythical high school national championship. That’s why Yates also does things like blow off this year’s Houston Independent School District tournament to play (and win) a tournament in Hawaii. Or post 170-35 victories. That way, it can keep up its standing in places such as the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 (Yates is No. 2), have Nike representatives show up to its games, and keep getting those invitations to national tournaments. If nothing else, Yates’ success can help people forget how a 2007 Johns Hopkins study listed it among the nation’s “dropout factories,” or about that more infamous Houston Yates, Andrea.

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It seems patently ridiculous that a high school team is going for a national title. But that’s how high school basketball has changed. A curiosity like USA Today rating the nation’s top 25 teams in the 1980s has turned into a basketball-industrial complex, with schools private and public (especially public schools that are open-enrollment districts, like Houston, or have charter schools) competing for spots on ESPN instead of spots in the county tournament. It’s the AAU culture making its way into high schools, and, well, given that colleges want to see top players against other top players like in AAU, it might be the way to ensure that elite players keep suiting up for their school, even if it’s a school like Findlay Prep in Nevada, which technically does not exist.

Unfortunately, a lot of these superteams still have to play some games against the local puds, the suckers actually drawing from the actual student populace. And that’s how 170-35 happens.


Written by rkcookjr

January 6, 2010 at 11:51 pm

10 Responses

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  1. Bob,

    I’m sure you’ve seen this — maybe you’ve written about it — but it seems to be the imperative of high school sports players, parents, coaches, supporters and administrators to make this level of sports resemble college or even pro sports at any cost. When I was in high school (1997-2000) I couldn’t believe that kids were transferring public schools in order to get with the “best” coaches who had the “best” facilities. It seemed insane to me.

    Then when I was a high school sportswriter, I would call these high school coaches to get a few comments for a pre-game article, and more often than not, they would say, “We’re going over tape, can you call me in a couple of hours?” Going over tape? In high school?

    As an aside, your column makes me glad that I was terrible at basketball. I excelled instead in track. Nobody ever gave me grief about lapping some kid in in the mile. These basketball blowout stories (they seem to make national news once a year anymore) make me laugh, just by the sheer silliness of it all.

    Steve Vockrodt

    January 7, 2010 at 12:01 am

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tweets Tube, Doug Engel. Doug Engel said: 170-35: Why such a lopsided basketball score happens – Bob Cook … […]

  3. Bob, when I heard about this game, I was hoping you would sound off.

    Steve is absolutely right – that high school programs try to replicate the pros and big time colleges. Which is patently ridiculous. But hey, as long as there are rankings and invitational tournaments and such, this will keep happening. It’ll probably get worse.

    It makes me glad I went to a teeny-tiny Catholic high school. We didn’t even have our own gym, but had to play our basketball games at the neighboring public school district’s middle school gym. At times like this, I’m so glad that was the case, that sports were fun and never took on this level of ridiculosity. (did I just make up a word?)

    Jody DiPerna

    January 7, 2010 at 8:17 am

  4. Steve:

    It certainly seems that there is a level of professionalism that has ratcheted up at the high school level, although given that Clark Francis at Hoop Scoop ranks the nation’s top fourth-graders, it starts a lot earlier than high school. In some way, that’s not an all-bad thing. If there are kids who are really serious about a pro career, let them all get on the same team. I’m not sure that’s the wisest course for your life, although if you’re 6-foot-9 and can jump out of the gym, at least it’s plausible. The problem is less that there are these basketball factories, and more than they have to put on the illusion of being a regular school with regular kids. At least Findlay Prep (whose “students” actually attend high school at a private school in Vegas) does away with that veneer.

    As for track, people don’t get worked about that because a) people generally don’t care about track and b) there’s an understanding you’re running against the clock as well as your opponents.

    Bob Cook

    January 7, 2010 at 11:19 am

  5. Jody:

    Thanks for the kind words. As I said to Steve, the idea that elite athletes should group together is not an all-bad thing. I don’t see anyone ripping on Julliard because it concentrates so hard on music. However, the Julliard kids don’t go to the county band competitions, either, so you don’t get someone playing Mozart since she was five against someone who just picked up a violin in seventh grade.

    Bob Cook

    January 7, 2010 at 11:21 am

  6. There are so many factors that feeds into this story. One, high school sports has been growing over the last several years as a profit center for networks (ESPN), Internet sites ( and were both scooped up by ESPN and Yahoo for millions), and magazines like RISE (which ESPN also spent millions to purchase. Money talks. Both LeBron James and O.J. Mayo brought hundreds of thousands of dollars into their high schools programs in local and national television money. Two, high school coaches have been fighting for years for relevance against the AAU coaches, who play a much bigger role in steering the top kids into college programs. As long as we continue to use both our high schools and colleges to train our future NBA players — instead of the more rational club system used in Europe — we are going to have these kinds of situations.

    Jon Pessah

    January 7, 2010 at 3:59 pm

  7. Well put, Jon. And you even understate how much money is in this — Yahoo spent $100 million to buy Rivals. (Rivals and Scout are interesting backstories. One guy founded Rivals, got booted out during a bankruptcy, and then founded Scout.) As for AAU vs. high school, the relationship is getting pretty direct in many cases. The coach at Bowman Academy in Gary (a charter school now a high school power) was AAU, and he grabbed some of his players for the team. Most of LeBron’s high school team was his AAU team. Apparently Yates’ coach is well-known in AAU. So some schools have decided to assimilate into the AAU borg.

    Bob Cook

    January 7, 2010 at 4:22 pm

  8. Bob, yes, I have noticed the cross pollination. There’s a whole world there that most people have never seen. Spent about a year in it writing a book with Sonny Vacarro that was never finished (a long story). It’s a big, big business which exploits there kids — they are not blameless, but I have much bigger problems with NCAA and the other entertainment companies that profit so handsomely while forcing the kids to work in a morally corrupt system.

    Jon Pessah

    January 7, 2010 at 5:06 pm

  9. I don’t care if it’s long. I would LOVE to hear that Sonny Vacarro story.

    Bob Cook

    January 7, 2010 at 9:56 pm

  10. […] YH-R Sports wrote an interesting post today on&nbsp Here’s a quick excerpt &nbspVideoWe have a final in the Houston Independent School District: Yates 170, Lee 35. Yates is 14-0 and Lee is 1-12, but that doesn’t even come close to explaining this margin, which reflects Yates’ national championship aspirations. […]

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