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170-35: Why such a lopsided basketball score happens

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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