Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘College basketball

Knee injuries and girls: lessons from my 10-year-old daughter

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I’m no physician, but I feel like I’ve become a little bit of an expert on noncontact athletic knee injuries suffered by girls. That’s because today, for the second time since February, I took my 10-year-old daughter to the doctor because she had sprained her left knee playing basketball. In that sense, I am becoming an expert in girls’ knees the same way I became an expert in the cars I drove in high school: because the same parts kept breaking down.

Tomorrow I take my daughter to her first appointment with an orthopedist, who will find out (hopefully) exactly why this same knee keeps getting hurt. In the short term, I know she’s worried about getting well before her softball league games start April 27 (and given the frantic messages I’ve gotten from her coach, he’s worried about it, too — hey, it’s my kid and my blog, so I can brag!), and so she can get back to her musical theater rehearsals. (Once she got her crutches today, she spent most of the afternoon walking around with them outside, fighting my entreaties to get back in and rest her knee.)

However, my wife and I are more worried that someday she’s going to need more than crutches and Ace bandages to take care of that left knee. Hence, why I’m planning on asking the orthopedist about any physical therapy or structural problems that might be causing my daughter to hurt that same knee.

As anyone who has watched women’s college basketball and its high knee-brace content knows, female athlete knees are more susceptible to injury than those of their male counterparts. Without using phrases like “narrow femoral arch,” researchers believe there are physical reasons why this happens. In particular, girls and women are more at risk of tearing their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), especially after puberty. The ACL connects the femur and the tibia behind the kneecap, which is why when that sucker gets torn, you see athletes writing in so much pain. ACL injuries are commonly caused without contact, through twisting or jumping. Each time my daughter got hurt, she reported feeling pain after jumping.

I’ve become enough of an Internet expert on girls’ knee injuries to know that a common reason jumping is a problem is because of how many girls land. Mainly, the problem is that girls are more likely to jump with their knees pointed together, creating more stress on them upon landing. Do that enough times, and the ACL starts to tear, and when it tears enough, it pops. And when it pops — the pain!

We’ll find out at the orthopedist whether this is the root of my daughter’s problem, particularly because she noticed the pain after a jump, with no contact from anyone else. If the orthopedist doesn’t check that, I might have to break out my Internet Expert’s License and tell him. Although, technically, I don’t know for sure that it’s the ACL. It seems like it, given her complaints of pain under the kneecap, although I don’t know if that’s why her left kneecap seemed to move a lot more, and disturbingly, freely than the right when her pediatrician manipulated it today.

I might be a budding Internet expert, but that only will take me so far in trying to ensure my 10-year-old daughter isn’t having major knee surgery by age 13. Eventually, I was able to afford to buy cars that allowed me not to learn so much about how they fail. Hopefully, my daughter is on the road to allowing me to spend less time becoming an expert in how girls’ knees fail.

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Butler basketball makes me question the concept of this blog

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I’m typing this entry from my mother’s patio in Carmel, Ind., suburb of Indianapolis, site of the recently completed NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, where the little hometown school crashed the party and nearly made me wonder whether I was too cynical in titling this blog “Your Kid’s Not Going Pro.”

After all, the conceit behind this blog is that no matter how much money or time you spend training your young athlete, the chances of your child going pro — or even getting a college scholarship — are almost nil. There is always someone, somewhere you don’t know that leaps higher, runs faster and hits harder. No amount of coaching or training can ever completely make up for that. Sports is a fun activity, and it’s good for kids. If you want to spend a lot of money on a travel team, have it at. But don’t expect your child to be a star.

And then came Butlermania.

If you didn’t hear, Butler is from the Horizon League, which is to major college basketball as Double-A baseball is to the National League. Even though Butler has been a perennial NCAA team over the last decade (including two previous appearances in the round of 16), it still was an amazing story that a 4,000-student college with a basketball team whose budget could fit into a Duke player’s duffel bag was now facing those same Blue Devils in the final.

And as a native of Indianapolis who has seen many games in Butler’s storied Hinkle Fieldhouse (hey, did you hear “Hoosiers” was filmed there?), I got sucked up in the excitement, especially after coming down with my family Sunday, midway through Final Four weekend.

I took my 12-year-old son, my 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son downtown Monday to soak in the excitement themselves. We drove by Monument Circle just as the second Butler rally of the weekend, attracting another gaggle of thousands, was breaking up. We made our way to the Indiana Convention Center, north of tournament site Lucas Oil Stadium, to go down to Bracket Town.

Bracket Town is a relatively inexpensive ($10 for adults, $6 for kids and seniors) experience where you can do all sorts of basketball-related activities, from pop-a-shot to 3-point contests to skill challenges to just plain shooting around to games of knockout. There also were activities related to other NCAA sports — lacrosse shooting, football drills, a home run derby (with a plastic ball and bat), computer-aided rifle and golf (though not together), hockey puck shooting, and fencing. My 10-year-0ld daughter will forever lord it over my 12-year-old son that she beat him in fencing (with plastic swords). My 7-year-old, already feeling like a little brother after his big brother crushed him in air hockey, didn’t stick around to shake hands after a 9-year-old girl beat him in fencing.

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Of course, Bracket Town was thick was people wearing Butler shirts, something you didn’t see much even around Indianapolis before this NCAA run. After all, it is a small school, with a small alumni base, easily pushed aside by Indiana, Purdue and even Ball State. Just hearing Butler fans in a cheer competition, at an NCAA final, was bizarre, despite the school’s past glimpses of success.

On top of that, Bracket Town encourages you to dream big for your kids. I couldn’t help but think, as my 12-year-old was nailing the lacrosse drills — a sport he’s never played — that maybe this would be the sport for him (and that this, following a dabbling at hockey, makes me wonder why he can’t like such expensive activities.) Watching my daughter’s footwork and aggressiveness during fencing, on top of the early success she’s had as an athlete, made me wonder if she’s going to someday write her ticket to college through sports. Watching my 7-year-old’s competitive fire made me think he’s got the guts to go far in his chosen sports of baseball and bowling, though I should talk about him about maybe, next time, shaking the girl’s hand.

Back on the streets of Indianapolis, the Butlermania only built as the game drew closer. More fans in Butler T-shirts swarmed downtown (as did a fair number of fans in West Virginia T-shirts, despite its Final Four loss to Duke — those fans must have had nonrefundable hotel rooms). In a great American mashup, a man in a Sikh headdress wore a T-shirt highlighting hometown pride and the direct 6-mile route from campus to Lucas Oil Stadium: “The Road to the Final Four Goes Down Capitol Avenue!”

Everything was Butler. On the way back to Carmel, we drove through the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood to check out Butler’s campus, including its Clowes Hall, where in 1987 I saw the Psychedelic Furs (featuring Richard and Tim Butler). On the way to the bar where my wife and I watched the final game, we passed by Butler Toyota.

The final game itself was a testament to how good Butler really was, and how tough it played. A few times it looked like Duke — much taller, bigger, faster and moneyed — was ready to run away, but Butler always pulled the Blue Devils back. Butler, and particularly star player Gordon Hayward, did not shoot well. Yet they defended well, worked hard on the offensive boards, and had players step up out of nowhere to keep Butler in the game. Players such as Avery Jukes, with a name that could put him in the backfield with Tonsillitis Johnson and Artis Toothis in the great Dan Jenkins novel “Life Its Ownself.”

Speaking of cultural references, maybe Butler, as it cut a five-point lead to one in the final two minutes, could be the real-life “Hoosiers.” Maybe I was wrong about Your Kid’s Not Going Pro. Maybe it is true that with determination, heart and the smarts to take advantage of any lucky breaks you get, your kid could go pro. Or at least college. And not only play at a higher level, but also succeed wildly. When Butler called timeout with 13 seconds left, down one, how many people do you think broke out references to Butler running the picket fence? To Brad Stevens saying he would use Gordon Hayward as a decoy? To the players shiftly uncomfortably until Hayward stared Stevens in the eye to say, “I’ll hit it”? All 70,000 in attendance? Most of the millions watching?

Hayward did get the ball — twice in the last three seconds, it turns out — and couldn’t hit either time. The movie Butler starred in wasn’t “Hoosiers.” It was “Rocky.” Butler was an underestimated foe who seemingly came out of nowhere to take the champ’s best shot, give back as good as it got, yet not quite have enough talent to overcome a superior foe.

The Mid-Majority, the world’s greatest college basketball blog, has a saying for the mid-major Cinderellas of the NCAA men’s tournament: “It always ends in a loss.” It’s not a cynical statement about smaller programs. It’s the reality. Rocky can’t come right out of the meat locker to knock out Apollo Creed.

And even if he did — even if Butler won — would that have fundamentally changed things? Would every mid-major be able to fight toe-to-toe with the Dukes of the world? Probably not. Butler, like Gonzaga, is a program that has found a way to transcend its relatively low status on the NCAA totem pole to be successful year-in and year-out. The other members of Butler’s Horizon League are not going to replicate this anytime soon.

These were some of thoughts running through my disappointed head as the crowd cleared out of my bar after game time as if someone had just released anthrax.

So in the end, Butler does not make me rethink my assumptions behind “Your Kid’s Not Going Pro.” As a matter of fact, it only strengthens them. If you want to spend a lot of money, time and energy on your child’s sports, then that’s great. I will continue to do so with my four children. But unless your child grows to 6-foot-11, or runs a 4.2 40, or has a 97 mph fastball, it’s a long, hard road — and it might be even if your child HAS these attributes.

That’s why it’s important to make sure you enjoy your child’s sporting experience, and not make it the focus of your social life, or your family’s future mansion-dwelling potential. Because it always ends in a loss.

Findlay Prep, a fake high school basketball team, is now more fake than ever

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Las Vegas’ Findlay College Prep, in its four seasons of existence, has been a faux high school basketball team, what with no actual high school called Findlay College Prep. But with the imminent closing of the high school the players actually attend, Findlay Prep is getting a little faker.

The Henderson International School, where Findlay Prep players matriculate when they’re not jetting around the country to play other schools also burning to be faux national champion, said Feb. 26 it is shutting down its high school division after the 2009-10 school year ends, citing financial difficulties. Basically, other than players being bankrolled by auto dealership magnate Cliff Findlay, a former UNLV center and longtime Rebels booster, few in the extremely lousy economy of Las Vegas could afford an annual tuition that ran to near $41,000, including room and board.

High school losses running more than $1 million a year wouldn’t do for the school, owned by Meritas LLC, a company backed by private equity firm Sterling Partners, meaning that eventually this school was supposed to be part of a publicly traded, profit-making machine.

The mercenary roots of Henderson International were a good fit for Findlay College Prep, whose college preparation focused on getting players ready for college basketball. True, its “students” reportedly have acquitted themselves decently in the actual classroom, but the program’s success is measured by its national prominence and the players it put on college rosters. Its website has a Hall of Fame — anyone who joined a major college program. (New Hampshire, being Division I, counts.)

Findlay Prep, which imports all its players from outside Nevada, is the most obvious manifestation of how professionalized high school basketball has become, in large part as a response to competition from AAU ball and other elite leagues. ESPN, for one, is a willing participant in blowing up the stature of the most craven high school programs, putting together its ESPN RISE Tournament of Champions high school “national championship,” which of course includes Findlay Prep.

(As an aside, one invitee to that tournament, St. Patrick of Elizabeth, N.J., is in litigation with authority that runs New Jersey high school athletics, which will not release the school to play. The NJSIAA also has banned St. Patrick from its New Jersey state championship tournament. It appears to be a power struggle between the putative authority on athletics in the state, and a school that, like Findlay, gets players far from its local area and plays a national schedule. Findlay Prep solves this problem by not being a member of its state high school athletic association.)

If it weren’t for college programs requiring some minimum academic achievements, Findlay Prep could say, screw it, and just field its all-star team. However, it will have to find some other private school to glom onto to keep itself alive. Is there another one in Las Vegas? In Nevada? Who cares where it is? As long as it isn’t in a state with a lot of basketball talent, so Findlay Prep doesn’t have to freeze those players out so as not to run afoul of any basketball authorities.

Is there a private school in Idaho that has some room?