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Joel Blank: Corruption in basketball is nothing new, but latest scandal touches all levels
Basketball is the most corrupt sport in the United States, and it’s been that way for quite a while now. As we await the rest of the facts that will come out surrounding the NCAA recruitment investigation, the names that have already been revealed and the violations that have taken place are enough to surmise that the worst is yet to come. Honestly, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to most—the NCAA has been this way for a while now. Money and greed have replaced passion and hunger for the game, for at least a decade. From college to high school to even Junior High nowadays, any kid with an above-average skillset can count on being recruited and hounded to play at numerous schools, as well as AAU and club teams.
In the past, a kid would make a decision based on being able to play with his friends and for a coach that he knew he could learn from. It was an added bonus if he got a pair of tennis shoes out of the deal. Man how things have changed! AAU basketball is now a multi-million-dollar business where kids are used as pawns for the advancement of coaches and team personnel, all the while focusing on making as much money as possible.
AAU basketball used to be a way for kids to stay active in the offseason, while developing their skills and learning to play with other talented players in a team environment. Kids looked forward to playing with the best talent in their given neighborhood, and never gave a second thought to traveling miles away from home every day just to play with a team with exposure and better perks. AAU has now evolved into a business where kids are used to build a brand, give coaches credibility, and in the end, translate into a stepping-stone job and career for those most closely associated with the best players. It has almost become common practice that a highly recruited player orchestrates a deal that involves his AAU coach getting a position on the staff of whatever college team he chooses to play for.
Coaches that used to coach for the love of the game and the joy of being able to help develop the talent and skill sets of America's youth have been replaced by the greed and selfishness of adults looking to cash in and catch lightning in a bottle with just one kid that has NBA potential leading to a lucrative new career.
These days recruiting of young athletes starts in grade school and continues on throughout the rest of their basketball lives. Kids in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade are getting letters from universities while schools and AAU programs are promising them the world in exchange for their commitment to play. These programs will do anything to land the best players, and in the process will bend the rules to accommodate their parents, guardians, and those closest to the kid. That can include but is not limited to cash payments, job offers, automobiles, tuition, and living arrangements. What makes that harder to believe and digest is the fact that these opportunities pop up before the athlete even gets to the point on picking a college to attend. The biggest perk a kid used to look for, was what shoe company sponsored a given team. Nowadays a kid and his parents or guardian will still pay attention to the shoe company asssociated with a program, but are more focused on the perks that will benefit and create a better way of life for the player and all those involved and associated with him. This process and new way of courting and recruiting, forgets about fundamentals and teaching and instead focusses on promises and guarantees that the player will be "the man" and given the ball from day one while running a system centered around him and his talents. The recruiting process has become an addiction for coaches. If you dont have a big time recruit or recruits, you crave them daily and use any means necessary to get them. If you have a roster full of great talent, you cant get enough and have to have more and more. Coaches also go through withdrawls and know they will face a painful and destructive end to their current position if they arent able to get and keep a steady flow of top shelf talent commiting to their programs.
One final way to guage the negative effects this corrupt system has had on the game at its highest levels is the NBA draft. Over the last two decades the draft has seen an influx of foreign players selected in the top two rounds, including several lottery picks. There are a lot of basketball fans and aficionados that cannot understand why the landscape has changed, and how American players are being overlooked by teams who select players from other countries instead.
The answer is really quite simple. Foreign players are schooled on the fundamentals of the game from the time they are able to pick up a basketball. They are taught the game, the proper skill sets, the strategy and systematic approach to the playing basketball throughout every stage of their early development. By the time these players are eligible to be drafted, they have played in the top leagues in the world, honed their skills and fundamentals while gaining much needed experience. They develop quicker from a team perspective and are ready to contribute quicker than players who grew up in programs in the United States. This is primarily due to American players learning to play one-on-one or isolation basketball from the first time that they lace up their tennis shoes. As players grow and develop, they are hindered by the fact that coaches are so desperate for them to commit to their program or team that they promise them a system the gives them the ball and gets everyone else out of the way. Because of all of the above stated issues with recruiting and competition, coaches and programs start to approach kids before they even learn the proper way to play the game. Promises are made about playing time and offensive systems that will focus on giving the best player the ball and getting out of his way. Since this now starts before the player even gets to high school, as he progresses and gets older it only gets worse. High schools are now recruiting players so coaches are making the same agreements to ensure that they get the best players. By the time a kid gets to college, especially the top programs in the country, he receives even more guarantees while being deficient in the fundamentals, skills, and intelligence necessary to play at the highest level. So when a player gets drafted after only one year of college and having experienced the recruiting process from such a young age, he is in for a rude awakening in the NBA from a system, information retention and execution standpoint.
In some cases, players don't get their first crash course on offensive and defensive plays, execution and terminology until they get their first check from their new employer. They struggle to shoot free throws and take longer to understand and pick up play calling on both ends of the floor. Of course, there are still players that are so gifted that they adapt immediately to any system and others that are still incredibly talented and will excel eventuallly, just taking more time. Overall the issue is there is a gap that did not use to be there.
In conclusion, it may take months and even years to get to the bottom of the cesspool that has been created throughout College, AAU and amateur basketball in this country. It may take even longer to clean up and change the system going forward, while reshaping and developing the rules and people that play by them. No matter how long it takes, lets hope we can get back to a structure that is honesty based and pure in its intentions for the players and all individuals involved.