by Eric Dixon
Philadelphia, PA: Reasons matter. So often we take an “ends justifies the means” approach, valuing results over reasons. Eventually, it all catches up and we are left wondering how we end up with unintended consequences. Some of those consequences are a cause for alarm, while others are to be celebrated.
I’ve chronicled both the confusion over a player’s appropriate level and the growth of the Transfer Portal in recent weeks. The proliferation of entrants into the transfer portal is lamented by many, while lauded by others. Those who see it as a negative point to it as a sign of immaturity or bad evaluation and decision making in the recruitment and college selection process. Others see it as a move toward greater student-athlete autonomy and freedom of movement. Really it’s both, but the reasons why matter.
When I asked the question of coaches, AAU directors, scouts and trainers too often the NBA comes up. This is insane to me. “The reason why kids want to go to play ball in college has changed,” said one AAU Director. “They all want to go to the league.”
In speaking with one scout who played in both high school and college, he said he started playing because he was attracted to “playing in the games.” He was enamored with the atmosphere, environment and lifestyle that came with being a ballplayer. “I didn’t really care for practice or any of that other stuff.” He just wanted to play in the games. He didn’t even think about whether the NBA was in his future until a college professor asked him about it as he approached his junior year.
Why did you start playing?
For me it was a chance to get free college tuition. I wasn’t much of an athlete going into middle school. I had attended an educational enrichment program at Beaver College (now Arcadia University) and, in deference to the constant urging of my mother, had come to believe my best chance to escape the wanton violence and rampant poverty of my neighborhood was to go to college. “You don’t like where we live. Get an education and get out” she would tell me. I knew I had to go to college and I knew that it cost money my family didn’t have. So I primarily started playing basketball to go to college. Seems as though many kids are doing it the other way around.
“Things are different now.” They certainly are with the rise of social media, the increase of influencers and the focus on individual goals in the team sport. Players are implored to make their own decisions and “live their own life”. Sounds great and in many ways it is great. There was no way I was going to make my son’s college decision for him. I had taken my injury plagued basketball career as far as I could take it and am at peace with how much the game gave me. He was the one who would have to endure the practices and mind games of the coaches that I knew would come with being a student-athlete in a high-major program, so it was best to let him make the decision.
Our family and support system helped by arranging and paying for him to make more than a dozen unofficial visits, play against all levels of competition and gather as much information about the schools recruiting him as we could. We also helped him set goals and expectations of what he wanted from his college experience. Asked questions like, “Do you want to live at a big school or smaller one? Where do you want to settle after graduation and what are non-basketball career goals? Did the NBA come up? Yes. At 6-8, a consensus top 75 player with his resume would be remiss in not making the NBA a part of the discussion. We discussed it with people at USA Basketball, pro scouts, current and past NBA players and UAA connections regarding how realistic it was and what he would need to do to make his dream a reality since he’s not currently an NBA prospect. Our access to the resources and people who have helped in that discussion is not shared by the majority of people making their college decision. We also understand that you don’t get to choose the NBA, they choose you- or not. The reasons they don’t choose some and do choose others is beyond his control so he prepares and makes decisions based on what he can control.
Another difference is social media. This has been a huge influence on the changes in the last couple years. Again, with mixed results. Some young people, who often don’t consider the ramifications of their actions beyond when their next round of SnapChats will appear and disappear, still don’t seem to understand what it means to have a digital footprint or what it can mean if it leaves a negative impression. Donte DiVincenzo had his draft celebrations marred by allegations stemming from a post on his twitter account from his middle school years.
Others say this stat is misleading and that the real outcomes are less rosy with respect to actual graduate rates. The GSR doesn’t note the level of responsibility the original universities have for those who transfer or those who seek to transfer but end up just leaving school all together.
“Thus, the NCAA system is not held accountable for a significant number of recruited athletes,” wrote the authors of a recent article titled “The Hoax of NCAA Graduation Rates.” “Even for those included in the GSR cohort as transfers, the original recruiting school is absolved of responsibility for failing to retain them.” -Politifact, February 1, 2018. When considering that the Federal Graduation rates put the actual number at less than 50 percent, it does seem as if something is amiss with the NCAA number crunching.
“Sometimes people lose focus on their original reasons,” said James Nelson, local veteran of the AAU community. He explained that with the growth of previously unforeseen basketball related income streams, some people begin to stop chasing their passion for the game and start pursuing profits. There is little doubt that profiteering has hurt grassroots basketball and the college decision making process.
“You gotta let them do them,” says the local scout. “Kids need to be able to do what’s best for them and their families.” I ask, what if they don’t know? “Don’t matter.” I don’t presume to think I or anyone else knows enough to tell a family what’s best for them based on the information they gather, especially when you consider that no one can adequately assess a situation from the outside. Still, players have to perform their due diligence and make sure they are gathering reliable information and setting realistic goals and expectations.