Thursday, September 24, 2015

The truth about your hoop dreams

The Washington Post recently reported about a study that showed 26% of parents of high school athletes hope their kids "go pro."  The article's author calls this 26% of parents "delusional" and explains the odds, which he nails as "microscopic."

Speaking of microscopic odds, on an ESPN radio episode of "Jalen and Jacoby," Jalen Rose attempted to explain the chances of sustaining an NBA career to his co-host by saying it's more likely a high school student will become a brain surgeon or even be struck by lightning!

It's sometimes difficult for me to point out these things.  Parents should be applauded for supporting their children's attempts to be excellent.  But knowledge is power.  So youngsters who know the difficulty of the road they travel are more likely to plan accordingly in the event that the desired destination is not reached.  Pointing out these obstacles is not "crushing dreams."  It can be empowering and helpful.

The road to the NBA is not the only long shot facing young hoopers.  I recently listened to Gordon Gibbons, a long time collegiate coach at all levels, break down the chances of a high school kid earning a scholarship to a four year college.  Basically, he made the case that if you line up the single best player on each of a random group of ten high school teams, either 1 or none of these ten players will earn a scholarship.  Remember all of these guys are the best players on their teams.  They all score 15-25 points per game.  They all expect to earn scholarships, they all probably have 3-5 teammates (each) who think they deserve scholarships too!

The facts about players in our town are right in line with those found in the study featured in the Washington Post and in coach Gibbons's talk.  In the graduating classes of 2014 and 2015, only 5 combined players earned scholarships to four year colleges.  Four players in this year's graduating class currently have such offers.  Even if all four take advantage of these opportunities and do the necessary things to be walking on a campus next Fall, we will still have an average of 3 players per year earning scholarships during the past three years.  There are many more than 30 high school teams in our area.  So Gibbons's "less than one in ten" math holds up here.

Some may respond that our area would produce many more scholarship athletes if we had "better opportunities for exposure," more video footage on the internet, or other such things.  I disagree.  The math is the math.  According to the study highlighted in the Washington Post, there are over 540,000 high school players and only 15,000 play in college.  (Don't even get me started on how few of those play in the NBA.)  The players and parents and AAU coaches in all the other towns and states are pursuing the same "exposure opportunities."  But the math only allows a "microscopic" few to advance.  The exposure doesn't make the numerator (the number of scholarship spots) bigger.

By themselves, these facts mean nothing.  So what if the chances of reaching these goals are small if it is the journey, not the destination, that truly matters?  The trouble comes when the more practical matters of life are neglected.  Even for those lucky enough to earn a spot on an NBA roster (I count 6 guys from our area who played ANY games in the NBA during the past 40 years, and most of them were not there for an extended time), the ball eventually stops bouncing.  And EVERYBODY is best off if he is prepared to make his way in the world before this day comes.

This seems obvious.  But I am 40 years old and I have been involved with these kinds of situations all my life.  These odds were explained to me before I became a teenager.  I'm glad.

But coach Gibbons explained that he would motivate his college players with the idea that they can become professionals one day only to be real (my words, not his) with them shortly before they finished their eligibility.  So the college coach isn't necessarily going to look out for the player's best interests.  How about the sponsors of the high school travel circuit, Nike, Under Armor, and Adidas? Their interests (building the value of their brands and selling shoes and clothes) are not aided by players investing in their whole selves.

In a well meaning attempt to not crush dreams, many adults pass the buck on telling the truth to young basketball players.  Let's be the adults who speak honestly with the goal of doing right by the hoop dreamers we follow and support.  We should give them the best possible chance to achieve success whether or not the ball continues to bounce.

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