On the other hand, I've seen a tremendously talented sixth grade point guard play on a run-of-the-mill sixth grade team, and it was easy to understand why this kid Allonzo Trier and his mom fly around to A.A.U. all star showcases paid for by shoe companies.
High-school football continues to be a repository of many of the authority-respecting and communal virtues of the WWII-winning Greatest Generation. On the field, America’s old struggle between nurture and nature—between the faith that winners can be molded out of the common folk versus the ever spreading suspicion that success is mostly in the genes and in private tutoring—can still battle it out on relatively equal terms.
Foreigners have long been astounded by the extravagant number of players on American football teams and by the expensive armor in which they are encased. Yet because only the most carefully rehearsed teamwork can prevent chaos on the gridiron, their numbers and anonymity have helped retard the growth of superstaritis
Basketball, with its fewer and more recognizable players, can be dominated by one or two stars freelancing. Indeed, successful coaches increasingly emphasize recruiting genetic anomalies over training normal kids. USC basketball coach Tim Floyd recently promised full scholarships to two eighth graders!
Sacramento-area basketball coach Brian McCormick lamented his sport’s decline:
Colleges hire the best recruiters, not coaches. High school players enhance their recruitment not by improving their skills, but by being more exposed. And, even youth coaches ignore skill development, focusing on attracting new players with better skills or athleticism. None of it makes sense, but it is consistent. From the top down and the bottom up, recruiting rules American basketball, ruining the game year by year.
About a decade ago, I happened to watch a basketball game between the sixth grade teams of two Chicago parochial schools. The point guard for the visiting team was a black kid at least four inches taller than anybody else on the court. (I don't remember his name.) He'd obviously studied Magic Johnson videos and had his style down cold, such as the high, quasi-palming dribble, and, more importantly, the lighting pinpoint passes. The problem was that he was so much better than his teammates that he was dangerous to them. He'd be dribbling crosscourt at the top of the key, when he'd suddenly whip an astonishing no-look pass to a teammate open under the basketball, only to have the ball bounce off the kid's face because he wasn't expecting the pass either.
Another time, the point guard grabbed a rebound, took a dribble upcourt and then, without even grabbing the ball with two hands, did that John Stockton trick of suddenly shotputting the ball off the dribble 40 feet downcourt to a teammate streaking for the basket. But the long pass hit the kid in the back of the head because he'd forgotten to look back. Hey, the teammate was just a sixth-grader. What would you expect?
This game illuminated odd paradoxes about concepts like "team play." We like to think of everybody sacrificing their personal scoring for the team as the surest way to win, but when there are disparities in talent this huge, the surest way for his team to win would actually have been for the star never to pass, to just shoot the ball on each possession. Or, as a more conventional compromise, he could have played center and had another kid dribble the ball up and toss it to him near the basket.
But, he clearly had his heart set on becoming that rarest and most devastating of all NBA phenomena, the huge point guard, so he constantly passed up shots to throw passes that bounced off his teammates' heads.
So, you can hardly blame kids that good for flying off to find a higher level of competition.