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There's an absolutely beautiful article on an ESPN.com blog by Chris Broussard, about how kids are told from the time they're kids that they're going to be NBA stars. It's an exceptional problem with the NBA, since most of these kids come from inner cities, and local schools, where the education isn't as good, and even if they go to prep school, it's to a diploma factory like Oak Hill. If these kids don't make it to the pros, then they don't stand a chance in life. Anyone see what's happening to Maurice Clarette, the former Ohio State football player who had to have his tires spiked and restrained by five cops, had three loaded guns and a shitload of booze in his car, and is looking at a max of 26 years in jail? There are ghettos all over the country littered with people like this but you don't hear about them, because they never achieved the prominece that Clarette did.

I'm going to copy the article over here, as it's an ESPN Insider blog entry.

I read an excellent, sobering and somewhat disturbing story in the July 31 edition of ESPN The Magazine by my colleague, Tom Farrey. It was called "The Man," and it centered around 13-year-old hoop prodigy, J-Mychal Reese.

Reese, or J-Mike as he's known, is ranked as the best sixth-grader in America.

That statement in itself should stun us.

Number one, how in the world could you ever know who the best sixth-grader in the country is? And, really, does it matter? I played with cats who were studs in the sixth grade, bench warmers by ninth grade and watching the real ballers from the stands by 11th grade.

Honestly, in my experience, some of the best college athletes I grew up with were goofy and uncoordinated when we were little boys. I had a friend who got a full football scholarship to Louisville as a tailback who never even played football -- organized or otherwise -- until high school. I had a friend who got a full ride as a DB to Boston College who couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time when we were kids (sorry Brian, but you know it's true).

Some guys are full-grown men in ninth grade, so of course, they're ripping through those who are still growing. When I played freshman football at 5-2, 105 pounds, we had fullbacks and lineman that I thought were huge. Yet when we graduated, I was the same size as many of them.

That leads me to a sad sidebar that accompanied Farrey's story. It told the tale of 16-year-old has-been, Demetrius Walker. A has-been at 16? At least in some people's eyes.

Walker, who was featured in Sports Illustrated as a burly eighth grader who threw down 360 dunks over his scrawny foes, has dropped from America's top player in his age group to No. 29.

First of all, No. 29 ain't bad. But secondly, Demetrius seems to feel like a loser because of his fall.

Seemingly stuck at 6-3, he's hoping to grow a few more inches -- as if 6-3 is too small to play pro. My advice, Demetrius? Work on your J, your handle, your passing, and do the best you can to develop some court vision, and 6-3 will be plenty tall enough.

Number two, why is a 13-year-old in the sixth grade? I started high school at 13. Granted, I started school early, but still, sixth grade?

No wonder dude -- who was held back a year to exploit his hoop skills (apparently, that's the new trend) -- looks like Michael Jordan.

In all seriousness, I'm sure J-Mike's got game, but my problem with the whole scenario is that he could be set up to fail. His whole life seems to center around making the NBA, which is a long shot for even the most talented teen. So if he's just "all-state" as a high school senior, where's his self-esteem going to be?

Beyond that, these kids are getting way too much pub way too early. How can they be coached properly when everyone's telling them they're already NBA-material by age 12 or 13?

A coach, whether AAU or high school, can't bench such a prospect for failing to share the ball, failing to "get after it" on defense, for taking bad shots, or for having a bad attitude. The prospect will leave and go elsewhere, or have the coach fired.

When you're 13 and getting that type of hype, you don't get coached; you allow people to coach you. There's a big difference.

I say all kids need to be coached. Yelled at on occasion, benched on occasion, humbled on occasion.

I experienced the arrogance of some of our young stars just last month. My family and I attended a cookout at a friend's house, and he had a hoop court in the backyard.

There was a 12-year-old kid there that I'd heard about but never met. He knew of me from TV and this blog, and I knew of him because a friend of the family told me he's a basketball star; so I looked forward to meeting him.

Solidly built at 5-9, he looked like he was in high school. He could have even passed for a college freshman. He was a nice guy, and I'm pulling very much for him to accomplish his hoop dreams.

But I could also tell that he's been called "The Man" a little too much, as he had a case of the big head. Every time I asked him what position he played, he said, "All of them."

Twelve-year-olds should respect their elders and defer to them as authorities. I didn't see that attitude in him.

We shot around a bit, and then I watched him take his dad and another grown man to the hoop time and time again. With everyone at the party watching, the kid -- and the crowd -- thought he was LeBron.

As I watched, I was torn. "Should I go out there and play with him or just chill? After all, he's only 12. And if I do play, should I go easy on him and just have fun, or really play hard?"

I decided to go play.

As I stepped on the court, I was still not sure how hard I would play against him. Even though he was only an inch shorter than me, I was sure I could demolish him because I had peeped that he had no left hand whatsoever. He went right every single time.

When I tossed him the ball and began D-ing him up, he made my decision for me.

"Ohhh, Mr. Sportswriter," he said, as if he were talking to one of his boys in junior high. "You gonna write about this -- getting busted by a 12-year-old?"

Now I had uncles growing up. I played ball with my dad. And I used to talk junk to them too, but it was always in fun and never serious.

But this kid actually meant what he said. He actually thought he was going to have his way with me.

"Where's the respect?" I thought. "That's it. I don't care if the adults get mad, I'm about to smash this dude."

(Actually, the adults, none of whom had seen me play other than my wife, thought he was going to bust me, too).

"How you gonna bust me when you can't go left?" I told him. "I been watching you, and you can't even pat the ball with your left hand."

So, of course, his first move was to go left.

I blocked his shot easily.

Then, I scored on him about seven straight times, picked his dribble a few times, and put up about 14 points before he hit his lone desperation jumper (and if I hadn't been sucking wind like the 37-year-old I am, he wouldn't have even gotten that point).

At first, the crowd was cheering me because they actually thought this was going to be competitive. But near the end, one lady yelled, "Take it easy on him, he's only 12."

I said, "This is good for him. He needs to be humbled."

He was devastated, and so was his dad. They thought he was awesome, and for 12, he's actually very good. But he's still got a long way to go.

"This was good for you," I told him when we were done. "Work hard on your left hand and your mid-range jumper. All I did was force you to go left and I took you out of your whole game."

I'm sure he'll try to destroy me when he's 16, and hopefully, by then, he'll be able to (after all, I'll be 41).

If he can "bust" me by then, it won't be just because he worked on his left hand, either. That fat serving of humility I fed him will have helped him, too.

Hopefully, J-Mike is eating some of that every now and then as well.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Aug. 12th, 2006 05:11 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes, we hear a lot about Mr. Clarette here in Ohio. He's one more manifestation of the bad karma the whole state's racked up in the past few years. :-(
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )