by Kent Sterling
Basketball purists hate summer basketball. They say it erodes the specialness of the high school seasons, and features kids doing little more than what they used to do at playgrounds in previous generations.
High school coaches hate it as it erodes the influence they have over a kid. College coaches love it because it allows an affordable and convenient way for them to evaluate and impress kids and families with their presence. Parents hate the expense, but enjoy the rest during the summer.
What do the kids think? Here are 10 reasons (not in any particular order) they prefer summer over high school basketball:
- Limited scouting. This is mano a mano stuff. It’s up to the kids to figure out how to beat their opponent. When you play eight games in three days, it’s impossible for coaches to spend much time evaluating others, and that means the kids can focus on what they do best.
- More games than practices. The entirety of the summer season might feature 75 games and 20 practices (if the coach is interested in holding practices). High school seasons are close to the converse. Many of the games are de facto scrimmages anyway, and a decent coach can teach as well through games as during practices.
- The competition is superior in the summer. The number of future NBA players at top summer events is dizzying. You want to match up against the very best? That is best done in the summer.
- Summer ball is like summer camp. Spending 24 hours per day with friends for 20 days in July, plus all the weekends in April and May is just like camp, except the games are more competitive than the events at summer camp. The kids spend all day and night together hanging out, and friendships are made that will last for decades.
- Travel. It’s fun to head to Houston, Pittsburgh, Vegas, and even Fayetteville, Arkansas for three or four days of physically punishing tests of basketball skill. The plane travel gets a little old, but for awhile, the kids are living their dream.
- Kids choose their teams. The kids at the high end of the food chain get to pick the team for whom they will play, and many times get to encourage friends to come along too. Instead of being stuck with teammates based upon a geographically drawn districting map, they actually get to play with kids who play as well as they do, and against the same level of players.
- Coaching. There are high school coaches who are assholes, but because most parents aren’t going to sell a home to facilitate a change in leadership, the kid is stuck for four years with a guy more interested in his own legacy and bloated self-importance than the development of the kids. In summer ball, getting away from the idiot coaches (and there are plenty) changing teams is accomplished through a phone call. Indiana is lucky in that many of the best high school coaches in the country work here, but there are still some dopes out there.
- Access to eyes of college coaches. Go to the Adidas Invitational in Indianapolis in two months, and watch Coach K, Roy Williams, Tom Crean, Matt Painter, Tom Izzo, Brad Stevens, Rick Barnes, and every other D-1 coach in the country sit on the opposite side of the gym as the best players in the 2012 and 2013 classes play.
- Tournament play is more fun. The difference between tournament play, where a missed shot can send a team home early, and a regular season game where the outcome is only meaningful because of pride and the praise or crap taken at school the next day, is stark. Tournaments are high stakes poker. High school’s regular season is checkers at the barber shop. Sending teams home early from tournaments is joyous.
- Every weekend brings another trophy. In July, the trophies can come three per week. In high school, there is the state tournament, and maybe a county or city tournament. The games are more fun when the format invites drama.
High school proponents want to limit summer ball because they are threatened by its success, but basketball should be about having fun, and if players are enjoying summer basketball, what the hell is wrong with that? If lovers of high school basketball want change, they need to consider very seriously what changes they hope to cause through their actions because forcing kids to choose between high school and summer could cause a serious erosion in talent from the high school game as many of the best kids may choose summer over high school without a second thought.
The system as it is today works for both. By the end of the summer season, players are ready for the structure and fans of high school games. At the end of every high school season, the kids can’t wait to see their summer teammates, and to play against the very best players in the country.