Next March, Michigan State’s Breslin Center will be packed. Four boys basketball state championship games will be played and fans across the state will be enthralled with March Madness story lines.
Believe it or not, no one — other than the people at the schools they left — will be complaining that Josh Jackson of Detroit Consortium, Algevon Eichelberger of Saginaw and a few others left the state this summer to play high school basketball at prep schools.
Over the past few months, eight players have decided this state can no longer do them and their game any good — and the amazing thing has been the subsequent hand-wringing and cries for change.
There are plenty of good teams in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to construct a competitive schedule. You want to play in Vegas? Wait until the AAU season.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association limits schools to 20 regular-season games, and that should be increased, but there is no way teams are going to be playing 35 regular-season games — nor should they.
People who worry the sky is falling because some basketball players are opting for prep schools need to understand that this has been happening for decades in hockey.
But why is it happening now in basketball?
Part of the answer is in our culture. Parents think the only way to get their kid to the NBA — trust me, they already are looking past college — is to turn them into full-time basketball players while they are still in high school.
That is exactly what Jackson and Eichelberger, both 6-feet-6, will become when they head to Napa Valley, Calif., to play for Prolific Prep Academy, which is not associated with a school. It is simply a training facility with a team. Eichelberger and Jackson will have to attend nearby schools.
“When you get out there with the trainers like Jeremy Russotti and (Philippe) Doherty, they’re real good trainers, they train pros, so he’ll get pro-style training,” Algevon Eichelberger Sr. said of his son. “He’ll have an opportunity to get better in practice and against good players. So this is an opportunity for him to be the best player he can be.”
The father said he met Russotti at a summer tournament in Sacramento and talked about Prep Prolific, which will be in its first year of operation.
I’d like to say that Russotti and many prep school coaches might be nothing more than used car salesmen, but that would be unfair to used car salesmen. They are selling a dream to gullible kids and parents, who get caught up in the glitz and don’t realize the kid will be going to school with students he will never know because he will be a full-time basketball player.
“He’ll get a chance at more exposure; he’ll get more looks from more coaches because they’ll play a national schedule against some of the best teams in the country,” said Eichelberger’s father. “They’ll be playing teams from Kentucky, they’ll be in Alabama, Delaware, Massachusetts. They’ve got tournaments in Las Vegas. He’ll be all over.”
Then I asked a stupid question: When is he going to study?
“He’ll get a chance to study all throughout the week,” said Eichelberger’s father.
Sure he will.
Take basketball out of the equation. For the next two years, Eichelberger won’t be able to see the oldest of his five children.
“This is very tough for us,” the father said. “Very tough.”
Eichelberger, who already has six Division I offers, and Jackson, who can name his school, will not be playing for a league championship, much less a state title. They will be part of a traveling circus.
“We’ve still got a few guys that are going to play hard,” Saginaw coach Julian Taylor said. “We won’t have the big name, but believe me, Trojan basketball isn’t going anywhere.”
That is why we will still be able to have a great basketball state tournament and why the players who leave won’t be missed.