As I read Richard Obert’s July 8 story on local high school basketball players competing for out-of-state AAU teams, this quote from area scout Jeff Meadows, whose son, Bryce, is a point guard at Scottsdale Coronado, stuck with me:
“We want to stay and play for a local team but Arizona does not have an organization that has a shoe sponsorship which nowadays is a must for a top prospect or any aspiring top prospect,” Meadows said. “As far as that goes, this is the worst predicament that Arizona has ever been in. It’s truly a sad day and time for our state, because we have the players but no vehicle for them to look forward to.”
To repeat: The worst predicament Arizona has ever been in. Truly a sad day and time for our state.
I’m sorry. Did I miss something?
Obert’s well-researched story explained why players like Tempe Corona del Sol’s Marvin Bagley III, former Gilbert Perry star Markus Howard and Corona guard Alex Barcello are not playing for Arizona club teams during the July AAU basketball circuit. Bagley, for example, played for a Tennessee club team called “We All Can Go.”
The crux of the matter, it seems, is this: Until an Arizona-based club team negotiates a shoe contract with Nike or Adidas, top prospects will head elsewhere.
“Every single year, Arizona talent leaves Arizona to play for out-of-state teams,” John Ortega, who helps coach Arizona Power Basketball, told Obert. “Meanwhile, the Arizona teams fight for the remaining talent and spread it so thin we can’t truly compete in national tournaments. We’ll, on average, have eight to 12 D-I players each year in Arizona. Rarely do you see more than three on any single team.”
I’ll admit that I’m not a close follower of summer club basketball. But I simply don’t understand why this is a significant issue.
First, the number of kids who are good enough to play for, say, the Las Vegas Prospects or “We Can All Go” is minimal. Maybe there’s 10 kids a year in Arizona. Maybe less. From a high school basketball perspective, we’re talking about the one-percenters. Second, elite players like Bagley, Barcello, Howard and Gilbert Christian’s Mitch Lightfoot will get noticed whether they’re playing for a Las Vegas club team, a second-tier Arizona team or in a remote village in Alaska.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about those kids because those kids are going to be taken care of,” longtime Mesa Mountain View coach Gary Ernst said.
Exactly. The concern should be for the hundreds of kids who are still trying to get that first scholarship offer, whether it be from a lower-level Division I team, a Division II program or even a junior college. If the Arizona club basketball scene isn’t giving them the exposure they need then there’s a real problem.
But back to Obert’s story. Several participants in the club scene believe the exodus of top players negatively impacts the perception of Arizona high school basketball.
Wait. Doesn’t every college basketball coach know Bagley and Barcello play for Corona? Or that Howard was at Perry before leaving for Findlay Prep in Las Vegas? Would an Arizona club team that featured all three players really improve the image of the basketball played here?
“People know where those kids are coming from,” Ernst said.
Finally, Ortega lamented the fact that the loss of Arizona’s top players means a local club team can’t hang with the best in national tournaments. Even Ernst, who isn’t a big fan of club ball, said, “It would be kind of neat to have one team play and see how that team would do nationally.”
I get that. But these national tournaments aren’t really “tournaments.” They’re showcases for the country’s top players and the college coaches who drop by to watch them. Attaching any sort of team concept to them is fanciful.
Look, I wouldn’t mind seeing a powerful Arizona club team featuring Bagley, Barcello and others. But to believe, as Meadows said, that it’s “truly a sad day”?
Reach Bordow at scott.bordow @arizonarepublic.com. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow.
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