The news broke Wednesday night: Marvin Bagley III was leaving Hillcrest Prep. By Thursday morning, Arizona Interscholastic Association executive director Harold Slemmer already was meeting with staffers about the possibility of Bagley trying to regain his eligibility with an Arizona high school basketball team.
“I’m real hesitant to give you an answer until we know what all the facts are,” Slemmer said.
Here is what we know: Bagley was the No. 1-ranked freshman in the country last year while playing for Tempe Corona del Sol. He played for an elite club team and already had received scholarship offers from top 10 programs like Kentucky and Duke.
Bagley’s father, Marvin Jr., pulled his son out of Corona in mid-August and enlisted him at Hillcrest after being hired there as an assistant coach. His quote then: “We all love Corona. We just felt Corona served its purpose.”
His quote Wednesday upon leaving Hillcrest: “We’re trying to play for a national championship. We feel we don’t have that opportunity.”
I don’t know all the ins and outs that led to the Bagleys leaving Hillcrest. Nor do I care. What concerns me is the underlying issue, the rush for some parents to turn their kids’ athletic pursuits into a full-time job. Bagley III is just the latest high-profile example of basketball becoming a teenager’s life rather than a part of his life.
Photos: Hillcrest vs. Phoenix College
Understand: I’m not against the concept of prep schools. Nor do I believe there should be a blanket denouncement of every family that pulls their son out of high school to play for a basketball academy. As former Corona coach Sam Duane Jr., told me, “For some kids, prep school is the best spot for them. I really, honestly think that every parent has to do what they think is best for their kid.”
What’s best, without question, is making a well-informed decision that isn’t solely about basketball. I know the argument: Elite players need to develop their skills against the best competition so they are better prepared for college basketball. But what is lost in pursuit of that singular gain?
The high school experience can help a teenager in so many ways, whether it’s emotionally, socially or simply learning in a classroom environment. Sitting in front of a computer for hours, taking online courses, just isn’t the same. As for these basketball academies that promote their academic mission, let me know the first time they take a kid who can’t make a jump shot but scores high on his SAT.
No one knows the club basketball/prep academy scene better than Frank Burlison, a California-based writer who was elected to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame in 2005. His advice to parents: Do your homework and don’t be swayed by the national schedule the team plays, the publicity it gets, the college coaches it might attract to its games and the gear that’s provided by apparel and shoe companies.
That bling won’t be of much use if the school’s classes aren’t approved by the NCAA.
“I would hope that parents or guardians are farsighted enough when they make the decision to consider all the things their kid needs to accomplish,” Burlison said. “Are you going to a prep school where their classes are going to fulfill your NCAA requirement so you can get a diploma and go to college? Don’t rely on a prep school or coach to tell you everything is fine. The NCAA has a gigantic website (regarding eligibility), and they’ll answer your calls and answer any questions you have.
“That’s first and foremost. Second, are the players going to get legitimate quality coaching? Contrary to what some people want to suggest, quality coaching is an important element in any player’s success and development.”
Which brings me back to Bagley. He had it all at Corona. He was on an incredibly successful high school basketball team – Corona has won four straight state championships – he was getting an education at a school that received an “A” grade from the Arizona Department of Education and when he wasn’t knocking down jumpers for Corona he was playing against elite competition on the club circuit.
I can think of few players who needed a basketball academy less than Bagley, particularly a basketball academy run by the same folks who betrayed student-athletes by not having NCAA-approved courses at Phoenix Westwind Prep.
So I ask: What was the point?
Reach Bordow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-448-8716. Follow him at Twitter.com/sBordow.
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