As I’m currently awash in some of the pain that is March Madness, I finally have a moment to discuss something I’ve been thinking about all winter: high school basketball team cover-ups.
There are numerous high school teams that get away with winning, and having a winning record, solely on their athleticism. Their fundamentals are lacking. Most commonly, they can’t finish a layup or box out effectively, and the forwards/posts aren’t aggressive enough on the boards. But these athletic teams can get up the court faster than opponents, and they out-muscle them with defense (once they’ve finally woken up from what usually is a slow start). After watching several such games by the end of January, my question was: if you win but win ugly (aka sloppy, fundamental-less ball where you’ve merely outrun your opponent), is this something of which to be proud?
No. But plenty of teams (and their coaches) practice this type of ball and then get a skewed vision of themselves as a good team. Winning – especially at the high school level – doesn’t necessarily make you a good team. If you’re in a weak league, as many high school teams are, then it’s easy to have a good record. Ditto if you’re a college team in a weak conference and/or with a schedule that is lacking in quality opponents. Yet, winning is equated with “good,” and fans automatically assume the coach is good too.
I can’t tell you how many high school teams I’ve seen in Southern California who are getting by on athleticism and are benefitting from being in a weak league, yet who are not fundamentally sound. They appear, at least to me, to win by accident. If I were a coach and my team had 30 turnovers because they can’t make basic, good passes, but they won anyway because the other team was JV-level, I wouldn’t feel good about that. But plenty of players ignore those facts, and so do those who coach them. They think they’re the bomb, and they’re not.
The great high school ball equalizer is the playoffs. A team can get by all season long, but the playoffs separate the sound from the “barely makin’ it” teams. The athleticism-only teams eventually lose to the skilled teams, and it’s usually fairly early on in the playoffs.
The theories abound as to why so many young people lack fundamental basketball skills these days. Some say it’s the influence of club ball and its emphasis on playing many games in short periods of time. Others say it’s the excessive attention paid to flashy players like Kobe Bryant, and the de-emphasis on the basics of good basketball. There is also the fact that we live in an instant-gratification culture, and a lot of kids don’t have the patience to learn how to run a few laps, much less take 500 shots a day on the court. It’s probably a combination of those things, and more.
There is a reason why Brea Olinda, Mater Dei and Long Beach Poly were ranked first, second and third in the nation this entire year: all three programs boast fundamentally sound players. These squads are fun to watch, and watching their games is a guarantee of good quality basketball.
It’s too bad there aren’t more high school teams like them.