• Hall of Fame Voice: From his days as an outstanding player at Wake Forest to his days on the sidelines as an assistant coach and a broadcaster, Billy Packer has enjoyed an incredible and substantive career in basketball. I have said this before, and I will say it again: Billy Packer should be in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. After 34 years and more than 100 Final Four games, representing just a small part of his contribution to this game, Packer spent his career as a name and voice synonymous with college basketball. He teamed with Jim Thacker to form the duo of Thacker and Packer on ACC broadcasts, and he teamed with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire to form arguably the best three-man booth in broadcasting history. Packer has been a passionate, thoughtful and intelligent voice in the game for decades, and he deserves his due from the Hall of Fame.
Whether one likes Packer's style is a matter of taste, and I would never argue over a matter of taste. However, it is beyond reasonable argument that Packer has been one of the most important and influential voices in the game's history, and whether you liked the messenger had nothing to do with the quality and depth of the message. The Hall of Fame already includes broadcasters Chick Hearn and now Dick Vitale, so there is no reasonable excuse to exclude Packer. The game has had no better advocate and no more fervent voice. The game is much better for having had Billy Packer in it.
• Summer League: If you want an idea of how competitive it is out there in the basketball world, watch some NBA summer league games. While it is easy for young players and media to focus on each NBA draft as the entry to a career in the NBA, it is not quite that simple. Each year, a new crop of hopefuls jump into the pool and has to compete against the entrants from the past decade. Many of the summer-league veterans can play in the NBA in the right situation, but very few can sustain a career in the league or be big-time contributors. Remember Malick Badiane from Senegal? He was drafted in 2003 by Houston and was considered "intriguing" because of his size, athleticism and wingspan. He has played in the German and French leagues, but he has never played a minute in the NBA.
Many of the other players in the summer leagues are underwhelming from an NBA perspective, and it would make you pretty uneasy if you were competing there, waiting on a paycheck. Names like Alan Anderson, Cedric Bozeman, Ebi Ere, Taj Gray, Brent Petway, Nik Caner-Medley, Sherrod Ford, Steve Burtt Jr., Aaron Miles and Dwayne Mitchell were playing in just one of the games I watched. With the NBA rookie contract at four years (two years guaranteed and two years with a team option), you can be cycled out of the league pretty quickly.
We always focus on the no-brainer locks like Kobe or LeBron straight out of high school, but a lot of big-name players from as recently as the 2000 draft (and since) are currently out of the NBA or out of basketball altogether. Do you think any of these kids really contemplated that they would be teetering on the edge of Europe like this when they were coming out of high school? Many are facing a harsh reality in the game.
• Summer Model: I recently finished my fourth year as a skills instructor at the Nike Skills Academies (the Amare Stoudemire Academy in Phoenix and the LeBron James Academy in Akron). These skills academies are great concepts and good for any player, and I have been privileged to work with the top high school and college players in the country. Every year, I learn things about the game from the great coaches and instructors on the staff, and every year I learn things about the current state of the game.
In the current summer culture, there are many outstanding camps and basketball events every June and July, when taken alone. Individually, most of these events are very good. Taken as a whole, however, it is hard to justify the way things work for young players in our country, and it's really hard to feel good about the state of the game. From dealing with so many of the players, I have learned that the top young prospects in America spend as many as 50 of the 61 days of June and July on the road playing in camps, tournaments and other summer events.
It is not healthy for any youngster to be away from home for that long. These kids shuttle from event to event, stay in hotel after hotel, and play in game after game. To expect them to be able to concentrate properly, accept coaching from so many different voices and put in the appropriate work on what they are taught is a pipe dream. Forget a summer job or the stability of being at home -- too many of these young players are basketball vagabonds from the ages of 15 to 18, and they are traveling around with their summer program coaches and having their summer program pay for their travel expenses. These young players are influenced by summer coaches, and the summer programs are influenced by shoe companies, and the entire system caters to colleges and the pros by jamming every event under the sun into June and July.
While there may be nothing wrong with the individual events and programs, the cumulative effect cannot be positive. The problem is, who is in charge?
• More About the Summer Model: Because shoe companies are so active in the high school culture, which is referred to as the "grassroots" level, they wield a lot of influence in the game. I believe -- and the AAU, the NABC and the shoe companies should demand it -- that every coach (of a summer program, AAU or sponsored camp) should have a college degree. If the shoe companies insisted upon this as a condition of sponsorship, it would happen. To me, there is no excuse for a coach who is charged with the development and well-being of young prospects not to have a college degree. A coach has to have a college degree to coach in college, and I would argue that it is equally if not more important at the youth level. This requirement would be further assurance that a coach is qualified and serious, and it would help weed out those who are not.
• Access is the Issue: All of these kids at summer events and camps can text message and call whomever they like whenever they like. And every agent and agent's runner in the business has access to them. However, college coaches cannot text the kids and can call them only one time per week. That is ludicrous. College coaches are good influences in the game, and their access to young players should not be restricted so severely when the rest of the free world can contact them whenever they like.
I was one of the instructors at the skills academies that worked with the college counselors, and I worked more with the players this summer than their college coaches did. That is downright silly. College basketball coaches should be able to work with their players throughout the summer while those players are enrolled in summer school. It hurts no one, and it just provides quality instruction and guidance from a good influence of the player's choosing. If a college student sought out instruction from a professor outside of class, would anyone blink an eye? Why then do we assume that working with a coach is such a bad thing and needed to be banned?
• Not the NCAA's Issue: Why does everything seem to get blamed on the NBA's age limit, and why do so many people think that college basketball can fix it? Brandon Jennings goes to Europe and the one-and-done rule is blamed. A kid doesn't make his test score and the one-and-done rule is blamed. A kid declares for the draft and the one-and-done rule is blamed.
There is a disconnect, and it is not that hard to figure out. First, there is no such thing as a one-and-done rule. When any player is 19 years old and out of high school for one year, he can go pro at any time. A player can declare for the draft after his freshman, sophomore or junior season. That is not any different as a result of the age-limit rule.
The age limit is an NBA rule over which the NCAA has no authority whatsoever, and it speaks only to when the NBA will accept a player to be drafted. The age limit means only that a player cannot declare for the draft directly out of high school, and nothing more. There is no way the NCAA can pass any rule that will keep a player in school for two or three years. That would serve as an involuntary servitude, and it would never fly. While people like to point toward baseball as the example that basketball should follow, draft eligibility is determined by Major League Baseball, not by the NCAA. The only way that basketball could keep a kid in school is if the NBA and the NBA Players Association agreed upon a different standard for draft eligibility. The NCAA has nothing to do with it and cannot force a kid to stay in school.
• No More One-and-Dones?: Arizona coach Lute Olson said recently that he would not recruit any more one-and-done players. I wish I could borrow his crystal ball, because there is no way any coach can accurately determine the players who will be one-and-done. Heck, even in Olson's own program, some players who were expected to leave early stayed longer than expected, and some of the kids who were expected to stay wound up bolting early. With 18-year-old kids, there is no reasonable way to judge which ones will stay and for how long, and which kids will go and when. All any coach can do is to recruit the best players and youngsters of high character, and work with them to be the best they can be. But you have to be prepared for any good player to leave if he blossoms into a coveted prospect.
• Missing the Point: Davidson guard Stephen Curry is one of the best shooters and shot-makers I have seen. I never thought Curry would be a better shooter and player than his father Dell Curry was, but I believe the younger Curry is just that. However, I fail to see the fascination with making Curry into a true point guard or the debate over whether he can make the transition to the next level. Curry's point guard skills and his defense may not be his strengths, but this kid should not be diminished by how some label fits his game. Call him what you like, but I do not see Curry as a point guard or a shooting guard. I see him as a player. And he is a great player.
• College Player Notes from LeBron: One of the great joys of working as an instructor at the Nike Skills Academies is to work with and learn from the great coaches like Kevin Eastman and Tates Locke. The other is to work with and get to know the players. Here are a few notes from the LeBron James Skills Academy and the players that were there:
• Patrick Beverley, Arkansas: He is a junkyard dog, and no player played harder and with more vigor. I would love to have Beverley has a teammate. He has a great heart and motor, and he is really fun to be around.
• Jack McClinton, Miami: I am a huge fan of McClinton. He can really score and works his tail off. When a coach says that it is a dream to have his best player be his hardest worker, he is talking about McClinton. That kid is one of the best guards in America.
• Kalin Lucas, Michigan State: Perhaps the quickest guard in camp, Lucas shot the ball extremely well and proved to be an outstanding defender. And, he had the best smile in the camp. Lucas is the type of player that will keep Tom Izzo smiling all season long. He's a great kid.
• Kyle Singer, Duke: He had the best footwork and overall feel among the wings in the camp. He has the chance to be special because he is very skilled and very competitive.
• James Harden, Arizona State: The lefty is truly outstanding. He seeks out contact and never shies away from it, and he may have been the best pro prospect in the camp.
• Terrence Williams, Louisville: He was one of the most versatile players in the camp and the only one that could match Beverley's energy and enthusiasm and Lucas' smile. Another great kid that should have a really good year.
• Derrick Brown, Xavier: Brown has great length and athleticism, and he was probably the most underrated player in the camp. I knew he was good, but I came away thinking he was much better than I had thought.
• Demar DeRozan, USC: The incoming freshman has a great body with athleticism and bounce. DeRozan has the chance to be a special player. When he learns how to play, look out.
• Manny Harris, Michigan: Harris is another great kid that is very talented and plays instinctively. He needs to work on his footwork and strength, but Harris is a terrific young player.
• DeShawn Sims, Michigan: Strong and athletic, Sims can do some really good things. And he's another really great kid. He is not a shooter, but he can get to the basket. With players like Harris and Sims, Michigan should have won more games.