I believe that grassroots basketball has made significant progress in recent years. We’ve seen improvements to the NCAA recruiting calendar, an improved emphasis on skill development for our young players, and the rise of USA Basketball as a potentially unifying brand regardless of sneaker affiliation.
But there is still work to be done and in the spirit of the new year, here are 10 admittedly idealistic “resolutions” for how grassroots basketball could better itself moving forward:
1. Get everybody at the same table: Widespread change to grassroots basketball is especially difficult because it’s a world without a clear hierarchy. The NCAA, USA Basketball, AAU, and each of the major sneaker companies have all made positive steps in recent years but the reality is that there is no single group capable of spearheading unilateral change on their own. However, if all of these major groups ever committed to a common set of principles and/or regulations, the rest of the youth basketball world would have no choice but to follow suit.
2. Make coaching certification more relevant: AAU and the NCAA both require coaches to be certified right now, which essentially amounts to people with a criminal record being prevented from sitting on the bench at specific events. The reality is that the adults our kids meet in a gym sometimes have as much influence as the teachers they see in the classroom, and we need to choose those adults with the same care and consideration. It’s a complicated question and process to be sure, but one that needs to be pursued.
3. Develop more shot makers: Skill development has become a major point of emphasis in recent years, and rightfully so, yet we continue to see a steady decline in the quality of our outside shooting. The reality is that for all the emphasis being put on skill, it’s much more fashionable to work on dynamic dribble moves or pick and roll, and there are fewer and fewer guys willing to spend the long hours in the gym to truly develop their shooting strokes. This needs to be addressed quickly, because the one thing that is disappearing from our game the fastest is guys who can really stretch the defense.
4. Shoe companies must police their own: Another step in improving the quality of adults around our young people is to ask the shoe companies to take a more active role in policing the programs they sponsor. We’ve got way too many adults influencing young people for their own personal gain, and too often the shoe companies are willing to sit idly by, if not utilize those relationships for their own benefit. Because they fund the elite travel programs, the shoe companies are the only entity that has the power to keep their programs in check, and if they would ever commit to enforcing a higher degree of ethics and integrity among those who wore their brand the results would be unprecedented.
5. Maintain two weekends during the spring evaluation period: This is a far more practical suggestion. As it stands now, this year’s spring recruiting calendar will permit college coaches to attend AAU style events on one weekend only, as opposed to two in recent years. After several positive changes to the calendar in recent years, this is a setback that will make it more difficult for college coaches to adequately evaluate prospects and more difficult for prospects to get the necessary levels of exposure, consequently empowering exactly the third parties that the NCAA is reportedly attempting to eliminate.
6. Basketball IQ development: The emphasis on skill development was born out of the realization that we were falling behind internationally, and while we’re gradually catching up in that area, a new area of need is gradually starting to emerge. We need to do a better job of developing our young players basketball IQ and understanding of the team game. Young players from other parts of the world now seem to have an earlier handle on concepts like spacing, off-ball screening, and passing angles, and that’s something that we need to address moving forward.
7. Universal shot clock for high school basketball: Paul Biancardi has championed this cause for quite some time now and the fact of the matter is that it’s a change that would dramatically improve the quality of high school games while better preparing those players hoping to compete in college. There really isn’t much of a downside beyond the minimal investment it would take each school to purchase and install shot clocks on each end of their gyms.
8. Clarify scholastic vs. non-scholastic: This is a potential firestorm in the making as annual powerhouses like Findlay Prep, Huntington Prep, and Prime Prep have been designated non-scholastic according to a recent NCAA interpretation, meaning that college coaches can’t watch them practice or workout, and are only allowed to watch their games should they be competing against a scholastic school. The problem is that there is far too much ambiguity and literally hundreds of programs around the country that could fall into either category. Ultimately, this needs to be cleared up before it can be enforced.
9. Make school a priority: The spring grassroots schedule needs to be adjusted so that kids miss less school. From travel team tournaments to invite-only camps and showcases, players are now traveling from coast to coast long before the summer evaluation period arrives and as a result they are missing a lot of school in the process. Not only is this the wrong message to be sending, but it’s also going to prove to be very problematic for those who struggle to get through the far more stringent standards set for the NCAA eligibility center.
10. National championships: For all of the great events in grassroots basketball, the one thing we’re missing is a true national event to put all the country’s best teams in the same location at the same time. Plenty of organizations crown their own national champion, but not one can claim to have a clean sweep of the nation’s top programs in attendance. Logistically, it would be nearly impossible with the current calendar, but if it could ever be accomplished it would certainly be for the betterment of the game.