"It's not where you start, it's where you finish that matters most."
That sums up my thoughts on the fixation with player rankings in youth and high school basketball.
Too many players use rankings as a barometer of their value on the court, parents wear it like a badge of honor, and coaches use it to pump up their own prowess.
Kids should play basketball for two reasons:
- 1. They truly love the game
- 2. They can use it as vehicle for a free education and for unique life experiences
My eyes opened to the Player Ranking cult numerous years ago when the Washington Post ran a story claiming a Baltimore kid was the "best 10-year-old player in the country."
I felt like one of those Windows Smartphone commercials, "Really?" 10 years old?
First of all, how could you possibly claim a kid was the best 10-year-old unless you had seen every single 10-year-old play (and if you have, don't you have anything better to do with your time)? And what is the point of even trying to determine who the best 10-year-old is? Who does that benefit? What positive could possibly come of that?
Why would anyone want to burden a 10-year-old kid with the pressure of being "the best"? Or 12-year-old. Or 14-year-old for that matter? These are kids we are talking about!
Now, I am fine with naming All-American teams or even publicly ranking players right before their senior year in high school. But I believe in doing so as a way to recognize them for what they have already accomplished.
But even then it is a slippery slope as success is never guaranteed.Can you tell me what two things Shaheen Halloway and Kenny Gregory have in common?
- 1. Both were the MVP of the McDonalds All-American game (Halloway in ’96 and Gregory in ’97).
- 2. Both went undrafted in the NBA (and I bet money you have never heard of them)
Publicized Internet player rankings are polluting youth basketball.
If a player is ranked really high, they often become complacent and get enabled by a swarm of vultures and hanger-on-ers who see this kid as their conduit to riches and fame. Everyone in their entourage becomes a "yes man" and kisses their butt. How does that help their development and growth?
If a player is ranked low or not ranked at all, they often become frustrated and question the hard work they have already put in. Oftentimes they become selfish players in order to "go for mine" when playing in tournaments and events. They start playing THE game instead of playing THEIR game.
This selfish mentality happens to highly ranked players too...they know that if they don't fill up the stat sheets their ranking will suffer. The result is selfish play at most youth tournaments and AAU events. Too much dribbling, forced shots, and no extra passes--the exact opposite of how the game is supposed to be played!
If you want real insight to the dangers of player rankings, I highly recommend you read George Dohrmann's book "Play Their Hearts Out."
Going hand in hand with this infatuation with player rankings is the need for exposure. After all, you need exposure to get ranked, right? How can you get ranked if no one ever sees you play? I get a dozen emails a week asking me "what is the best way for me to get exposure?"
Become the best player and teammate you can be, the exposure will follow. If you can play; they will find you.
Please know, I am speaking in generalities of the system--there are plenty of exceptions. Harrison Barnes is a player who carried the burden of a high ranking throughout most of high school, and he never let it affect his character or his development. But for every Harrison Barnes, there are numerous players who allowed the player rankings to stifle their potential, and in some cases, ruin their careers before they even started. I am not taking shots as those players, I truly feel sorry for them. They end up the waste product of a flawed system.
Players, parents, and coaches: I challenge you not to get caught up in the player rankings. Focus on development and daily improvement. Focus on getting better every day. Focus playing because you are passionate about the game and you want basketball to help you earn an education, make lifelong friends, and travel to new places. Focus on the purity of the game. If you do that, everything else will fall into place.
As the legendary Morgan Wootten used to say: "Make sure you use basketball, don't let it use you."