Arrested Development

Over the last couple of years, I have been working on a basketball improvement book. During my research I often ask myself, ‘Why do some players improve and others either stay the same or believe it or not, get worse’?

Is it lack of work ethic? Too much hype as a young player? Uncoachable? Attitude problem? Character flaws? Lack of desire? Burnout? The courage to succeed? Refusal to grasp the concept of improving? A lack of self-understanding of what it takes? Crime? Drugs? Alcohol?

Whatever problem you can come up with, it’s worth talking about.  But for some reason most basketball people fail to bring it up. It’s almost like they turn their backs on it, sweep it under the carpet or wait until it’s too late.

Leigh Kleine runs the famous 5-Star basketball camp and he recently told me, “In order to achieve at the highest level, along the way one must face physical and mental adversity that forces the person out of the comfort zone and to develop other skills. If a player never has to do this, then they will be ill prepared for when they are truly tested.”

I’m currently reading two basketball books; “Pick-Up Artists” and “Heaven is a Playground.”

Pick-Up Artists, written by Lars Anderson and Chad Millman, covers different scenarios pertaining to “street” basketball. The book begins with the story of Speedy Williams, a guard out of New York City. In high school Williams didn’t take the game too seriously; he seemed to have a lot of promise but refused to buy into what it takes to become successful on the court. Not playing a single minute for his high school team, Speedy was able to play at a small college in Brooklyn but never finished his four years. Williams found himself playing street ball then finally getting a chance in the CBA where he did well.

“I didn’t have the discipline to play ball,” Speedy said on page 7 about his high school days.

“I was going to have to bust my butt to make it after my sophomore season,” Speedy said of his college situation at Medgar Evers where he scored 22 points a game his first two seasons. “So I was outta there.”

The past couple of weeks while watching the Eastern conference semi-finals between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, Lance Stephenson of the Pacers became more popular for what he did off the court than what he accomplished on the court. The Coney Island native sits at the end of the bench and early in the series when LeBron James failed to make a free-throw late in the game, Stephenson grabbed his own throat, giving the “choke” sign.

Stephenson is in his second full season with the Pacers after playing one season at the University of Cincinnati and at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn.

I don’t expect every basketball player to improve so much that they become an NBA all-star; that’s impossible. My biggest concern is how a player like Stephenson can have so much success through high school and college but find himself at the end of the Indiana Pacers bench?

Stephenson has been on the national hoops scene since the 9th grade. Was he hyped up at an early age? Did recruiting services overrate him? Did journalists see a story and decide to crown him the next best thing?

I see it here in Michigan too; a player dominates in middle school and the media (and even fans) say he is the next “Magic Johnson.”

A friend through the basketball loop, Butch Hawking from Newport, California has this to say, “They have the talent and the potential – the people they surround themselves with and how serious are they about being great generally comes into question.”

With the power of the internet, including message boards and chat rooms, word of a phenom spreads quickly. They discuss how talented a young man is and that we should keep an eye on him in the future.

I got news for you; we will never see another Magic Johnson in our lifetime!

Speaking of Magic, the former Lansing Everett and Michigan State University star has one of the best nicknames ever. And the thing with nicknames is some are justified, some are not. Some live up to the name, and some do not. Magic was sensational as an amateur and went on to win 5 NBA rings, including leading the Lakers his rookie season to the title. Not to mention he won a State title in high school and a National Championship in college.

I have never been a fan of nicknames.

Someone sent me this article from the New Republic on Stephenson, it was written during his senior year in high school. Seems like he had a few nicknames. Born ready for what? How do you expect a teenager to live up to those expectations?

His every move both on and off the court is under a microscope. He’s signing autographs at the age of 15. At 16 he’s being told by everyone around him that he’s the best!

Here’s my guy Art Bernstein: “In many cases the phenom is physically gifted, Lance (Stephenson) was a grown man since he was 14.  It’s a lot different playing defense or taking it to the rack on a player from FDR high school or even someone at St. John’s University as opposed to doing the same thing vs a Pro Athlete.  The minute the player faces adversity which he never has he loses his confidence and his “swag”.

The people who hang around these young players should also be looked at carefully; sometimes they can be a little too involved.

Here’s a quote I came across a few years ago from college basketball coach Rick Majerus talking about young, rising stars in youth basketball: “Everyone wants to be the person who thinks they’re responsible for discovering the next great player.”

Stephenson is young, he has a lot of time ahead of him to improve and turn himself into an all-star.  I just wish adults would stop labeling young kids as “can’t miss” athletes.

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