'Simple' solutions, and some advice for youngsters

Sunday, June 26, 2016

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the last installment in a two-part column series examining the status of basketball today, both nationally and in Indiana.

I'm not sure how basketball, in my view, has gotten so far off track -- but there are several theories.

In the "good old days," high school coaches in Indiana were forbidden from instructing teams or players from the end of the season until the start of the next season. Undoubtedly, some did so any way, but kids were allowed to focus on other summer activities (including playing baseball) and things were fine.

Kids found their way to gyms, parks, alleys or backyards and played informal games all day long. I remember we cut out a dirt rectangle around the big tree in our backyard and watered it down so we could play. In no way was I any good, but it was fun -- and there was nothing else to do in the early '70s.

Summer used to be reserved for kids to play baseball, and today's competing and overlapping barrage of summer camps, clinics, individual workouts, games and practices (when they are legal) makes being a high school athlete much tougher than it used to be.

The saddest thing, to me, is that I don't think any of the additional summer stuff has made high school sports -- particularly basketball -- any better. Not that there aren't good teams or players, but the overall quality of Indiana high school basketball today that I see is far inferior to the "good old days."

If my memory accurately recalls the quality of play as I was growing up in the 1970s, teams from that era would pound today's teams into the ground. Informal "pickup" games were very, very underrated for skill development.

Back then, the players who wanted to work harder in the summer to try for college scholarships could do so, but everyone was not mandated to make such a sacrifice.

Kids should be getting a better return on the increased investment of time required by today's sports environment, and I just don't see it.

For as much time as is required of Indiana high school basketball players today, there should be a tremendous escalation of scholarship papers being signed by our kids. That's not happening.

The recent NBA draft confirms the struggles of Indiana basketball. The only native Hoosiers picked were Demetrius Jackson of South Bend (played at Notre Dame) and A.J. Hammons, a Carmel native who played for Purdue. Both were chosen in the middle of the second round.

And that's it.

This is hardly a knock on current Indiana high school basketball coaches, whose jobs are much more difficult now than ever before just to keep their sanity (and their marriages) intact. Many coaches in their thirties are already getting out of the profession due to the demands, and the days of people like Pat Rady coaching for 40 years or more are undoubtedly over.

If I were ever a high school coach, I think that investing the most off-season time in kids from grades 5-8 would be more beneficial to the overall good of the program than loading the same 8-10 high school kids into short buses and hauling them off to shootout after shootout like some people do now.

The scholarship myth

I feel confident in my ability to accurately judge the payoffs of time invested in basketball compared to the receipt of tuition waivers and free room and board. From writing my "College Report" column for the past 11 years, I have kept pretty close tabs on the numbers and the results are just not there.

I monitor more than 30 schools around Terre Haute for my column, and for the second straight year the collective number of scholarship Division I basketball players produced by that group is zero.

There are Division II players from this year's graduating classes who will get some money for playing (Bloomfield's Brandon Van Sant at Illinois-Springfield and Casey-Westfield's Brandon Wolfe transferring from Wabash Valley to Drury), although it's impossible to always tell who is a walk-on and who actually gets athletic aid.

The Class of 2017 is more promising for Wabash Valley hoopsters.

Besides Cloverdale's Cooper Neese going to Butler, Jaylen Minnett of Terre Haute South is headed to IUPUI and Marshall's Josiah Wallace of Marshall, Ill., is going to Division II Southern Indiana.

A pair of ladies from Marshall will also be getting Division I full rides -- Kennedy Williams (Bowling Green) and Demi Burdick (Tennessee-Martin). Several others from the area could also reap the scholarship benefits, including Austin Sappingfield of West Vigo, Dylan Dirks of Robinson (Ill.) and Lance Hopkins of Rockville.

Putnam dry spell ending

Neese will give Putnam County its second Division I basketball player in a four-year stretch when he joins Butler in the fall of 2017.

Greencastle's Jesse Tesmer played one year at the D-I level in 2014-15 for Chicago State, after playing the two previous seasons for Lincoln Trail College. Following his season at Chicago State, Tesmer transferred to D-II Illinois-Springfield for his final season of eligibility.

At Chicago State, Tesmer played 19 games and started four -- averaging 8.5 minutes, .9 points and .7 rebounds per game.

He had more success at Lincoln Trail, averaging 7.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in 31 contests and shot 51 percent from the field. As a sophomore, Tesmer improved his shooting to 55 percent from the floor with 8.0 points per game, while grabbing 5.0 rebounds in 29 games played.

Last winter at UIS, Tesmer played in 22 games (starting 14) while averaging 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.

As a senior at Greencastle, Tesmer was named to the all-West Central Conference team and helped the team to a conference title.

"Jesse is very athletic and an absolute warrior," said former Lincoln Trail Head Coach Mike Ray after Tesmer signed with Chicago State. "I would love to have Jesse for another two years or someone like him every year. He is a real competitor."

Tesmer and Neese are helping to end a drought of a few decades for a high school basketball player from Putnam County to play Division I basketball.

Cloverdale's Chad Tucker played at Butler from 1983 to 1988, and remains that school's career scoring leader.

With the help of Steve Fields, my predecessor in this job from a few years back, and Cloverdale football/baseball coach Tony Meyer we were able to unearth a couple of other D-I players in the mid-1980s but no others since then.

Greencastle's Mike Cooper played both Division I baseball and basketball at Rice. In the 1985-86 season, Cooper led the Owls in field goal percentage at .535, in assists with 2.5 per game and tied for the team lead in steals with 1.1.

He had more success on the baseball diamond, leading the Owls in 1989 with 100.2 innings pitched. Cooper still ranks second in school history with four career shutouts (three of them in 1990) and is tied for eighth with 14 career complete games. One of the players Cooper remains tied with for career complete games is Norm Charlton, who went on to have an excellent major-league career with the Cincinnati Reds.

The other played identified as having mid-1980s D-I roots was North Putnam hoopster Jodi Pickel, a 1985 Cougar grad who played one season at Toledo.

We're going to examine Tucker's career and the Cloverdale-to-Butler "pipeline" in much more detail when Neese signs in November.

The solution to all of this?

All of the criticisms examined in this column have varying amounts of validity, and a combination of several of them likely contributes to basketball-related problems.

Indiana seems to be making a comeback basketball wise, at least at the most elite level, with four current seniors-to-be ranked among the top 42 players in the nation.

Junior-to-be Romeo Langford of New Albany got scholarship offers this summer in the same week from Duke, Kentucky and Kansas, while classmate Robert Phinesee (a point guard from McCutcheon whose team lost to Langford's in the Class 4A finals this spring) is also at that level.

Back in the "good old days," Indiana and Purdue would seemingly have their own draft and keep the state's elite players on Hoosier soil.

IU has obviously had much more success lately, buoyed by several key out-of-state players, and it would be great if today's up-and-coming stars would stay closer to home. It's really frustrating to see Indiana kids go out of state, like when watching a Michigan vs. Michigan State game a couple of years ago and half the starters were Hoosier natives.

Some people think the rise of the foreign players at the NBA level is related to laziness among Americans, and the imported kids are just working harder than our kids are.

If that's true, then American kids need to work harder if they want to be better.

Want a college athletic scholarship?

My best suggestion would be to be a runner or a golfer, particularly for females, and to also get good grades.

Some good friends of mine in Terre Haute had two sons to play basketball at Hanover College, and -- unlike other people who rack up six figures of student loan debt to get to play non-scholarship college sports -- those eight years only cost them only a few thousand dollars in total thanks to the academic money they received.

The "other" two sons played D-I sports on full rides, so none of them makes student loan payments. That's how you do it.

Just want to be a successful high school basketball player? Nothing wrong with that. But whatever your dreams are, quit moving your outdoor goal to its lowest height and having dunk sessions with your friends using mini-balls and actually work on your shooting and ballhandling. Find a youth travel coach who will teach you fundamentals to supplement what your school offers, and quit playing so many games -- until you know how to play properly.

Simple enough, right?

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