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Ticket to the next level in basketball: Club or high school?

Posted: July 29, 2013 10:36 p.m.
Updated: July 29, 2013 10:36 p.m.
Area basketball players are earning more college scholarships, but club teams give them a better shot at playing at the next level. Area basketball players are earning more college scholarships, but club teams give them a better shot at playing at the next level.
Area basketball players are earning more college scholarships, but club teams give them a better shot at playing at the next level.

When Hart High guard and senior-to-be Lewis Stallworth revealed that he received an athletic scholarship offer in June to play basketball at Seton Hall, it became a unique occurrence.

Big East schools tend to not recruit basketball players from the Santa Clarita Valley.

Here’s the thing.

This Big East school likely didn’t recruit in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Stallworth is like one of the many elite basketball players in the area — be it boy or girl — in that he plays club basketball.

So was it his play in club basketball that got him noticed by the New Jersey school, was it his play at Hart High, or was it a combination of the two?

How much are kids getting noticed for their play at the high school level alone?

If you take a small sample size — and it has to be small because the SCV doesn’t have an extensive history of sending basketball players to play for four-year colleges, especially NCAA Division I schools — it would appear that high school basketball alone will not give kids the exposure they need to keep playing beyond high school.

Four recent four-year college basketball players from the SCV of four polled all said the exposure they got from the club scene was a more significant factor of them getting them a spot on a university team than high school.

One player said: “I had a lot more exposure at tournaments and camps specifically for exposure.”

Another said: “Club (got me more exposure). It’s definitely where the coaches saw me.”

But that player added: “High school was good for my development, though.”

It seems that there is a divide between high school and some club coaches where one thinks he or she is better for a kid’s development than another, and sometimes that can cause a little friction.

Hart High head boys basketball coach Tom Kelly, who is entering his 14th season at the helm, sees club basketball as a double-edged sword.

He acknowledges that club ball gives kids exposure, but he questioned the style of play and intent of a lot of club teams.

“What you’re getting is kids that think the only way to get recruited is through club and they play in all these exposure tournaments, and it is easier for coaches to go to one tournament and see 100 to 500 kids than getting across America and seeing kids,” Kelly said. “But I think club basketball is killing high school basketball.”

Kelly said in the last 10 to 15 years he’s seen the game become more individualized and taken over by the dribble rather than passing, screening, cutting and moving without the ball.

With the proliferation of club basketball and the elite players playing outside of just their high schools, he sees a direct impact on college basketball and pro basketball, saying that it too has become more of a one-on-one game.

Kelly said that he emphasizes the team game and has had to break kids of individual-game habits when they return to the fold of the high school game.

He said he’s also had to hybridize his team’s style of play.

Jerry Mike, also in his 14th season at the helm of the Valencia High girls basketball team, has a unique perspective.

Mike coaches the girls, but was also an assistant coach for a locally-based boys club team called “SCV Triple Threat” — a team his son Garrett played on.

Mike said he doesn’t have to adapt as much with his girls who play club ball but he, like Kelly, isn’t enchanted by the club scene.

He understands that there are two exposure periods during the summer in June and July where college coaches are going out to see club tournaments, but in order to establish a camaraderie and fit for his high school teams that won’t play games that count until late fall, he wants them together in the summer.

“I hate when it overlaps with high school,” he said. “Most of the time it doesn’t. ... When girls tell me they’re on a (club) team, I’m excited for them. I want them to play and get more coaching. It’s a healthy thing. But the money some of these (club coaches) are getting bothers me. Good for them that they’re getting paid, but I think it’s getting a little out of hand.”

Kelly noted Triple Threat as a club team that does things the “right way.”

The point of that team is to give kids better competition and the opportunity to play outside of where they live, he said and Mike acknowledged.

Other teams are seen as a recruiting service — taking parents’ money with the lure of scholarships.

And the truth is, there isn’t a scholarship out there for every player.

Yet if a club team’s selling point is that it has the right connections, a good reputation and seeks to get kids to college, is that a bad thing?

Vincent Smith doesn’t think so, and that’s what he says his program “Aim High” offers.

Smith and his brother, former NBA star and current NBA on TNT analyst Kenny Smith started Aim High in New York, took it to Houston and has been in the Santa Clarita Valley for the last six years.

Stallworth plays for Kelly in high school and Vincent on the club level.

Vincent agrees that there are programs out there that are “unscrupulous” and programs that are a collection of all-stars that don’t stress nuances of the game like passing and screening and are just run-and-gun teams.

Not his, said the co-CEO, Director of Operations and coach of Aim High.

But his program can and does offer kids something that many high schools can’t.

“We’re very fortunate and blessed to have Kenny Smith to have a good rapport with basketball people and myself training basketball people the last 30 years. We have a little advantage over some other AAU programs,” Vincent said.

Vincent said parents should be educated when picking a club team for their child.

“If I were a parent and had a kid playing for an AAU team, I’d be asking how long they’ve been doing it, who’s running the program and recommendations from others who’ve played in the program before I put my child in that environment,” he said.

However, Vincent pointed out the importance of high school basketball in the recruiting process.

Yes, players get exposure from the club scene. But he said college coaches want to know how these players interact with their teammates and how they practice.

Their best view into that is the high school level.

Kelly points out that college coaches have to pay attention to social media and highlight videos because they don’t want to miss out on a player.

So it seems playing club ball is vital, however high school basketball is certainly valuable for kids wanting to reach the next level.

Social media allows kids who have big high school performances get exposure.

Mike shares just how high school ball will still get kids noticed.

“I think you can still get plenty of exposure. A lot depends on your coach and what tournaments you’re in during the summer,” Mike said. “We had a tournament in Palm Springs this summer and there were several college coaches in the stands.”


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