Yes it’s the name of my favorite David Bowie song (you young kids should look that up) but it also refers, in this case sarcastically,Â to the prognosticators and predictors of college basketball rankings. In my opinion the vast majority of them seem to want to cater to the youngest common denominator, crowning players in the preseason, before they’ve even stepped foot on a college campus. Anointing these high school students as tops in the game based on potential that is rarely reached in a freshman year. It seems this is the way the game is trending and consequently being covered, putting much more emphasis on youth than experience, and while youth is being served in the media, youth rarely serves to live up the lofty expectations strapped on them by most covering college basketball. I’m not going to sit and say I haven’t been guilty of it to some extent but, well, I am not a professional writer, it isn’t my job to grade or rank these players and certainly no one is putting as much stock into what I say as they are for ESPN, CBS SPORTS etc. and all of the new-age, hip-hop fancy basketball promotion sites that are popping up everywhere.
Part of me thinks this whole culture of “promote them while they are young” is probably doing more harm than good. The case can be made for players like Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony, these player are carrying the torch and are the face of the league. It’s not the norm it’s really the exception. Part of me thinks there is some ulterior motive to all of this hype. Yes I suppose in a way it’s the sexy thing to do – to highlight the players that are tearing it up on the high school circuit against talent that is no where near what they will face in college. I’ll take a kid that has a year of college coaching over the majority of high school seniors regardless of the rankings. The inflation of egos that are the result of this culture of youth is what lands some of these kids in trouble and leads to decisions that may seem to only affect the here-and-now but sometimes lead to issues going forward. Issues with eligibility, development and perception by teams and scouts once they start to embrace the hype machine are real consequences. In some cases its clear to see that the parents of some of these kids are falling for it just as much as the kids are and that is probably even a sadder state of affairs. The very people these kids look to for guidance and protection are sometimes getting fat off of what the hype machine is feeding them.
I guess in my eyes instead of a kids goal being, “I have to get to the league the quickest way possible”, how about we make some shorter more reachable goals that allow flexibility along the way like a choose your own adventure book (remember those?). Lets become the best student and athlete we can in high schoolâ€¦Lets work toward getting a scholarship and a free education we may not have had an opportunity to get without that talent. Then maybe we grow as a person and a player while in college, for some it takes just a year, for some it takes more.Â A kid shouldn’t be deemed a failure because they need more time to develop than another. Nor should any kid be in a rush to get out, they do that at their own peril. Sometimes it behooves a kid to stop and actually smell those roses because you don’t get a do-over.
As for us fans and the media-at-large there is nothing wrong with being excited about high-level recruits coming into college, it’s one of my favorite parts of the game but keep in mind the last 5 NCAA champions: Louisville, Kentucky, Connecticut, North Carolina and Duke. Of the last 5 who won the NCAA Tournament title how many of those teams were lead or even had significant contributions by freshman? Jeremy Lamb averaged 11 points or the Huskies during their championship run, good average yes, world beater? no. Kentucky’s title run was however lead by freshman but in earnest there were two transformative freshman that lead the way in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Even still, Kentucky had Terrence Morris and Doron Lamb in the starting line-up – and while not upper-classmean, each had spent a year in the system as sophomores. The Duke team was lead by a trio of seniors and a good supporting cast of juniors in Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, yes there were contributions from Andre Dawkins and Mason Plumlee as freshman but not major minutes nor consistency.
This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with youth or great young players coming in to college but these rankings and hyping of high schoolers needs to be taken with a grain of salt. There is nothing wrong with being skeptical and allowing teams and players to actually earn those rankings. For the athletes, there is nothing wrong with allowing yourself the time to develop, and not believe what others say about you rather what you show and prove. You can have all the young dudes on your team you want but it pays to have the fruits of experience to lead the way.