How We Develop Basketball Talent

Today’s WSJ has a review of the book, Play Their Hearts Out, by SI reporter George Dohrman.  The book examines the world of elite youth basketball in the U.S. 

I’m not alone in believing that elite youth sports are a problematic institution in the U.S., but I may be in the minority in thinking that our professional leagues share some of the blame. The key factor is that the age floor on players in the NBA shunts off youth development to people who don’t have the basketball and managerial skills to work in the big leagues or the colleges.  Dohrman’s book chronicles the results, focusing on the activities of a club coach whose ethics seem dubious, and a young superstar whose game fails to develop, perhaps due to coaching methods which have other objectives in mind.

In contrast to the NBA, the English system has no age floor and allows professional clubs to develop talent themselves.  Thus, we have seen 17 year olds like Jack Wilshire and Josh McEachran play for Arsenal and Chelsea in EPL matches in recent seasons.  I doubt that either player would have progressed as well in the American system.  Moreover, concern with reputation and the glare of the media spotlight induces the big clubs to provide more than just athletic training, an aspect of the problem that the clubs described in Dohrman’s book fail miserably.

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Author: Skip Sauer

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2 thoughts on “How We Develop Basketball Talent”

  1. I think part of the reason the NBA system is so different from the English system has to do with the evolution of the league. The NBA wasn’t in a financial position to create a minor league system like baseball until maybe the 1980s. By then, major college basketball was so entrenched that it made no sense to even try. Also, what is the incentive of NBA owners to try to create a new system, when the one in play now is free to them. I don’t necessarily think the NBA is blameless in how things are today, but I think looking at the history of both professional and “amateur” basketball gives us an understanding of why things are what they are today.

  2. The English system for youth soccer/football development..where professional clubs take on age development responsibilities..grew out of necessity as much as (or rather, instead of) any particular insight or enlightened view. Whether its Man Utd or the Dutch Ajax team players as young as 10 try out (by the thousands!) for a spot on an elite youth training team. They are schooled, housed, fed and trained by professionals. This DOESN’T mean that all these youngsters move on as professional adult players..or that there isn’t fallout and collateral damage from this system…

    In the US soccer development is a youth club/league function..and remains largely unattached to MLS. Some excellent coaches run these clubs..and like basketball the next step for most capable players is college. College level sports are largely absent in Europe…that’s why 2o somethings who want a higher education and to play come here..they don’t stay in Europe.

    Our college athletic system let’s basketball, football and soccer largely off the hook for development. As long as Duke keeps cranking out NBA talent don’t expect any NBA club to start spending money doing the job.

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