In the past few seasons, there has been an influx of very young players in the NBA. This was put on display this past weekend during the Rising Stars Challenge in which the average age of both teams was 21.5-years-old. Nineteen-year-old Zach LaVine made headlines not only for making the United States’ All-Star team, but also for putting on an incredible display of athletic ability in his dunk contest victory.
Yet therein lies the problem with the youth culture that the NBA has created. There are tons of high flying, athletic players, but many of them lack the skills that make them great due to the fact that they never developed them in college.
This can be attributed to the one-and-done era that we currently live in, where players play only the one required season in college before jumping to the NBA.
College coaches and programs cannot be blamed for these players deciding that they want to play only one season, mostly due to the fact that many players had their minds made up long before played in college.
AAU basketball has created these problems by teaching basketball a certain way. Players simply run up and down the court trying to dunk on people and score as many points as possible instead of actually trying to improve their games in order to be ready for the next level. Kobe Bryant, who came into the league straight from high school at 18-years-old, recently weighed in on the subject.
“Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. It’s stupid. It doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game at all, so you wind up having players that are big and they bring it up and they do all this fancy crap and they don’t know how to post. They don’t know the fundamentals of the game. It’s stupid.”
Bryant believes that there has been a decline in the skill level of American basketball players due to AAU, while in Europe they teach the game the “right way,” which provides players an opportunity to properly build upon the skills that they will need to play in the NBA.
Bryant is an anomaly when it comes to players succeeding in the NBA from a young age. For every Kobe Bryant who comes along there are 100 Sebastian Telfairs, who was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He committed to the University of Louisville before deciding to forgo college and enter the NBA. Telfair is now 29 years old and playing for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association, having never played more than three seasons with any one team. Examples like this can be found all over the world, or in the NBA D-League.
Xavier Henry was an All-American coming out of high school and a standout star at Kansas, making the All Big 12 Freshman Team, but decided to give up his final 3 years of college and enter the 2010 NBA draft. After bouncing between the Lakers’ main roster and their D-League team, Henry was finally cut in 2014. It was his first season with the Lakers and fourth in the league. Henry is currently 23 years old and out of professional basketball.
The NBA is creating a system in which more young players will fail than succeed. In order to reverse this trend, the one-and-done rule must be re-examined, or AAU must figure out a way to create more skilled players. With these two systems in place we will only continue to hear stories of young players that never made it. Kobe’s analysis is right; in order to change the culture you must first change how the young players learn the game. Let’s just hope Zach LaVine is around long enough to hear the message.