Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Playground tournaments: Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge

Ok, I admit, I don’t get it. There was a fifth annual Elite 24 outdoor basketball tournament held in Venice Beach, Ca. over the weekend and I watched like a Martian spying on an alien activity.

There was somebody named Bobbito Garcia, who I understand is famous and who was billed by ESPNU as “Legendary Playground Announcer.” I don’t know about you but when I was playin’ make-it, take it b-ball in South Rocky Mount, we didn’t need a playground announcer constantly yackin’ like some hip-hop DJ. (Although, come to think of it, we might have had some Average White Band, Parliament and Ohio Players playing in the background.)

Garcia, also known as DJ Cucumberslice, got into the announcer booth with ESPNU’s Eamon McAnaney (yes, I looked up the spelling) and former Dukie Jay Williams, also known as Jayson Williams, and he said something I found disturbing.

“Look at the guys on the court, they are going to be millionaires very soon.” Is that really a message we want to be sending out – before they’ve even gone to college, before they’ve even graduated from high school? Williams pointed out that a lot of 16, 17 and 18-year-old basketball players now have 5,000 or so followers on Facebook and Twitter. Is that kind of celebrity at this point a good thing?

After being treated to rapper - or maybe rap group - Laws singing the supposed big hit “So nice” – during which I could make out only the words, “Yeah, Yeah” - we got to watch some mostly defenseless basketball from some guys we’ll see in the ACC.

Austin Rivers, who’s being recruited by Duke and Carolina, was a co-MVP of the game with 15 points for the losing white team. Unfortunately, he sprained his right wrist and even took, and missed, a free throw with his left hand. He’s probably going to miss the next all-star game, which is probably a good thing. Rivers is scheduled to take an official visits to Duke the weekend of Oct. 1 and to UNC the weekend of Oct. 16.

The other co-MVP of the white team was James McAdoo, who has verbally committed to UNC. The MVPs of the winning gold team were Myck Kabongo (verbal, Texas) and Kyle Wiltjer (verbal, Kentucky).

Others included Michael Gbinije (verbal, Duke), Deuce Bello (maybe Florida State or Wake), Quincy Miller (maybe Duke) and Quinn Cook (maybe Duke or Carolina).

I’m just not sure that these tournaments – and there are something like 75 playground tournaments in New York alone – are ultimately helpful. Yes, they play against good competition but defense is suspect at these events, there’s a chance of injury, players become celebrities at a young age, there are some shady hangers on, and there is an atmosphere around the events that may not be the best. In other words, the culture could add to the problems we see with sports agents, troublemaker friends and the attitude that playing college ball is simply a stepping stone to the pros, not a way to get an education. Even NBA careers are short for most who make it.

I’m sure most of those putting on these events are well meaning, good people and I’m sure ESPN has good intentions airing these events (even if the announcers are reminiscent of the Cosby kids when they were all laughing, joking and talking at once) but I can’t help but think it’s not good in the long run.

As one of the announcers said laughingly when someone leaped off the bench onto the floor during the game, “Everywhere else that’s a technical. At Elite 24, it’s encouraged.”

Let’s encourage these young men to conduct themselves well and not thrust themselves into the future already when they may or may not be a star making millions of dollars.

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