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For the Young Stars of the Future, Clean Up Hoops at Its Highest Levels

by on February 27, 2018 4:30 AM

Last Monday evening I was privileged to be at the Kiwanis Club dinner that recognized four State College High School basketball players – two from the girls team and two from the boys team – for their performance during the annual Holiday Basketball Tournament in late December.

It was a pleasure to be in the company of such fine young student-athletes and listen to their coaches speak so highly of them. And for those of the political persuasion who might be looking for future candidates, it’s clear that Loren Crispell, the State College Area School District assistant director of athletics, can give a stump speech from the heart with the best of them.

Then later that week both the State College girls and boys teams went on to win District 6 titles and punch their tickets into their respective PIAA class 6A tournaments, which start next month. The boys team has achieved a 23-1 record and sports three future NCAA Division I athletes – one of whom will be playing basketball at Princeton next year.

Which is indicative of the type of young women and men playing basketball in this area – not only on the State High team but at Saint Joseph's Catholic Academy and the other county schools. And in intramurals as well. Joe Battista, my compatriot Tuesday columnist for, and I have sons who play on the same intramural basketball team at State High. Just yesterday they won the school’s IM championship. We think they’re pretty special young guys.

There are lots and lots of good kids in Happy Valley, which makes you wonder what they have to look forward to if they pursue basketball to the next step and beyond.

At the college level we are but days away from a new month and the beginning of that annual roundball event – March Madness. Could there be a better name? It’s an athletic event known to most casual basketball fans for one reason – betting in an office pool. And it’s an event that almost single-handedly supports an institution that engenders a few negative feelings among many Penn State fans – the NCAA. For the fiscal year-ending Aug. 31, 2016 the NCAA reported total revenue of $971 million. $922 million of which came from television rights fees, and championships (primarily March Madness) and NIT. A point the President of the NCAA acknowledges, “… we can’t support anything else we love unless we’re successful in Division I men’s basketball.”

And yet what has been in the news more and more recently? An ongoing FBI investigation into men’s college basketball where players and coaches may have violated NCAA rules and/or were linked to impermissible benefits. But many have become jaded by such allegations – going back to the 1960s and 70s and legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, who some say won 10 NCAA championships with the assistance of notorious booster Sam Gilbert, or to the multiple point-shaving scandals involving different teams through the years.

The feeling is that’s the way it’s done and it’s always been that way, so why would today be any different? Every so often someone gets caught, but otherwise it’s business as usual. A fine life message for our impressionable youth.

Then at the professional level what kind of example is the NBA setting? Two weeks ago I saw an advertisement from the NBA that sets an interesting precedent. The NBA called out its stars who write customary open letters to their fans when they switch teams, telling them these open letters are an art form – they need to be earnest, not cliché; humble, not wistful; excited, not overzealous.

And the NBA lets these players know that they are taking care of their NBA fans for them. If a fan buys a jersey from the NBA Store, and the player switches teams by trade or free agency within 90 days after the jersey purchase – or a whole year if the purchase is made with a specific credit card – the fan has 14 days to exchange it for free. So the fans don’t do “some not-so-nice things” to the jerseys. Which I guess is just the NBA admitting what we already know on some level – it’s the pros and everybody is in it for the money.

The players have no affinity for their teams/cities and switch for money, or management trades them for money, and it happens so frequently the NBA came up with a jersey exchange program. And although it may be a hard truth, again, it’s quite a message for our youth.

In the past on this website I’ve expressed my disdain for the current rules of basketball which create an incentive to purposely foul and be charged with a violation near the end of a game, something I see as also sending a wrong message to our kids. From that column and the above, some might gather that I don’t care for basketball. That would be wrong.

Ever since James Naismith invented basketball in 1891 by nailing up peach baskets so athletes could play something that would keep them in shape during the winter, basketball has been a game for everyone. You don’t need a big outdoor field, or expensive equipment, or a special skill to play. Drive through any neighborhood in Happy Valley and you’ll see driveway after driveway sporting basketball hoops. Dribbling and shooting baskets are rites of passage for the kids of America.

And we have these great youthful Happy Valley basketball ambassadors who will go on to continue their education – and get involved in a sport that has been dirtied. I don’t hold out much hope that those in power will make any significant changes to clean up that dirt before these young adults get there, but maybe, just maybe, the young adults will be the ones who make a difference after they’re there. I know it would make me pay a lot more attention to the college and professional levels of this sport.

Anybody wanna go shoot some hoops?

John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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