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Dave Fairbank's column
COLUMN: Going the extra mile(s)
By Dave Fairbank | firstname.lastname@example.org
HAMPTON -- As usual, Boo Williams fields one of the best teams in his annual boys basketball showcase this weekend. What's unusual is the absence of area players on that team.
Only five of 14 kids on Boo's 17-and-under roster are from Hampton Roads. His best players are from Wilmington, N.C., and Richmond and Greensboro, N.C., and Dumfries and Centreville - imports that figure to give him one of the country's elite teams on the upcoming summer circuit.
Why so few local kids? Because of the changing nature of AAU basketball and Boo's long-standing relationship with athletic giant Nike.
As Boo said, "I didn't make the rules. I'm just trying to play by them."
Many top-shelf AAU programs have taken advantage of rules that allow them to stretch beyond their neighborhoods and even state borders to recruit players. Nike expects its primary programs, of which Boo's is one, to win and to compete for championships.
Therefore, as competition stiffens, the pressure increases to field a quality team and to keep the money spigot open.
In the meantime, Williams has expanded his entire program. He has 15-and-under boys and girls teams, comprised almost exclusively of local kids, that travel to tournaments. He has expanded his futures program for younger kids.
All of it requires money.
Boo said that his 17-and-under boys team "is the flagship of the whole program. They carry the load."
Think of his program, he said, like a major college athletic department that depends on football to keep the entire department afloat financially.
"If Alabama isn't good in football, it doesn't just kill the football program, it kills the non-revenue sports, too," Boo said. "We could use all local kids. The problem is, it would kill your whole program."
Right about now, alarms are going off in purists' heads. They're working up a good lather about youth basketball and the opportunities of teenagers being tied to the largesse of shoe companies, which do very little solely out of the goodness of their freeze-dried hearts.
The truth is, all of this is simply a part of an American basketball culture rife with complex problems and well-intended solutions that resulted in unintended consequences.
College-recruiting restrictions created mismatched players and programs, leading to more transfers.
The NBA rookie salary cap prompted a wave of high school players jumping to the league to complete their early servitude as quickly as possible.
The NBA's requirement of a one-year wait for high school players is likely to create a legion of college one-and-dones that will jeopardize a program's academic standing, or be nothing more than an educational sham.
Limiting public-school schedules and the amount of contact that public-school coaches can have with their players increases the influence of AAU and summer-league coaches and has caused private-school programs of varying integrity to sprout forth.
"The problem is, the whole game has changed," Boo said. "Once they expanded it to allow teams to get kids from outside the state, it changed everything.
"For us to be successful, we'll have to do some things in the long haul that will help the younger kids develop. But it's always going to be a situation where you have to have outside help, unless they change the rules."
Imports aren't new to Boo's program. He had West Virginia product Patrick Patterson a year ago. He had guards Eric Hayes and Scottie Reynolds from Northern Virginia and J.J. Redick from Roanoke. In 1997, Louisiana import Stromile Swift, now earning an NBA paycheck, helped Boo's team to the title of this tournament.
But the extent of the outside help this year is unprecedented.
Boo has been to places such as Serbia and Brazil to see the programs they've implemented to develop young players.
He hopes that the new facility in Hampton that's being built in conjunction with the city - the "Boo-Plex" for lack of a better term - will provide a consistent venue for player development.
"We need to do more with training," he said. "Right now, we're playing games. What we need to do now is get back to the basics. And it's got to be the young kids. I think that'll help everybody. It'll give the high schools a better product, it'll give everybody a better product."
And maybe in the future, Boo's program won't have to look so far, so often for elite players.
HRvarsity administrator / email@example.com
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