In another sign of the coming apocalypse, there are now official national rankings for youth basketball teams.
Let’s just pause for a second and consider that. Sure, Division I, II and III college teams? I get that. Rankings for the metropolitan high school teams? Sure, if the tabloids want to do it, fine. The USA Today national Top 25 for high schools teams? OK, a little fishy but why not?
But ranking fourth graders?
Well, we suppose we should have seen it coming. After all, there are already “national championships” for 2nd graders, and “Phenom” camps, and personal trainers who charge 100 bucks an hour to teach little Johnny to bounce a basketball.
A team called the “Detroit Showtime” was named the No. 1 team of 4th graders in the nation in the Amateur Athletic Union’s first-ever preseason rankings.
The New York-New Jersey area has a few teams in the rankings: Playtime Panthers (4th grade), New Heights and Riverside Hawks (6th grade), Juice All-Stars and New York Gauchos (8th Grade), Malik Sealy All-Stars and NYC Jaguars (10th grade).
What do AAU officials have to say about it? We left messages and sent e-mails without a response.
But here’s what their press release says: “These listings boast the best Division I and Division II Clubs in the country!”
And: “Teams listed in the ‘Top AAU Basketball Club Power Rankings’ consist of the nation’s top basketball talent. Many of these athletes will develop into the next NCAA and NBA superstars.”
We did manage to reach Jim Fox, governor of New York Metro AAU region and the Executive Director of the Long Island Lightning, a top local program.
“I chuckled when I saw it,” he says. “I don’t know the validity of it. I think they must be trying to generate interest.”
What about those rankings for 4th, 5th and 6th grade teams?
“I am not a fan of player ratings,” Fox says. “I get a kick out of it when people say this kid is one of the top ten 12 years olds. We have to be vigilant in the culture for that. These phenom camps and all that. It’s ridiculous how kids jump from one team to another. Do i think it has an effect on the kids? Yes.”
Similarly, Nick Blatchford, executive director of New Heights NYC, has misgivings about rankings. “As a rule of thumb, I have a big problem with rankings in general,” says Blatchford, whose program offers highly competitive basketball and educational programs to about 200 kids ages 10-17. “It sends the wrong message. It becomes about how high you are in the rankings, rather than fun, skill development and teamwork.”
“Kids get a false sense of reality,” he adds. “You haven’t even hit puberty. Who knows how tall you will be, how strong you will be. It’s way too early to make those predictions. Rankings set kids up to focus on the wrong things.”
So, where’s it all going? Maybe toward the professionalization of youth sports?
We’re kidding here, of course, but let’s just play out the logic here, and suggest why not just have an NBA for kids. There’s a Swiftian “Modest Proposal.”
Let’s do away with the BS and just pay kids to play. The more competitive teams already play something like two tournaments a week year round, and practice at least two times a week. A lot of teams practice five times a week. It’s pretty much a job already. So, seriously: contracts, agents, drafts, the works.
Anyone want to invest?