Exposing Talent or Getting Exposed

5/2/2008

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By Clay Kallam
HoopGurlz Columnist
Friday, May 2, 2008 In his second column for ESPN, HoopGurlz Clay Kallam digs into the myths of exposure and the need for development.

There's a difference between getting exposure and getting exposed - and it's one that young players and their families need to understand.

Spring, summer and fall, teams build their schedules around the NCAA's viewing periods (when college coaches are allowed to watch players). Organizers brag about how many schools will be there, and AAU coaches plan their itineraries accordingly.

But does it really matter if a 13-and-under team is playing in a big tournament with Geno and Pat in the main gym? And does anyone outside the small circle of friends notice if a middle schooler goes for 20 and 10?

The answers to both are, pretty obviously, ‘no.' College coaches start to zero in on players after their sophomore season in high school, and those who emerge at that point are going to wind up getting what they deserve.

And that phrase - getting what they deserve - is crucial. Not all talented basketball players will get scholarships. Very few will play for a BCS school. A tiny minority will ever play professionally, overseas or in the WNBA.

So for the vast majority of players, "exposure" is meaningless. They're just having fun playing the game, and trying to get better so they can have a good high school experience. Of course, the college-bound players are also trying to get better, and also want a good high school experience, so there's really little difference between the two groups - prior to that summer after the sophomore year.

But often girls are pushed, by coaches or parents, to get out on the circuit as soon as they can. They travel at age 12, and play in national tournaments as soon as they can. This does serve a limited purpose, as it challenges a young player, and lets her know where she stands against other kids her own age.

Far more important, however, is something that is too easily lost in the glamor of trophies and tournament titles: Developing skills. It's one thing to have talent; it's quite another to spend the hours and hours honing that talent. Veteran coaches know all too well that everybody gets excited for games, and will work hard to win. They also know that most players will focus in practice, and give a good effort 90% of the time. But they realize that the serious player is the one who puts in the hard time when no one else is around. She's the one making 250 jumpers a day on an asphalt court in August. She's the one doing solo sprint work on the track in September. And if she's really lucky, her parents and coaches could care less if she travels to Atlanta for a tournament when she's 13.

Sure, exposure is nice, but even if a college coach happens to stumble across a national tournament game with younger kids, what she's going to notice isn't the athletic dominance of the better athletes - that's expected. What she's going to look for are fundamentals: Can the girl go both ways? Can she finish with her weak hand? Does she defend? Does she have good form on her jumper?

The young player who always goes right, can't make a lefthanded layup and has an outside shot that looks like it was put together with spare parts from a '65 VW may be scoring all the points and getting all the rebounds, but one other thing is happening too: She's getting exposed.

If the goal is to impress college coaches, then exposure doesn't mean anything until a player is fundamentally sound in all aspects of the game - and that doesn't come without hundreds of hours of skill work. And, just to be clear, playing in a tournament every weekend doesn't count as skill work, nor does practicing a 2-3 zone and five different inbounds plays twice a week.

On top of that, young girls should be playing against older kids as much as possible. Sure, the star on the Under-12 team can rip it up against those her own age, but the sooner she starts challenging herself by going down to the high school open gym and letting some faster, stronger, smarter 17-year-old work her over, the better it will be for her game.

The goal, after all, is to be ready the summer after the sophomore season. That's when exposure matters, and that's when scholarships are won and lost. But for a younger player, too many games, too many tournaments and not enough time spent on fundamentals will turn getting that exposure into getting exposed - and college coaches will quickly move on to watch the girl who has a complete game to go along with her raw talent.

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