There seems to be a dirty little secret in New York. A secret that no one talks about openly but everybody seems to be aware of.
There's been a steady decrease in the quality of NYC's talent pool. A decline that seems to have begun about five years ago but who many believe has now reached critical mass. NYCHoops.net spoke with some of New York's go-to-guys to get their take on why and how this phenomenon has happened.
Some people believe that the decline in quality and quantity is based on demographics. That most of the superior NYC players are now playing outside of New York. "Better players leave," says Thomas Jefferson high school's head coach Lawrence "Bud" Pollard of the PSAL. Christ the King Royals head coach Joe Arbitello of the CHSAA concurs but says that the drought is just a reoccurring theme. "Players leaving? I think it goes in cycles, "says Arbitello.
Gary Charles, who runs the NY Panthers AAU team, agrees that the talent pool is cyclical but attributes a good portion of the mass exodus to players attending Prep schools outside of New York. Charles gave as an example, "[NYC] players like Terrell Holloway and Brian Williams who attended prep schools outside of New York, went to colleges near their prep schools."
Another widely held belief for the quality drop-off in the NY talent pool is the lack of fundamentals training. "[There's] too much AAU basketball and no skill development," says Hakiem Yahmadi, director of the, MetroHawks AAU program. Yahmadi points to a players tutelage during the high school season as a part of the problem adding, "Some of those guys are just shop teachers with no basketball skills. It's like a dog chasing its tail. [It] seems like we're just going in circles."
Many NY players have aspirations of playing professional basketball and some place the blame on the over-abundance of advisors and mentors giving players unsound recruiting advice. "They wanna listen to guy that's broke about how to get rich. I never understood that," says Charles questioning why student-athletes would seek advice from inexperienced people. "Some players are ready for D-1 and some are not. You've got to be honest with them," says Charles.
Bernard Bowen is a mentor and advisor to Arizona bound Sidiki Johnson amongst others. Johnson transferred from St. Raymond HS in the Bronx,NY and under Bowen's guidance is finishing up his high school career at Oakhill, a prep school in Virginia. Bowen was quick to rebut saying, don't point the finger at him. "People can say what they want about Bernard Bowen but at the end of the day it's about getting my kids prepared for college. A lot of these guys are in it for the money." Bowen cites New York's urban environment as a major culprit. "After these kids leave practice [late at night], you don't know where they're going or what they're doing." In addition, Bowen feels that the level of play in NYC schools does not get student-athletes prepared for major D-1 schools athletically or academically. "They're just not ready," says Bowen. "At Oakhill, Sidiki gets to play against better competition and he's under adult supervision."
Long Island Lightning-Dingle coach Abdu Torrence says the quality of talent is actually not going down in New York. "I think the players are still at the same level but I think that the players around the country have evolved at a faster rate."
One person who has a unique perspective is Kimani Young. As both a travelling AAU coach with New Heights and an assistant coach with Rice HS in Harlem, NY, Young paints a more national brush. "Basketball is down all over. When I grew up, we played in the parks. There were no nutritionists or personal trainers. We played against bigger, stronger, older players and we learned how to think. [The older players] took ownership in teaching younger players." Young believes that today's youth are the "AAU generation" who want instant gratification. "They want to be on the front page of the newspaper as a sophomore and expect to start on the varsity team as a freshman."
Young says basketball is down in all the huge media markets like New York, Los Angeles and Texas. "[Basketball] is still going strong in blue collar towns like Washington, D.C., Philly, Virginia, Florida, Atlanta, Oklahoma, Ohio," says Young. "Places where people still respect hard work."
While there is no right answer, the conclusion remains the same. New York City basketball relative to the rest of the country has shifted. The diminishing quantity of marquee players over the years has even rebranded New York according to some. While historically, New York is still known as the 'Mecca' of basketball, Charles says, "We don't own the license any more."
The amount of quality talent playing in New York has dwindled. Whether or not it's just a momentary lull remains to be seen. When it's all said and done, New York talent is still an important force in college and professional basketball recruitment. But what about tomorrow?