From this month's Basketball Times.
Ed. note: What are the differences between the U.S. and European developmental systems? Marc Isenberg visited the Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy, to find out. He discovered a system that has much to envy, and some parts to be ignored.
Article is posted below. Or you can read PDF version.
Article is posted below. Or you can read PDF version.
A thorough exam of the Euro
By Marc Isenberg
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
We have a dysfunctional basketball development system in the United States. The Redeem Team might have gotten USA Basketball back on track last summer at the Beijing Olympics, but the problems run deeper. Youth development is lagging. There are too many disparate and self-serving agendas involved.
Yes, we want to be competitive in basketball and mold fine young men and women. But we also want to use basketball as a vehicle to drive revenue. Just like politics and business, we start out with great, noble concepts, then sell it, milk it, bid up the price and finally wonder why things go awry. It’s the American Way.
When a problem emerges in college athletics, the response is often predictable. Downplay controversy. Absolve blame. Shoot the messenger. Form a “blue-ribbon” task force. Rinse. Repeat.
Basketball is not life or death, but for those who truly care about the game, it is important that we begin to make meaningful change. What makes this moment different from all the other failed reform movements?
Several months ago, my good friend Fran Fraschilla – ESPN analyst, former college head coach and international basketball expert – and I were talking about the differences between basketball development in the United States and abroad. He suggested that I attend the Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy (where he has served as a coach for the last five years), this summer and observe firsthand. Italy. Basketball. Friendly people. Incredible food. Fascinating history. Fantastico!
Fraschilla served as my unofficial guide for the Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy. Not only did Fran and I spend countless hours talking about global basketball issues. Fran also engaged several coaches, scouts, GMs, players and agents in our never-ending discussion.
The purpose of my trip was simple: To learn more about international basketball and to evaluate the pros and cons of development in the United States and abroad.
Eurocamp was founded in 2003 by Pete Philo, former college and European player and current Minnesota Timberwolves scout. The format is simple: bring 48 top European players, ages 18-21, together to showcase their abilities in front of scouts and general managers representing teams from around the world, including the Euroleague and NBA. Philo and his staff run a great camp, which has steadily become more influential since it was founded.
Here are some of my de Tocqueville-like observations of my European adventure:
European basketball places great emphasis on practice. An odd contrast: A giant banner of Reebok endorser Allen Iverson hung in the La Ghirada gym. Like a catchy song you can’t get out of your head: “We're talking about practice, man. We’re talking about practice. We’re not talking about the game.” Exactly. Practice is everything to European players. Fewer games, more practice. Sounds boring, but that is precisely why European basketball improved at an amazing pace. Coaches understand the importance of practice. European players buy in.
The NBA predraft camp was roundly criticized because the agreed-upon format and player agents conspired to keep players from going head-to-head. At Reebok Eurocamp, players participated in intense skill workouts in the morning, then played games the rest of the day. Houston Rocket GM Daryl Morey even tweeted: “The Reebok Eurocamp: Where 5-on-5 happens. Congrats to the Reebok organizers for their radical idea of having the prospects play basketball.”
Competition breeds success. If players want to be the best, they have to beat the best. I am a players’ advocate. I try to view things through the players’ lenses. But when it comes to predraft, I believe NBA teams – which are investing millions in their draft picks – have every right to see players go head to head. Come on agents, just let your clients play ball.
Basketball as a cultural exchange
NCAA rules have, unfortunately, conspired to reduce the impact of foreign players in American basketball. NCAA rules view many foreigner players as professionals simply because they play on teams with professionals. These players are born into a developmental system that is far different than ours. Arturas Karnisovas, who played collegiately at Seton Hall and then played professionally in the NBA and in Europe (he now scouts for the Houston Rockets) pointed out: “The NCAA system penalizes players who are very good and can play on the high level early in their careers. The fact that 17- or 18-year old players can play against older men should not stop them from being eligible to play in NCAA.” If the NCAA bothered to notice, our summer club system professionalizes U.S. players just as much, if not more, than European players. We just call them “amateurs.”
We’re missing a valuable opportunity to improve college basketball and also the development of American players who benefit, both on and off the court, from being around European players. Karnisovas believes European players tend to be more “independent and self-sufficient” than their US counterparts. We need more of these players in college basketball. And we should be sending more U.S. players overseas for basketball and cultural exchange programs.
One Eurocamp player expressed his views on college basketball: “It seems so absurd. Why would I want to go to an American university and only be allowed to play 20-30 hours a week? And why can coaches only work with players two hours per week? That makes no sense. How do players improve? Here, we work out with our coaches four, five hours per day.”
So Europe is developing great basketball at the expense of education? Hardly. The player continued: “I go to university because I want to get an education, not because I want to play basketball. There, I am just a student.” Yes, you can be a student and an athlete. Being a “student-athlete” is a bit more tricky.
Becoming an elite athlete is not normal. Someone once said that Olympic gold-medal winners train 12 hours a day for 12 years. And so do the losers.
Competing at the highest level of basketball – or any sport – is a relentless, unbalanced pursuit.
In order to form a more perfect basketball union
Yes, it is easy to criticize basketball development in our country. There is no perfect system. European basketball is worth examining, but it is not the compete answer. There are flaws in that system as well. For example, European players are truly the property of clubs and federations, where they are not just traded, but are bought and sold.
And Europe does not have college basketball, which, despite its many flaws, is still a great game and a great opportunity for its players.
Kevin Weiberg, who heads the nascent NCAA and NBA joint initiative, iHoops, told USA Today that the partnership is “designed to combat a trend in which the secondary school structure has become less important in the development of young basketball players.”
Yes, it is an unfortunate trend that high-school basketball has become devalued, but this has more to do with budgets in high schools (the ongoing financial crisis is wreaking havoc on sports funding) and the reality of college recruiting (summer is the best, most cost-effective way for schools to evaluate players.)
Bob Hurley, Sr. was one of Eurocamp coaches. In the end, we need more Hurleys coaching in both high school and college, more than we need news conferences, rules and even partnerships. But, hey, the partnership is finally moving forward. The NCAA and NBA reportedly invested $15 million each. Let’s hope they get a decent return on this investment.
Tell us your thoughts on what we can do to improve American basketball development. Please post your comments below. Or email me your comments (firstname.lastname@example.org). Thanks.