By Joe Henricksen
I am personally not a fan of publicly hyping or being quoted on the future of 6th, 7th and 8th grade basketball prospects. It's been the rare occasion when I have, most recently so in regard to Thomas Hamilton, Jr., a talented 7th grader with the talent, size and bloodlines that peaks people's interest. But the trend of actually ranking junior high players makes no sense.
There is no doubt the trend of being infatuated with players 11, 12 and 13 years old is picking up steam. All you have to do is look at the recruiting landscape, where major college programs are now offering players before they have even entered high school. And there is no doubt in my mind that the younger players today are more skilled, advanced and play at a higher level than young players did a decade or two ago. That's mostly due to the amount of high-level games and tournaments they are playing earlier in their careers -- and, typically, against older competition.
But actually ranking junior high players? It's absolutely ludicrous.
First, there is no talent evaluator/recruiting analyst out there that has seen all -- or even the majority -- of the top 7th and 8th grade talent in any state or throughout the country. It's difficult enough scouring the state and country for high school talent, dotting your I's, crossing your T's, making sure you've seen every player that needs to be seen. Even then a few will slip through the cracks. But any hard-working talent evaluator/recruiting analyst will have seen nearly every player in time, which is when a ranking can be done fairly and with true objectiveness.
This is why a junior high ranking is laughable and a concern. A young kid (we'll call him Player A) is ranked as the 10th best 7th grader in his class by some individual talent evaluator/recruiting analyst, who knows and will admit there are dozens of players he has not even seen or heard of. After more and more players are evaluated over time, more talented players are discovered. It's only natural. We are talking about 12-year olds, after all. Thus, the ranking of "Player A" will most likely fall. Suddenly that young kid, "Player A," sees his ranking fall from 10th in his class to 43rd or wherever he may fall in two years, though no fault of "Player A." He should never have been ranked in the first place. Nonetheless, a young, talented player is spotted in junior high and a ranking is bestowed on them.
I am not naive in saying this. I know there are rare examples, which is why a handful of college coaches have changed their recruiting philosophies and offered junior high kids. There are the exceptions to the rule of "being too young" or it's "too early to truly evaluate a player at that age." Anyone that watched a glimpse of Derrick Rose as an 8th grader just knew. And the aforementioned Thomas Hamilton, Jr. isn't too far behind. There are a few that will be at the top then and stay there until the day they graduate from high school.
But to rank large groups of players at that age when they have only been watched a couple of times, when they haven't even physically or mentally matured yet and dozens of others their age haven't even been seen? Again, ludicrous. And I don't even want to get into the junior high exposure camps and leagues. Oh, no! Might those players never be discovered if not for the junior high exposure "experience?" Please!