Traveling Team Circuit In Illinois Is As Strong As Ever

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By Roy & Harv Schmidt

After watching most all of the top travel teams in Illinois in both the 17 and 16-under divisions this past weekend at the King James Shooting Stars Classic in Akron, OH, we are convinced that all of them can hold their own with any of the top programs in the nation. As a result, AAU ball in the state of Illinois is as strong as ever. However, the reasons for us saying that go far beyond just the talent level.

First of all, let's take a look at how some of the teams that competed in Akron fared. In the 17-under division, the Rising Stars Gold advanced to the championship game of the diamond bracket, which was the elite bracket featuring the premier teams in the tournament. Despite falling to BABC in the title game, there is no question that the Rising Stars Gold team enjoyed a most successful weekend.

Meanwhile, Mean Streets reached the quarterfinals in the 17-under diamond bracket, defeating the loaded Mac Irvin Fire squad in the process, and the Chicago Express reached the semifinals of the ruby bracket. The Illinois Warriors, Mac Irvin Fire and Team NLP also achieved impressive victories. In the 16-under division, the Illinois Warriors reached the semifinals of the gold bracket while the Rising Stars won the championship in the silver bracket. All in all, most all of the Illinois-based teams that were in Akron can hold their heads high.

There is no question that all of the top travel teams from Illinois that played at King James, including Rising Stars Gold, the Mac Irvin Fire, the Illinois Warriors, the Illinois Wolves, Team NLP, Mean Streets, Full Package, the Chicago Express, Illinois Elite and the Illinois Stars are stacked with talented players at the top. Obviously that is a huge factor when it comes to explaining why these programs have been so successful, but there is much more to it than that.

In addition, all of these programs have quality roll players, hidden gems if you will who have either fallen under the radar or have gone unnoticed by many others. On the Warriors, we knew virtually nothing about 6'6 Kyle Cain from Thornton Fractional North High School prior to the King James event. However, after watching him we agree completely with Warriors coach Larry Butler when he says that Cain will end up being better than former T.F. North product Demond Watt. The Fire, meanwhile, has a pair of unheralded guards in 6'5 Tony Nixon and 6'5 Zeke Upshaw, who can both shoot the ball with accuracy from deep range.

On Team NLP Lake Zurich's Connor Mooney immediately comes to mind. While Lake Forest Academy's Kyle Rowley grabs most of the headlines with Full Package, 6'4 shooting guard Matt Vogrich from Lake Forest and 6'4 swing man Matt Sullivan are just as valuable. On Mean Streets the athleticism and energy that 6'5 Jordan Walker from Hales Franciscan brings to the table goes underappreciated. While virtually every member of the starting five for Rising Stars Gold is a high major D1 prospect, Marcus Jordan from Whitney Young continues to get a bum wrap on the national level, despite the fact that at one time he was regarded by many locals (including us) as the #1 player in Illinois from the class of 2009. We could go on and on, but we think everyone gets our point.

Above everything else, every aforementioned program is also filled with quality kids. Not only are the majority of them talented basketball players, they are also good students and conduct themselves with the utmost class off the court. We can't stress enough how important that is to any travel team's success. The bottom line is that most travel team coaches do not want the headaches that accompany putting up with kids who have bad attitudes, lousy work ethics and simply prove to be uncoachable.

Which leads us to the coaches themselves. You name em--Larry Butler, Mac Irvin, Mike Weinstein, Mike Mullins, Dickey Simpkins, Tai Streets, Steve Pratt and Nate Pomeday. What do they all have in common besides coaching extremely talented teams? They all care just as much about their players' development away from the court as they do on it. That is why they have come to be coaches that parents have come to trust and are comfortable with having their kids play for. There really is something to be said for that.

With all of this having been said, not only is traveling team basketball in Illinois here to stay, but at the present time we firmly believe that it is headed in the right direction and has come a long way with respect to erasing the negative impressions that many had when it first began. In fact, if it continues to follow the paths that we have outlined in this blog, we see it only getting better and better in the future.

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11 Comments

Well your forgetting the Chicago Elite/Illinois Heat 16under team that played 17 under this week that went to the final 8 in the gold bracket. also the rising stars won the bronze bracket.

Roy & Harv Respond:

Unfortunately, the Chicago Elite team was one that we did not get a chance to see while we were in Akron. However, we extend our congratulations to them, as they did an outstanding job in reaching the final eight in the gold bracket and feature several outstanding players including Lavonte Dority from Foreman.

While I do believe the coaches care about their players 'off the court' behavior, I wanted to point out that these travelling teams force kids to miss several days of school over the weekends. Kids travel to Florida, New York, Ohio, Texas... often leaving on Friday mornings so they can get there on time. The students must therefore miss days of school.

THIS IS WRONG

Kids should not miss school because of athletics.

Phil


Roy & Harv Respond:

Phil,

Your points are well-taken.

ATHLETES THESE DAYS ARE DISCIPLINED ENOUGH TO MAKE
UP CLASS ASSIGNMENTS IF THEY DO MISS SCHOOL, BECAUSE
OF TRAVEL SITUATIONS, MOST OF THESE HIGHLY SKILLED
ATHLETES USUALLY END UP AT HIGH PROFILE COLLEGES
ANYWAY WHERE THEY WILL MISS CLASS TIME BECAUSE OF
TRAVELING WITH THE TEAM, WE MUST ALLOW OUR ATHLETES
TO MISS CLASS AND WE MUST ALLOW OUR ATHLETES TO MAKE
UP ASSIGNMENTS MISSED BECAUSE OF TRAVEL!
THIS ISN'T GOING ON JUST IN ILLINOIS, THESE ARE
POSITIVE EVENTS, LET'S BE SUPPORTIVE!

It is absolutely unfortunate that we do not see the price that these children are paying to ride this conveyor belt to to become basketball players. I agree with Phil, these kids should not be missing school in order to play AAU basketball. Whether they can make up the classes or not is not the issue, in my mind. What we are doing is giving them the message that AAU is more important than school or any other obligations that may have for that matter. It's unfortunate that no one seems to see that the majority of these children are so socially underdeveloped that the only thing that they will be prepared to do is play basketball when they get to college, for the ones that are fortunate enough to make it. I think it is perverse to feed children a steady diet of basketball, fast food and a bunch of travel at the expense of every thing else in life that they need to live in this world. So in the end, this AAU thing is does a total disservive to these children on so many different levels. The vast and overwhelming majority of them will never become professional athletes, so what happens then? Again, it's unfortunate.

I would like to mention that the IL. Wolverines 16U team made it to the Final 4 in the Bronze division before losing to Rising Stars 69 - 64.

PHIL SMITH JR,

School comes first. PERIOD.

The average student (teenage - high school) is not mature enough to learn the material without supervision. Experienced teachers know what words to use when explaining a lesson. These "Athlete-students" miss out of important data when they miss classes.

Also, assuming a student will just "make up the work" is naive. Most high school (and college) students will do enough to get a grade. It is the job of the educator to show them there is more to the subject than just 'a grade for eligibility'. How many classes and how much knowledge does the average "Athlete-student" miss?
How many D-1 athletes play a year or two in community college because of grades?
The community, the schools and the media should be pushing education first. Afterall, about 99% of the students missing classes will actually play in the NBA. What will the rest do?

It's sad that people don't see the bigger picture. These kids are student-athletes with great emphasis on student! To even play Basketball/Baseball, etc, you are required by your parents/coaches to have a certain GPA. Additionally, this is an outlet for so many inner city kids that would otherwise be involved in mischief. I personally know that some kids are required to miss a week for baseball conditionaing but no one is even talking about that! Others sports often require kids to miss a day or two from school and the trade off for so many african american boys is that they are going to College (for free) but if it wasn't for this outlet they would probably be on the 10pm news like so many of our young men. Now you choose which one you'd rather have them involed in. Unfortuneately, parents are not as involved in the process as they should. In the end I'd much rather see hundreds of kids bouncing a basketball that shooting a gun or hanging on the corner.

Roy & Harv Respond:

Great comments!!

The bigger picture. Let's look at it for a minute. It is unfortunate if truly believe that these children and in particular African-American boys only options in life are to either play basketball or become involved in mischief as Jenine so aptly put it. I only hope that the children you are speaking of don't share that same belief. If so, than you are correct that is what they will end up doing. And here again we are talking sending socially and academically underprepared children into an environment (college) that they are simply not prepared to navigate. So what happens when they do not get the opportunity to play basketball professionally? They end up participating in those very same activities that Jenine is speaking to. And why? Because these children were never provided any opportunities to be anything other than basketball players. So many of us treat college like it is the holy grail for inner-city children but what we fail to talk about is the fact the less than 5 percent of them will ever come close to graduating and by that I am talking about these 'Student-Athletes' that you speak of. Therefore they become the next generation of young men who are not prepared to function in life. One last thought, nothing in life is free. In fact, there is nothing in life more expensive than free.

Roy & Harv Respond:

Again, great comments!! Glad to see that this blog has elicited well-thought out responses on everyone's part.

I DIDN'T SAY THAT SCHOOL SHOULDN'T COME FIRST!
DON'T PUT WORDS IN MY MOUTH, THE PROBLEM WITH THE
ADULTS SOMETIMES IS THAT EITHER YOU DON'T WANT KIDS
TO BE SUCCESSFUL OR MAYBE YOU WEREN'T THAT GREAT OF
AN ATHLETE, SO YOU DON'T WANT THE YOUNGSTERS OF TODAY
TO BENEFIT FROM TRAVELING AROUND THE COUNTRY, IT'S THE
PARENTS WHO HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE SURE YOUR
SON OR DAUGHTER MAKES UP ASSIGNMENTS, YOU HAVE YOUNG
MEN AND WOMEN WHO ARE SCOUTS, CHEERLEADERS, AND OTHER
GREAT ACTIVITIES THAT CAUSE THEM TO TRAVEL, DON'T TAKE
AWAY THEIR FUTURES BECAUSE YOU SAY THEY SHOULDN'T MISS
A DAY OF SCHOOL, I WOULD ADVISE ALL OF YOU WHO THINK
THIS WAY TO START THINKING LIKE YOU'RE IN THE 21ST
CENTURY!

Jr. in response to your comments, how can this amount of travel possibly benefit these children when all they see are the inside of gyms, fast-food restaurants and their hotel rooms when they are on the road? Any responsible adult can see that this is an unhealthy mix for anyone, let alone young people. The sad commentary is the fact that the parents of these children are involved and do condone this.

Has anyone taken into account the mental and physical wear and tear that we are subjecting these children to? In many cases, they travel, by either plane or car, on Friday in order to start a tournament that very same day. They wake up and play anywhere between 2 to 4 games on Saturday and if they win play a couple of games on Sunday. And all this is done while eating fast-food all day and more than likely not getting proper rest. A professional athlete's life is not that rigorous. So to think that we ask this much of children as early as 10 or 11 is to me unthinkable! And somehow we justify this behavior because some of them get college scholarships.

In the final analysis, for these children (athletes as you call them)the price is way too high.

i love the jealous parents who kids don't make the team complaining on here. especially the narrow minded comment
"they won't make the NBA" da!! lets give it a little more thought. gee maybe it will open up a college education to kids or a better university. so getting an oppurtunity from junior college to D1 is a bad thing. couldn't count the cases where the degree was the most important thing to come from aau. then there are the good work habits developed from working hard to be that good. the joy of success, the humbling of defeat, etc...........
quit crying

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This page contains a single entry by Roy & Harv Schmidt published on April 28, 2008 5:36 PM.

A Little Of This And That was the previous entry in this blog.

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