Monday, August 24, 2009

Is a Basketball Scholarship Worth This: Coach Abuse

Everybody knew Triple Threat could boost your daughter's basketball future. Several friends sent their daughters down to Portland to be exposed to Howard Avery's disciplined methods. Parents knew Avery had contacts among coaches, and his word in an ear could get their daughter noticed by all level of college basketball coaches who swarm around his program.

Avery embodied how the the infection that festers in the pre-college world of boy's basketball had arrived big time in girl/women's basketball. Young girls now play basketball from the age of eight. Their middle class and working class parents invest money in camps and club teams from the age of ten. The girls travel on teams, often without parents, after the age of 12. By 13 college coaches are watching these teams and picking up name for their computerized mailing lists. Scouting web sites hype names for the great mentioner's radar.

AAU travelling teams and related camps are the real breeding ground for the fallen world of basketball scholarship recruting. High school ball is a sideshow for most kids. College coaches, with the budgets, swoop on the summer or holiday tournaments to be seen and see. Now they often pay fees for the opportunity to watch 13 year olds play. AAU coaches charge high fees for team membership and provide subsidized "scholarships" for high quality athletes who can't afford them. Lots of the travel and practice is subsidized by shoe companies.

This nether world is totally unregulated. It falls between college and high school. No conferences or state high school associations have jurisdiction. It spawns entrepeneurs, fixers, dreams and nightmares. Too many parents now see sports as an investment in college and beyond. For many kids locked into hopeless cycles, sports and the AAU world of travel, regular food and clothes offers a way out.

It's unregulated, driven by unrealistic dreams and money to be made. It also is rife with abuse of so many kinds it is impossible to touch on all of them. But this month Howard Avery was convicted of sexual abuse of one of the young women he taught. He'd been shadowed by years of rumors, but his kids stayed silenced, their parents defended him, and the shoe companies supported him.

Avery swears other coaches are doing the same. Too much is at stake to let this world continue without scrutiny or regulation.

(picture courtesy Clackamas County Sheriff)

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