JF

Last Friday I had the opportunity to see my alma mater Benilde -St Margaret’s (BSM) play perennial powerhouse Hopkins in a bit of early season basketball. Both teams were ranked second in their respective classes, and it seemed a great opportunity to fill the basketball void brought on by finals, a road trip to visit the grandparents, and an inexplicable untelevised tournament in Las Vegas.

I was the basketball manager my final two seasons in high school. We had a pretty good team the four years I was in high school. Conference championships were expected, along with an inevitable crushing defeat in the section playoffs. The best players on those teams often went on to play D-III basketball, and couple went on to play at pretty decent D-II schools. Thankfully, we never had to deal with the circus that follows a D-I recruit. While we most certainly would have won a few more games, and maybe even beaten Minneapolis Henry in the sections, after Friday I can honestly say it might not have been worth it.

More people need to watch Hoop Dreams, not only because it an excellent documentary, but because it will remind fans, players, and coaches that before the high school superstar is a pretty jump shot, quick feet, or a vertical leap, he (or she) is a person facing challenges that most 17 year-olds would rather do without. Most 17 year-olds struggle with figuring out who they are, what they want to be, how to get there, where to go to school, let alone getting good enough grades and dealing with all sorts of drama that leave me looking back and asking why we all devote so much energy to things that just aren’t worth it when we are young.

For a high school basketball star, add on to all that dealing with being wooed by college coaches, being constantly told you are the second coming of whomever came before, balancing school and basketball, and generally not having much time or energy to devote to being a 17 year-old kid.

The stresses of early success appear to be catching to a few of the kids who will be making a name for themselves on a much bigger stage in the next few years.

Jordan Taylor, BSM’s first coming (yes, current NBA’er Devean George went to BSM, but there wasn’t much hype surrounding him until he grew half a foot taller in college) looks like he is struggling, at least on the court, so far this season. Against Hopkins he didn’t play particularly well. In fact, his performance was very similar to how he played in last year’s Class AAA championship game. He forced shots, made poor decisions, forgot that he has teammates, and most importantly, didn’t look like he was having any fun. And why would he? With opposing fans chanting “over rated” and with his own fans expecting a miracle every time he touched the ball, why would he as 17 year-old kid not either expect that he could indeed do everything or try to do everything just to get the Hopkins fans to shut up? It is an awful lot of pressure for anyone. Jordan Taylor became more important than the game.

Future Gopher Colton Iverson is facing many of the same challenges. His statistics aren’t great so far until one considers what he is facing.

Think the Brandon Valley players got a little rough with Yankton’s Colton Iverson Friday night? Think that their fans were heckling him for no reason? I’ve got one thing to say to you: “Get used to it.”

Brandon Valley fans started letting Iverson have it the second he walked onto the floor to warm up for the season opener at the Summit Center. They kept going throughout the game, and didn’t let up until well after the Lynx’s 64-54 victory was finished.

On the court, Yankton’s 6-10 big man couldn’t move on offense without one, two or more players on him. Their five players on the inside combined for 11 fouls, most of which were committed knocking the future Minnesota Golden Gopher to the floor.

It’s not going to get any easier, either.

Just two years ago, we saw teams rough up Tate Pesicka on the floor and opposing fans heckle him off it. A few years further back, we saw our own fans contribute to the state-wide attacks on Mitchell’s Mike Miller.

As long as we have star players, we are going to have teams doing everything they can to stop them, and we’re going to have fans that will try to psych them out. Hopefully they all remember that this is just a game and, 10 years from now when they’re trying to get Iverson’s autograph at an NBA game, they can look him in the eye because they didn’t contribute to bad treatment he received as a senior in high school.

It might actually make more sense to focus on how a high school player does his Junior year, before they wear a target on their back every time they take the court. While late bloomers have to deal with the anxiety of whether or not they will get a chance to play for their first choice school, or a scholarship at all, at least they can focus on being a kid playing a game.

But Juniors, at least the sure-fire D-I recruits, don’t have it easy either. Royce White of De LaSalle and Rodney Williams of Robbinsdale Cooper are both probable D-I players and top 100 recruits. Both have also run into off court problems in the last couple of weeks.

I write this not to disparage anyone, or to suggest that any of the above players won’t be successful college players, but to remind us all, including myself, that these are just kids who make mistakes, who don’t always make the right decisions, and don’t always play the perfect game.

Being involved with high school basketball was nothing but a joy for me, and I hope everyone, regardless of their exceptional talent level and superstar aspirations, can have a joyful experience too.