Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. The event featured 64 college seniors auditioning in front of 30 NBA teams as well as numerous NBDL and international teams. This was my 11th time attending the PIT and I came away with a distinct feeling that our game is disintegrating in front of our very eyes.
The format hasn’t changed since I’ve attended 8 teams featuring 8 players per team. The players get a practice or two for coaches to put their offenses and defenses in and then its off to the races. Each team plays roughly three games throughout the week . Most of the players I’ve seen coming up in the high school ranks where some were considered the top players in the country before they entered college. The question that comes up is how do players go from being one of the top players in the country to battling for their basketball lives in a high school gym in Virginia? For the most part players that participate in this event are not draft prospects, but do have a chance of playing in the NBA at some point. Most of the players in the event will be on D League rosters or lower to mid level international league participants.
My second question is with 30 NBA teams to audition for as well as many other professional teams looking to spend money on players why do so many second round prospects skip this event? I understand the players that are for the most part a sure fire first round pick passing on the invitation, but for the players that are on that bubble I have no idea what they are thinking about. Every year you hear about these players that skip Portsmouth, because they don’t want to hurt their stock. Here’s a newsflash, for most of those players they had no real stock in the first place and usually go undrafted or are drafted deep in the abyss of the second round. To me players that skip these events are missing out on a tremendous opportunity. It’s not everyday that a prospect has the opportunity to play in front of an NBA decision maker let alone 30 of them. For an agent or advisor they should have that attitude that they are like the trainer to Mike Tyson and have nothing to hide.Mike Tyson would fight anyone, anywhere, and any time. If you are a player that really loves to compete and can play there is no reason to skip this camp. There’s always the excuses that they may not get the ball, they get injured, or put on a bad team. Bottom line is if you have faith in your player there is no reason to skip the opportunity to compete. In some cases players or representation are hiding the fact that the player isn’t as good as advertised and want to keep the masquerade going until the draft. I guess for the short term that may work, but sooner or later people are going to see if that player can play or not. Well, anyways I don’t want to spend much more time on this question but lack of competition like this happens more and more in basketball. I remember the AAU team I assisted with the BABC out of Boston before I joined in about 1992 or so. Before the age of internet scouts and all of this hoopla about rankings this team would travel the country in 1-2 cars piling in 8-9 high school kids not worrying about rankings or which individual was better than this the other. All they worried about was competing and winning and they did that against the country’s elite. It was a great time in basketball, because AAU was filled with the elite not a million teams filled with players who couldn’t play. The moral of this little story was players back then didn’t care about status, stock or rankings. All they worried about was competing against the best no matter what.
The biggest thing that I noticed with the play in Portsmouth was how many of these players that didn’t know how to play. It was shocking to me how many players didn’t know how to use a screen, run a pick and roll, or make a pass. I understand the freshman or high school kids, but for college seniors to have this lack of fundamental basketball IQ was shocking. Even the division 2-3 players that you would think would at least have an idea how to play really shocked me with their lack of court sense. The games the first night were pretty good, but the play quickly disintegrated as they days rolled on. Players played with one speed and just punded sand with the ball. There was no conception of entering the ball to the post, and when it did find its way to the post there was very rarely any cutting. NBA general managers weren’t necessarily looking for players to score 29 points a game at this event. They were looking for players that show the ability to have a skill to get them in a game. They were looking for that 10th man on their roster that can go in the game and make a shot, rebound the basketball, or make a basketball play. I saw some of that but not nearly enough to show any consistency.
As a country, we will always be the dominating place for basketball players without question. Where we are lacking when it comes to international basketball is the flow of the game. Not only are our players below the norm in skill level, but just the structure of our game at the high school and college level are lacking so much to other countries. When you watch European basketball you may not see the same talent or athlete, but the game itself is so much better to watch. Players actually pass, can use screens, and move without the ball. These are three things our game here lacks and it’s not getting any better.
There’s no wonder so many rookies coming out of college get sent home from Europe. They spent four years for the most part playing a version of the game that is obsolete everywhere but here. The college game for the most part is so up and down filled with pressing and trapping with offenses consisting of domination of the basketball with no movement. Something has to change and it isn’t something that you can blame AAU on. It is top to bottom and issue that needs to be addressed, because our game has issues that need fixing. We will always have the superstars the Kobe’s, Durant’s, and LeBron’s that level will always be fine. It’s the basketball middle class that is suffering and we may never get it back.