In 2006, I published Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development because of the problems that I perceived with the manner in which we develop youth basketball players in the United States. While the media criticized the development programs, nobody offered a solution. People like Sonny Vaccaro got lots of publicity for saying that they had plans to revolutionize the game, but nobody did anything. Cross Over was my plan. A step-by-step, stage-by-stage to youth basketball development.
At the time, I sent the book to many people around the country, including George Raveling at Nike. Raveling read the book, called me and asked me to send six more copies to Nike Headquarters. I complied with the understanding that Raveling would meet with me to discuss the book and the future of grassroots basketball development. In the fall of 2007, we set up our meeting in Las Vegas. He stood me up and refused to communicate with me since that time.
At the end of Cross Over, I set forth a vision for a new league for elite players that aimed to rectify many of the problems facing basketball development in the current grassroots programs. The solution was called the Elite Development League and called for a more periodized schedule, less competition and more training for elite-level high school players.
Today, however, I read an article which made me believe that Cross Over had an impact at Nike HQ:
Starting this summer, the “Nike circuit” will be replaced by-drum roll please-the Nike Youth Basketball League. Whats this league all about you ask? Over four weekends this summer, Nike’s 42 travel teams will all meet in Virginia (Boo Williams), Houston, Los Angeles, and South Carolina (Peach Jam), to face off against other Nike teams within their divisions as part of league play.
The NYBL is essentially a more pragmatic version of the EDL concept that I first wrote about in a Houston-area magazine in 2002. While the full EDL would be too controversial now, the NYBL mimics the Cup Championship that I proposed:
EDL Cup Championship
- Draw teams into 12 4-team round robin mini-tournaments played during the college recruiting period in the spring (3 games)
- Top team in each pool advance to Cup Championship; 2nd place teams advance to qualifying tournament
- Qualifying Tournament: Divide 12 teams into 4 3-team pools (2 games). Winner of each pool moves to the Cup Championship.
- Cup Championship: week-long summer tournament; 16 teams divided into four pools (3 games). Top two teams in each pool advance to single elimination tournament (1-3 games).
- 3rd and 4th place teams compete in Summer Classic with the eight teams from the Qualifying Tournament who failed to advance to Cup Championship.
- Summer Classic: Divide 32 teams into 8 4-team pools (3 games); winner of each pool moves to single elimination tournament (1-3 games).
The reasons for the League format were to create more time to train, reduce travel, make every game meaningful, increase the practice: game ratio and to prevent players from skipping from team to team. As I wrote in a 2003 article:
Do players play on club teams to gain exposure and get a scholarship, or do they play to develop skills and compete against the best players in the nation? My contention is that it should be possible to do both. By concentrating efforts on selected tournaments instead of trying to play in every tournament possible from April to June, coaches can work with teams and improve the individual skills, the shooting, the ball handling, the passing, the defense, the decision-making, movement without the ball, etc that the players must learn to be successful at the next level. As long as coaches merely roll the ball out and let the talented rely on their innate talent, they are acting more as a babysitter/travel agent than they are as a coach. Why can’t these elite programs find coaches who can coach, who can develop and refine skills and prepare players for the next level? I am sure there are those select programs out there that do; but, if so, they get far less publicity than the ones who don’t. I think the emphasis in summer ball should be on preparation, development and competition, not on simply compiling the most well known players or winning an otherwise meaningless summer tournament.
It appears as though Nike is attempting to move in this direction by adopting a league very much like the one featured in Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development.