By Ryan McNeill
While reading through Darcy Frey’s book “The Last Shot” one of the themes that really stuck out was the way that high school athletes are tricked and exploited as journalists, coaches and countless other adults tell kids in inner cities that if they want a better life they can obtain that through an athletic scholarship to a Division 1 school.
Poor kids, they never realize that the proverbial carrot that is being dangled in front of their faces is nothing more than a mirage.
While the idea of obtaining a hoops scholarship sounds like a great idea to kids in Coney Island it turns out that the chances of obtaining a scholarship are minuscule at best. Frey dashed the hopes of countless teens when he wrote in his book “The Last Shot” that :
Getting 700 – the eligibility requirement for Division 1 ball – did not strike me at first as a rigorous standard. But the national average for college-bound seniors, it turns out, is only about 800. And after becoming better acquainted with the quality of the Lincoln players’ schooling and the environment in which they live, I am less surprised that they may not know a synonym for panache or how ot make the most of what they do know; they’ve never been told, for example, to avoid guessing and answer only the questions they are sure of – the kind of test-taking tip suburban kids learn on their first day in a $600 Stanley Kaplan review course. Russell, after all, is struggling to answer reading-comprehension and algebra questions on the SATs when his schooling over the years has ben so uniformly bad that he had never, until recently, finished a book or learned the fundamentals of multiplication. And the repeated frustrations of this test – the first of it’s kind he has ever taken in his life – are making him doubt the conviction that gave him such pleasure just a few months ago: namely, that he wasn’t dumb; he just never had been properly taught how to learn.
As an elementary school teacher this excerpt from Frey’s book made me sick to my stomach. What is a kid supposed to do when he hasn’t received the proper education?
I have a friend from university who is currently teaching in Baltimore and when I brought this subject up to him he glumly replied that this doesn’t surprise him. He explained that because of the way the education system is set up in America that teachers are paid based on the school they intend rather than the board that they teach in. In Ontario, every teacher in my school board makes the same amount of money depending on their seniority not on the school that they teach at. So, regardless of what school you teach at the only thing that controls how much you make is your seniority. Hearing about how the American education system is set up from my friend was shocking because it means that some children who want to succeed in life and at school are basically shafted by an education system that doesn’t care for their needs or desires. In essence, teachers whoo aren’t as qualified, experienced or passionate about their job end up teaching the students who need the most help.
Frey addressed the issue of bad schooling when he wrote:
Sport psychologists and guidance counsellors who work with inner-city athletes often talk about an essential triangle in a player’s life formed by his family, his neighbourhood and his schooling. The rule is that a player can triumph over one weak point in that triangle, maybe two, but almost never all three. Tchaka Shipp has a least the first two in his favour – stability at home and in his neighbourhood. Russell, Corey and Stephon, however, all come form families that can’t seem to escape their tenancy in the Coney Island projects. The neighbourhood itself – with its armies of drug dealers and unwed teenage mothers – may be the least stable place in New York City in which to grow up. And now, as they face the hurdle of SATS, it seems that years of bad schooling are coming back to haunt these athletes just when they need their educations the most. This may handicap them throughout their lives; on the immediate level, it means that Tchaka is being taken on personal tours of the arenas and the locker rooms of the Big East, Russell and Corey have yet to go on a single campus recruiting visit, and their prospects of doing so look increasingly grim.
I’ve talked to a handful of people about how SATs work because I never had to write them following my completion of high school in Ontario. Everyone that I have chatted with all claim that 800 should be obtained with relative ease. If this is so easy to obtain then why does someone like Russell Thomas spend countless hours with a tutor to prepare for this test yet still fail to reach 700 after writing this test a handful of times?
The simple answer would be that the education system is failing these teens.
Frey summer this dilemma up perfectly when he wrote in his book that:
The NCAA and the college basketball industry have done much soul searching in recent years over the SAT requirement, as well they should. The NCAA instituted the 700 threshold, known as Proposition 48, in 1986, after coming under pressure to show its commitment to education as well as to athletics. But the requirement has proven to be an insurmountable obstacle to thousands of black players like Russell (Thomas), Corey and Stephon (Marbury) with poor educations and no experience in taking standardized tests. Of the players who have gone to junior colleges since the rule was instituted (they are known as Prop 48 casualties), 9 percent are white, 91 percent black. Some critics have suggested that if the NCAA is so concerned about the education of its student-athletes, it should allow a college to award scholarships to players who don’t pass the SATs, as long as they stay off the team until the school brings them up to speed in the classroom. Or the NCAA might eliminate freshman eligibility across the board so that every player’s first year in college would be devoted entirely to schoolwork. Or it could deny a school its coveted Division 1 status if its players don’t graduate. Then, the argument goes, instead of punishing players, the rules would punish the colleges with a weak commitment to academics.
While some fans might chuckle at what Frey suggests and chalk them up to another fan being unreasonable with the NCAA I happen to think that they are great ideas. Why punish a child who has already been punished by a neglectful education system? I think the idea of punishing schools that don’t graduate athletes is a great idea because it forces these school to ensure that students who attend their campus walk away with a degree. I feel that if a college can make millions off of players then the least a college can do is ensure that player receives a degree.
However, the problem as shown by Frey in his book is that some teens have not been provided with a proper education so that they can get into college. What happens to their dreams of playing pro ball when they don’t have the SAT scores to attend a Division 1 school? I have no problem with the NBA encouraging young men to attend college for at least a year but when there is a rule in place that prevents some from going to college and then NBA prevents them from the chance to make a living playing basketball I have a huge problem with that scenario.
The bigger problem that now faces young hoop prodgies is that David Stern and the NBA has shut the door on their option of skipping college and heading straight to the NBA. Would I want my son or daughter to go to college for a couple of years before becoming a pro? Yes. Is this a good way for them to mature and deal with the pressures of being a pro? Yes. Is college for everyone? No.
There are going to be some gifted high school basketball players who just aren’t cut out for college athletics. It could be due to the education system failing them, it could be due to a lack of a desire to do well in school or it could be the fact that some of these young men need to turn pro to provide for their families. While going to college for at least a year is something I would recommend to any high school player I don’t agree with David Stern and the NBA
I could continue to rant about this topic all day but Frey – as he does throughout this book – sums this issue up perfectly when he wrote:
The coaches point to kids like Tchaka as proof that the system works. But he is the exception – representatives not of the 500,000 or so male high school basketball players in this country, but of the less than 1 percent of them who will win a Division 1 scholarship. And Tchaka succeeds in this game not because he is the first black kid to work hard and play by the rules, Russell, Corey and Stephon do that. They stay in school – though their school hardly keeps its end of the bargain. They say no to drugs – though it’s the only fully employed industry around. They don’t get into trouble with the NCAA – though its rules seem designed to foil them, and the coaches who break the rules usually go unpunished.
Which makes this process of playing for a scholarship not the black version of the American dream, as I had thought eight months earlier, but a cruel parody of it. In the classic parable you begin with nothing and slowly accrue your riches through hard work in a system designed to help those who help themselves. Here, at age seventeen years of age, you begin with nothing but one narrow, treacherous path and then run a gauntlet of obstacles that merely reminds you of how little you have: recruiters pass themselves off as father figures, standardized tests humiliate you and revel the wretchedness of your education, the promise of lucrative NBA contracts reminds you of what it feels like to have nothing in this world.
I’ve long held to the belief that good wins over evil, that hard work pays off and that people can overcome adversity to enjoy success in life. However, reading Darcy Frey’s book “The Last Shot” my belief that hard work pays off has been ripped to shreads.