Like many high school sports fans, I watched the press conference of Curie’s Cliff Alexander and Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor on Friday on national television.
I followed the tweets by local and national media leading up to the “event.” From the clothes the two prize prospects were wearing to the general atmosphere of the press conference to what each had for breakfast to which college “reliable sources” had speculated each was going to select — it all was there on social media and national TV.
Understand, this wasn’t Robinson Cano or Clayton Kershaw announcing he’d had just signed the largest free-agent contract in baseball history.
We’re talking about the college decision of two high school basketball players — granted, they’re from Chicago and rank among the best in the nation.
Still, they’re high school kids. Teenagers.
Here’s what really troubles me: Does it really matter which college Okafor and Alexander chose?
In all likelihood, both will spend ONE year in college before fleeing to the NBA.
In a matter of 19 months, Okafor and Alexander likely will be millionaires many times over from being selected in the first round of the 2015 NBA draft.
If not for the NBA preventing high school kids from entering its draft, both likely would have bypassed college altogether.
Hmmm. I don’t recall any member of the media asking Okafor or Alexander what they plan to major in at Duke or Kansas, respectively.
For elite high school basketball players, college is a stepping stone to the NBA.
For the No. 1 sports television network, it’s all about dollars generated.
That’s why, after becoming nauseated from the excessive coverage of the event, I laughed out loud at the reaction of Fighting Illini fans outraged over Alexander’s “dis” of their team.
With his parents flanking him, Alexander initially grabbed the Illinois hat placed in front of him on the table, signaling Illinois as his college destination. However, he then placed the Illinois hat down — nice fake — and situated the Kansas hat on his head.
Once again, Illinois was the bridesmaid, not the bride.
And the cameras were there to eat it up.
“The whole thing is insanity,” St. Rita athletic director Mike Zunica said. “Press conferences in front of hundreds of people and thousands more on TV. They’re taking an 18-year-old kid and exploiting him.”
The purity of high school sports is growing dimmer by the season, folks — similar to the three-sport athlete.
I know I’m dreaming, but I’d love to see the day when a parent of a nationally ranked local prospect refuses to allow his or her son or daughter to be involved in a similar conference. “Sorry. I don’t think holding a press conference represents the values I want to instill in my son or daughter,” the parent would say. “This isn’t about him. Basketball is a team sport, and my son would not be where he is without the hard work of his teammates, coaching staff and school administration. There are dozens of other athletes in this high school who work just as hard as my son. We appreciate the offer, but feel it’s not in our best interests.”
I know. I’m dreaming. High schools often arrange miniature “press conferences” for student-athletes who are signing a National Letter of Intent. Each student-athlete, no matter the sport or skill level, is treated equally. No TV cameras. No spotlight. Only a few members of local media.
“These (national) press conferences are for the individual, not the team,” Andrew athletic director Rich Piatchek said. “It’s unfortunate. It’s not what high school sports is supposed to be about. High school sports is not designed to be the stepping stone to the NBA or NHL. It’s all become a big business.”
It most certainly has.