Interview With Jay Bilas (Part 2 of 3)

Jay Bilas

Part 2 of 3

Interview Conducted 9/22/2008

IMG Speakers

IMG Speakers

This is the second of a three part interview:

For Part 1: Click Here

More AAU basketball tournaments feature elementary and middle school talent. Shoe companies develop elite invite camps for young players they deem “phenoms.”

Several recruiting services are now ranking or providing scouting reports for kids as young as sixth grade.

BILAS: “I don’t know many smart basketball people that are out there scouting 11 year olds really trying to stay ahead of the game. It’s just not happening. Maybe it will. Just not now.”

But there is an increasing public demand for recruiting services to list top prospects in middle school. Dallas Morning News sportswriter Barry Horn summarizes the ranking phenomenon of young basketball talent as:

A business fueled by an insatiable appetite that Americans display for sports rankings. In youth basketball, they give a semblance of order in an otherwise chaotic world. They bestow status. They attract attention.

Even though these sites are profiting from an increasing demand for middle school player rankings, lists, and brief scouting reports, Bilas feels it doesn’t make a “smart” business decision.

BILAS: “Just because it sells doesn’t mean it’s smart. You can turn on television at 2:00 a.m. and see some things that are selling that wouldn’t be called smart buys. There’s a lot of diet books out there that are selling because people want to be thin, but they are not giving good advice.”

“The question isn’t is if [these rankings] are legal or are they moral. When you look at it you go, ‘Is this what we want to be doing? Is this the right thing to do?'”

Bilas offered an example taken to the extreme to point out the absurdity of lists of best middle school basketball players.

BILAS: “If you put out a list of the most beautiful 11 year old girls, as if you were projecting who would be the most beautiful when they get to be teenagers, or when they go to become models, or movie stars, what do you think people would say to that? They’d say it’s wildly inappropriate.”

“These rankings are nowhere near that league. I am not saying that, but I am saying you can see a similar quality, because it’s that inaccurate and that inappropriate in a different context.”

Bilas gave one more hypothetical situation to point out the absurdity of the rankings.

BILAS: “Say you’re entirely accurate with who are the best 11 year old [basketball players] in the country. Say you’re the best in the business and it’s are entirely accurate. Let’s put on that fiction for a second.”

“I don’t think any right-minded person would take that to mean that this list is going to stay static until they are seniors in high school, and that list is going to tell you who the best seniors in high school are going to be in six years. Even if it is accurate, it does not mean all that much. There is a lot of water that is going to go under that bridge between that one list and later on.”

Bilas said that the central problem of ranking middle school talent is that the people who put credence into the lists and analyses, including the parents of the prospects and the prospects themselves, may be influenced negatively.

He doesn’t place the fault solely on the scouts who make these lists.

BILAS: “There’s a lot of blame to go around.”

Bilas takes issue with the validity of all prep recruiting player lists, regardless of grade level.

BILAS: “People like lists, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with the lists. There’s a question of the accuracy of the lists and what do they really mean.”

“Most people at the end of a guy’s [college] career can’t really recall where he was recruited. They can recall what he did while he was there. Maybe the crazed fans can recall where a guy was recruited, but for most reasonable people that’s not a main focus of theirs.”

“Whether [fans] are happy with their recruiting ranking, they’ll feel pretty darn good about it later on if they win at a high level.”

Bilas does not find a problem with the saturation of top prospect interviews and articles on for-pay websites such as Rivals and Scout.

BILAS: “Once [the players] get to high school, become 10th graders, and have been identified as good players, I don’t think it’s that awful of a thing. I think it depends upon how much hype there is and if the hype is responsible.”

“I don’t think anybody is going to quarrel with accurate reporting and something that is the right tone and not over the top. There are countless stories about young kids who are doing well in sports that are exactly the exact tone and perfectly accurate.”

“When you start trying to project something, everybody can get into a little trouble. There are some writers that may be irresponsible, but I don’t think it’s all that many. The totality of [the coverage] makes it seem extreme.”

The Recruiting Forums offered on each school’s subscription board on sites such as Rivals and Scout do concern Bilas.

BILAS: “The extremes we are talking about that are inappropriate are these fan sites where you have people who post essentially with anonymity and they write whatever they want.”

“It’s in print, and it stays out there for a long time, and you don’t know whether there’s any credibility behind it. That’s always been a problem since the Internet has come into play.”

Bilas said that since these messages are in print and on websites can feel like they are “official.” However, even one thread about a player can be destructive and not constructive for a team hoping to land a recruit.

BILAS: “Say you have a fan who writes something negative about one of their recruits. They say ‘that kid will never play here and I don’t think he’s any good’. And then you have a discussion about it.”

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a rival school that’s recruiting that kid is going to clip that off and send it to him saying,  ‘Do you really want to go there? Look what they are saying about you’.”

Bilas offered a cautionary message for anyone currently involved in the basketball recruiting process to avoid reading message boards.

BILAS: “Everybody, including coaches, players, and parents, who are involved in the process need to stay away from that completely. It’s not instructive. It does not help in anyway. Anything they say good about your kid or your prospect really doesn’t matter and anything they say negatively doesn’t really matter.”

“Fans are going to opine on recruiting, good or bad, just as they would about the upcoming season.”

“At the end of the day, you’re going to be judged on how you perform once you’re there.”

Are we at the point where AAU coaches have more influence in recruiting than high school coaches? Is Brandon Jennings opening the floodgates for more incoming freshmen to play a year overseas while they wait to become eligible for the NBA draft?

Check back tomorrow for Part 3 of my interview with Jay Bilas.

© 2008

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