- - Tuesday, February 27, 2018

While much of the attention in basketball is being paid right now to the college basketball payment and corruption scandal, there’s another crisis facing the game — one far more complicated, but perhaps sharing the same disease — the quality of the game itself.

Quite frankly, the game stinks, from high school all the way to NBA arenas.

That may fly in the face of the success of the NBA. The game has never been more popular.

That doesn’t mean it is good basketball. As we’ve often been told and have witnessed, quantity is not quality. More people watch “The Big Bang Theory” than “Downton Abbey.” That doesn’t mean it’s good.

What has happened is the evolution of the three-point shot has reduced basketball to a glorified game of “horse” — conducted around the perimeter. And you don’t have to be Hubie Brown to understand “horse.”

Maryland national championship coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Gary Williams has railed against the three-point shot, pointing out, correctly, that the quality of the college game suffers when you have players who are helpless when their shot abandons them. He has even gone as far as suggesting an experiment of playing a season without the three-point shot and examine the results.

Good luck with that.

Perhaps the game is more popular than ever because it has been dumbed down to its simplest level for the impatient masses — the attention-deficit generation.

Add to that those young players growing up without the knowledge of the game that previous generations have benefited from, and you have basketball in 2018 — a popular but simple game.

A far deeper problem, though, that seems to damage the game on both fronts — corruption and on the court — is the powerful, dysfunctional world of youth basketball, specifically AAU basketball.

The marriage of shoe company money and AAU ball has been cited as ground zero for the corruption issues that are now part of the college basketball system, resulting in the current FBI probe that could implicate many of the top 20 programs in the country.

But AAU ball may also be the cause of the poor quality of the game today — and the lack of knowledge of the generation of players coming up through the system.

If you think this is just an old white man telling everyone to get off his lawn, consider the words of future basketball Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett, who played 21 seasons in the NBA and is just two years removed from the game.

Thanks to the ballsislife.com website, I found this interview Garnett did with NBA TV about the quality of the next generation of NBA players:

“Our league now is at a point where you have to teach more than anything. AAU has killed our league. Seriously. I hate to even say this, but it’s real. From the perspective that these kids are not being taught anything. They have intentions and they want things but the way they see it is not how our league works. You earn everything in this league. You’re not entitled to anything. And it’s more entitlement than anything.”

Garnett played AAU ball — as did the great Kobe Bryant, who told ESPN that AAU ball is “horrible, terrible. It’s stupid. It doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game at all so you wind up having players that are big and they bring it up and they do all this fancy crap and they don’t know how to post. They don’t know the fundamentals of the game. It’s stupid.

“When you have limitations and you understand your limitations and you stay within yourself, you can be great,” Bryant said. “You know what you can do and what you can’t do. In America, it’s a big problem for us because we’re not teaching players how to play all-around basketball. That’s why you have Pau and Marc [Gasol], and that’s the reason why 90 percent of the Spurs’ roster is European players because they have more skill.

“Teach players the game at an early age and stop treating them like cash cows for everyone to profit off of. That’s how you do that,” Bryant said. “You have to teach them the game. Give them instruction.”

Or else just tell them to shoot. They seem to like that.

Thom Loverro’s podcast “Cigars & Curveballs,” is available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver network.

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