Wednesday, December 28, 2011

San Antonio: Low-Mid Major City (Part 1)

San Antonio has grown leaps and bounds in the last few years in terms of girls basketball. While the city is located in perhaps the "hottest" state for talent according to many college suitors, San Antonio still trails Dallas and Houston in producing High-Major girls basketball players. SOME theories for the disparity will be noted but first a need to clarify the difference in levels of colleges.

Though distinct definitions for High-Major, Mid-Major and Low-Major are hard to come by, there is pretty much a common consensus on High-Major schools. The automatic qualifiers for the BCS Bowl Championship series are considered High-Major schools. The AQ's are the six power conferences; ACC, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, Big East and Big Ten. Conference realignment has muddied the waters of which schools are now High-Majors, but that is another subject. These six conferences make up 74 schools, give or take a couple with realignment. These 74 schools are considered High-Major schools.

Mid-Majors are commonly considered to be these nine conferences; Atlantic 10, Colonial Athletic Association, Conference USA, Horizon League, Mid-American, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, West Coast, and Western Athletic Conference.

Low-Majors are considered to be conferences such as Southland, MEAC, Summit, and Ohio Valley. Some Low-Majors would argue that they are Mid-Majors. Again, no true definitions for the separation in the designation of the Low and Mid-Majors exist. Consequently, there is little difference between some Low and Mid-Major women's basketball programs in terms of talent.

The true talent gap exists between High-Major schools and Low-Mid Majors basketball programs. While programs like Gonzaga produce teams that dance with the big girls on a consistent basis,the women's game has a distinct caste system when winning national championships are concerned. The Butler's, VCU's, and George Mason's have shown that the men's side of basketball has closed the talent gap but the disparity is still pretty wide on the women's side.

Here are SOME theories why San Antonio is a city that is better suited to produce Low-Mid Major players in comparison to Houston an DFW Metroplex. Instead of focusing on what San Antonio is not, I will try to focus on the advantages that Houston and the DFW Metroplex have in comparison.

Numbers- The greater Houston area has around 6 million residents. The DFW Metroplex has more than 6 million people. In contrast, the greater San Antonio area has a little more than 2 million people. The Houston and DFW areas are triple the size of San Antonio. The larger two areas are able to choose from a deeper talent pool of available players. Players like Meighan Simmons or Clarissa Davis show that San Antonio's best players can match up against the other areas best, but those areas have more Meighan's and Clarissa's due to the sheer number of available players.

Clubs- Club programs play an integral part of helping produce High-Major talent. The Houston and DFW areas have a thriving club scene. Houston has Nike Cy-Fair Shock, Houston Heat(DFW-Washington), Houston Insiders, Cy-Fair Premier, Cy-Fair Texans, Houstonians, Alodia Eclipse, Houston Elite, and Houston Wildcats. These are just a few of the prominent programs that have produced multiple D1 players. Besides producing D1 players, these Houston area teams have produced numerous McDonald All-American players in the last few years; Kelsey Bone, Karla Gilbert, Stephanie and Brianna Gilbreth, Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike, Cassie Peoples, and Amber Orrange. A kid named Brittany Griner is also from Houston and started her club career there before moving to a team in Dallas.

Dallas has the only other Nike sponsored club in the state, DFW Elite. This club put 20 plus players in the D1 ranks a few years ago; one club in one year! Add Texas Express, Top Prospects, NT Shockers, Dream Team, US Elite, Nike Cy-Fair Shock-Hensle, Westside Elite and United Basketball. Again, these are just a few of the clubs that consistently produce D1 kids. As for High-Major kids, Dallas has recently produced USA Basketball players, Alexis Jones and Odyssey Sims. Add arguably the best point guard in the country for 2012 and certain McDonald All-American, Moriah Jefferson.

The Dallas and Houston area kids benefit from a strong club environment. This environment fosters a competitiveness that allows kids to have constant measuring sticks to compare their progress against.

Resources/Environment- Moriah Jefferson, the Dallas area point guard, plays for one of the best clubs in the country, Nike DFW Elite. She has been trained by a former pro since middle school. She is home schooled, which allows her to work on her game for hours, while getting quality instruction. She then plays against some of the best players in the country on a frequent basis.

San Antonio born, Cassie peoples moved to Houston after a short stay in Florida. She moved to a high school that featured the best player in the country in Chiney Ogwumike. Her high school coach previously coached a pretty good point guard named Lindsey Harding. Peoples' father is one of the best trainers in the state. She played for one of the best club programs in the country in the Nike sponsored Cy-Fair Shock. For competition, she had a fellow McDonald All-American down the proverbial street in Houston Heat(DFW Washington) guard, Amber Orrange(Stanford).

The environment in these cities are idea for producing High-Majors. Quality former players that know and understand the game now train and live in these areas. Brianna Turner is not only arguably the best kid in the country for 2014, she gets trained by former NBA player and coach, John Lucas. Not only is Turner 6'3 and can dunk, she has the opportunity to train with Lucas and her club coach, George Washington, a good trainer in his own right. These are the type of opportunities that help produce High-Major kids.

High school gym access for trainers and club teams are prevalent in these areas. The constant reps needed to elevate players games to the next level are a direct result of gym access. It can be argued, the major difference between a High and a Mid-Low Major player is refinement. High Major kids are usually "great" at least one skill. To become great at any skill takes an inordinate amount of time in the gym. Limited gym access reduces the ability of kids to refine their skills and become great. Meighan Simmons has great athleticism and a great knack for scoring. Having a military father with easy and consistence access to a gym on base helped in her development. The difficulty of securing dependable reasonable priced gym time has a direct impact on the lack of refined players locally.

Development- In speaking with the fathers, trainers and coaches of prominent kids in Dallas and Houston, they understand the importance of youth development. They are less likely to chase trophies. Too many local dads/coaches still attempt to stack their daughters teams to win. Many local teams employ strategies like full court press when already winning by 20 or more points. Many teams use Zone Defense exclusively during formative learning years. Many coaches spend little time learning the game themselves, so teaching proper IQ is futile. It is hard to instill basketball IQ when coaches possess little basketball IQ themselves. In a great conversation with Judson coach Triva Corrales, she speaks of the need to restrict middle school kids from playing zone. She speaks of the difficulties of teaching Man Defense in high school when players have played nothing but Zone Defense in their youth. In an example of lack of IQ, a local coach delayed the game by instructing the point guard to dribble at half court and "make" the defense come out of their zone and play Man Defense. The opposing coach screamed at the ref to give the delaying coach a technical foul! Instead of coming out of the Zone Defense and play man, he wanted the ref to disallow the stalling tactic because it was unfair??!!

Using Brianna Turner again, she can play 3 positions at 6'3. If any player should be pigeon holed in the post, it is a 6'1 middle schooler, like Turner was a few years ago. Yet, Turner was not restricted to the post and was developed on the perimeter. A common practice in middle school locally is to put 5'8 kids in the post. Instead of using an offense like 5-Out,that emphasizes player and ball movement, youth coaches use archaic 3-Out 2-In offenses that do nothing but stunt the growth of undersized post players. When you see a 6'0 guard like the Baylor's Nay Nay Haden, it shows how far Dallas is ahead of San Antonio. Hayden would have been anchored in the post locally, the same with Turner.

Iron Sharpens Iron- San Antonio's best players travel the nation in the summer and compete with the best from other areas. Again, some local players are in the conversation as being among the elite nationally. However, the local scene offers too many games against recreational players. It is very difficult to face a a 5'9 post player and get excited for the challenge after spending a summer facing the Brianna Turners' of the nation. Dallas and Houston area players have less opportunity to "play down" to competition. This is extremely important at the High-Major level. At that level, there is little opportunity to take nights off. Every time players step on the court, they must be mentally prepared to excel. The best of our local players do not get physically challenged every night out, thus, they develop the very bad habit of taking plays and games off. With so many "down" games facing recreational type of players, it is difficult for our Low-Mid-Major kids to take their games to the next level. It is tough to learn calculus when you are always practicing arithmetic.