August 26, 2012

Sac surpassing the Bay Area?

Kevin McCarthy

In all manner of argument, comes the leveling of the venerable lies, damn lies and statistics epithet. Of course, it's no different regarding a discussion with Sacramento area boys prep basketball as the topic. However, it's unarguably true that Sactown hoops is generating more national publicity of late due to the emergence of talents like Dakarai Allen and Darin Johnson but can a case be made numbers-wise that the area is also producing more basketball talent than the Bay Area of late?

Let's go to the statistics and see what is spelled out.

Utilizing the Nor Cal Prep's Top 40 talents of the last four years as the database, 2011 produced eight ranked prospects from Sacramento and the surrounding territory: JT Adenrele, Kori Babineaux, Chris Carvin, Ramon Eaton, Robert Garrett, Chad Haysbert, Chukwuemeka Iroegbu and Darius Nelson.

But in 2012, that number exploded to 15: Arik Armstead, Michael Bryson, Cody Demps, Matt Donlan, Darius Graham, Theo Johnson, Erik Kinney, KJ Logue, Akachi Okugo, Bryce Pressley, Bryce Scott, Christopher Smith, Kyiron Thomas, Parker U'u and Jarvis Watkins. (Chris Schwartz-Edmisten rightly should be added based due to his landing a scholarship with Dominican University.)

The 2013 list currently also contains double figures, sitting at 11: Dakarai Allen, Joe Barnes, Gabe Bealer, Isaiah Ellis, James Hadnot, Darin Johnson, Cole Nordquist, Ahmad Smith, Eric Stuteville, Malik Thames and D'Erryl Williams.

Cases can and will be made for the inclusions of Devon Boyd, Aaron Cameron, Matt Hayes, Ryan Manning, De'Sean Parsons and others. Performances during the upcoming season will undoubtedly produce additions and subtractions.

As for the 2014 class, nine talents already have Sacramento ties: Brady Anderson, Jalen Coates, Thomas Fitzgerald, Tyler Jennings, Nifae Lealao, Lake Lutes, Cameron Oliver, Malik Pope and D.J. Wilson.

Pope's spring and summer play generated national publicity and, again, arguments for adding the likes of Jeremee Churchill, Benson Osayande, Kellen Simpson, Brandon Thompson, Terrence White and others will be offered. It should be another double figure harvest for Sacramento before these players move on.

So 2011 was single figures, the following two classes double figures and the likelihood that 2014 will continue the trend as time edges closer.

No, it's not necessarily a tidal wave of change but what is causing the upswell in numbers?

Let's check in with some of the people in charge up there and get their takes.

Wornel Simpson of Team Sage was born and raised in Oakland but now calls Sacramento home.

"Why so much talent in Sacramento right now? Based on my experience and observation, there are several AAU programs that have done a phenomenal job preparing their kids. I have coached AAU basketball for five years now and when I started with my son in the sixth grade, he was already behind the experience curb because many of the best kids had been playing since the second-third grade and many of the club teams had been together for a few years.

In addition, teams were traveling to Portland President's Day Tournament, Reno Memorial Day, LA's Coca-Cola Classic, Bay Area tournaments and July Las Vegas tournaments, playing against top competition nationally starting at earlier ages.

When I started coaching with the Yellow Jackets, we practiced and competed almost year round. During the height of our season, we practiced three times weekly for two hours each. We would practice on Friday nights from 6:00 to almost 9:00 p.m., even with a first game scheduled for 9:00 a.m. the next morning at Hardwood Palace. This is indicative of many of the most recent successful club teams including Yellow Jackets, Team Sage, Pharaohs, All-Star Predators, et. al. They have put in a lot of work skill development-wise and team building.

At one time, the at-the-time seventh grade Yellow Jackets had on their roster Jalen Coates, Nifae Lealeo, Marcelas Perry, Jamaryion Simmons, Kellen Simpson, Brandon Thompson, Terrence White, DJ Wilson, among others. All of these kids are now among the top players in Nor Cal in my opinion and compete favorably with kids statewide as well as nationally.

The eighth grade Pharaohs-Sage team coached by Don Roberson had four kids who started varsity as freshmen in high school. They were prepared. This seems to be the case for this recent generation of ballers."

Brian Hamilton of Play Hard Play Smart (PHPS) has witnessed five D-I signees off of last year's group with six or seven more come November and next April, went short and succinct: "The kids are working harder, we're going to more events and doing well so the greater exposure is benefiting Sacramento."

Shawn Hadnot is a longtime Oakland Rebels coach who also grew up in the East Bay but now also resides in Sac-town. He riffed on the subject:

"There are a number of reasons. A lot of guys who [once] played in the Bay Area are now raising families in Sacramento [and elsewhere]. Plus, there are a lot of AAU teams so practicing on a team produces better skills and playing one another and elsewhere provides good competition. A third reason is accessibility. There are also more training people involved and places like the old Basketball Town and now Hardwood Palace which have allowed Sacramento youth teams to improve at a rapid pace because they play every weekend. Plus, the history of Bay Area basketball has made the Sacramento area players work harder to move out of the shadows of the Bay Area and create their own history. Many basketball youth programs in Oakland from third through eighth grade are able to work continuously with players and they became very talented kids. But many can't handle the young success once they enter high school and venture to the streets for acceptance from peers. I have never seen so many basketball players become ineligible. I question how much they love basketball because if they loved it they would not take themselves out of the game.

I also think the schools are failing a lot of kids academically. In the Oakland Athletic League (OAL), if you're not on pace to graduate with your class, you can't or won't be allowed to play so this eliminates many kids who may fall behind after their freshman year. For one reason or another, the schools penalize the kids instead of trying to make sure the student gets the extra work. Some of this is placed on the student and family as well but it's a reality that is hurting basketball in Oakland. The OAL and San Francisco used to have a lot of good public school teams but not anymore. Many of the players from the Bay Area have just simply moved to other areas in northern California. The kids have the Bay Area pedigree because it comes from family members who have played and spent most of their lives in the Bay Area."

So weigh in with your take.