Basketball has long been called the city game, belonging early on and still in large part to the streets of the inner cities of America. Kids erecting a hoop wherever they can find a place and using the lights of the neighboring apartment buildings to play well into the night in order to have some fun. Places like the Bronx, or Cabrini Green where young men dream of getting out, escaping, and they see others making it out and they know that in order to fulfill their dreams of playing college basketball they have to work even harder than the guy next to them.
Still, the game is most certainly not just a city game with places like Latta, South Carolina, French Lick, Indiana or Cabin Creek, West Virginia producing players that have gone on to great glories and or are in the middle of creating their great glory on the courts of the college basketball landscape. The game transcends what certainly is a country that while united in name is certainly very different regionally and even from state to state within the commonly used regional divisions. These differences though, contribute to not only the greatness of our country but also to the different types of games that players from these regions tend bring to the court. Not only do their styles tend to often mimic the "regional style", but even different regions produce an over abundance of capable if not great players at certain positions.
It can be further argued that many of the college teams in these regions, who still on the whole tend to recruit players from within a four to six state radius, play a style of ball that also reflects the "regional game". Certainly the recruiting of players has taken on an even more national feel, heck an international feel to it, over the past 25 years. Still, with the exception of the larger more well known programs such as Carolina, UCLA, Duke, Arizona and Kentucky etc. most of the other schools will generally draw the most interest from recruits within a 150 mile square radius or less. In the case of many of the mid-level or lower level Division I schools in cities like New York or Chicago they generally don't have to leave the city limits to find their players.
Each region of this country has a very wonderfully unique subculture that permeates much if not all of the way people live their lives so it would only make sense that within the leagues and communities that comprise the high school basketball ranks that this thought process and or work ethic would also find its way into the games of the young men who play. Some communities and or regions of the country embrace and even place their young basketball players on pedestals while other regions and or communities might not even give them a second glance and or acknowledgement for what it is they can do and or might accomplish. Many areas and states, such as Texas and or my home state of Washington have long been dictated to and or run by the football contingency and or powers that be that have been incredibly pro-football. Some states such as California have always produced players in all sports because of its size. In the recent years both Texas and now Washington have seen themselves thrust up towards the top of the basketball recruiting chain with increases in population and improvement in over-all talent in basketball.
When you look at the regions of the country, which I am going to do, you first need to take a look at the over-all pace and way of life to get a sense of what you might find in terms of the approach of the college teams and the kinds of players the areas produce from their high school ranks. I am going to breakout the country into five different regions and give a general over-view of style of ball generally played there and the kinds of kids usually produced from the high school ranks of these regions. There is certainly always going to be exceptions to these classifications, but by and large you will find them to be rather true to form.
Northeast: The blue collar, factory and refinery littered landscapes of urban sprawl are often what come to mind when one thinks of the northeast. Fast talking, loose walking, and overly aggressive Yankee carpetbaggers is another way my lovely southern wife might also describe folks from this part of the country. The northeast's pace of life is about 2 to 3 speeds faster then the rest of the country. People up there are rough, gruff and leave little time or have little patience for manners and or other such related things. When you look at the kind of programs at the college level you first and foremost think of the Big East, the preeminent league in the northeast as well as its lesser cousin the Atlantic-10. These schools play a very aggressive, in your face, grab and hold kind of basketball. This brand of basketball is not for the faint of heart.
It should then come as no surprise that the region also produces high school kids with very like minded games. For a very long time the University of North Carolina under Coach Smith had a pipeline of these overly aggressive northeasterners coming in on a yearly basis to fill the roster of its beloved Tar Heel basketball team. Guys like Billy Cunningham, Eddie Cota and Brian Reese to name just a few. High schools like St. Anthony's in Jersey City, Ridge and Latin in Boston and Archbishop Molloy in NYC have long produced very physical and aggressive players that are more apt to take the ball to the basket then pull up for the jump shot. This is the home of the great playgrounds of NYC, Philadelphia and Boston where dunking is way more important then being able to shoot the 15 footer. Just like the survival of the fittest culture that permeates most if not all of northeastern society, the basketball players that come from this area play as if their very lives depend upon it every single game, and in many cases they just might no matter whether they come from the South Bronx or Fall River.
Long a hotbed for some of the finest point guards in the country, ball handling and breaking your man down one on one is a staple of the city game. Guys like Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury, and Bobby Hurley are the typical in the great pool of point guards that this area has spawned. This region also produces very athletic and aggressive small forwards and power forwards. Guys like Conrad McCrae who went to Syracuse, Cedric Maxwell, Billy Cunningham or more recently Elton Brand and Eddie Jones are names that come to mind when discussing these two positions. The more they can bang and be physical, grab and hold and just mix it up, the happier a lot of these kids are. When recruiting the country, if you are a school that has that option, getting a point guard from this area is usually something you try to do every four to six years or so. If you are looking for great shooters this is not usually the area you will be paying a visit to when recruiting.
Southeast: One of the most laid back and friendliest parts of our wonderful country. The food will amaze you, the kindness will humble you and the pace of life will intoxicate you. Some will say the south is too slow and now having lived here for a short while I would argue that everyone else is just moving too darn fast. Of all the regions in this country, the South is one that has one of the most binding and pronounced regional subcultures. Too, just like with the other regions this pace and approach to life also greatly reflects itself in the types of ball players that the southeast produces.
The two major college conferences in this part of the country are the ACC and the SEC. Both leagues have some of the most storied college basketball programs in the country along with a much more refined and well blended style of basketball. I don't think it is any coincidence that between the two leagues they have won seventeen, by my count, national titles. This region's college teams as well as kids coming from high school blend the physical with the finesse better than any area of the country. I also think have coaches like Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith, Denny Crum, and Tubby Smith, Roy Williams, Coach K and Gary Williams today played and still plays a very large role in the Southeast's continued dominance of the college basketball landscape.
The Southeast is one of the few regions that has produced all kinds of players in all kinds of positions. Finesse guards like Pete Maravich and Phil Ford to go with along with athletic prowess of David Thompson, Rex Chapman and Michael Jordan. There have been power players like Charles Barkley and Stanley Roberts who have come out of this region. The Southeast, though, has certainly been more renowned in producing tall two guards, athletic threes and powerful four men over the years.
Midwest: When one thinks of this part of the country the first thing that comes to mind are the agricultural make-ups of most if not all of the states with the exception of the Detroit and Chicago areas. This is the rust belt, the home of the Motor City and the famed Chicago Public School league. The players that come from this part of the country tend to seemingly look like and or resemble in their games the tough, hard nosed working class culture that dominates the landscape in this part of the country. Whether it is big strong power forwards from Peoria, IL or big bruising five men from the plains of Oklahoma, strength and aggressiveness are the trademark components of the style of game you find here.
The two major conferences in this part of the country are the Big Ten and the Big Twelve. Both conferences play a very aggressive and physical brand of basketball. In these leagues the weak need not apply. Even the skinny guys in these leagues, Jay Burson and Hollis Price had to be tough to survive and dominate like they often did. These leagues are heavy on the man to man defense, zone is for sissies as far as they are concerned. Getting your shot off is akin to going through a minny-mugging whenever you come off a pick and or go through the middle of the lane in these leagues.
The high schools of this area produce many of the same like minded and play a-likes that feed these leagues. There are the occasional players of grace and smoothness like Isiah Thomas, Marcus Liberty and more recently Shaun Livingston but these guys are rare exceptions. Instead, guys like Jay Burson, Kevin Bookout, Nick Collison, Larry Bird and Chris Webber are who come to mind more readily when discussing the typical high school pool in this region of the country. Indiana is also a state that is long renowned for producing great shooters. Guys like Steve Alford, Rick Mount and Larry Bird all come to mind when thinking of the great shooters out of the state of Indiana. The Midwest is home to great shooting two and three men along with big, bruising four men who can usually step outside and shoot the three along with five men who can be spectacular a'la Chris Webber or solid and fundamental like Eric Montross.
Southwest: Long considered a purely football oriented area, Texas and its surrounding states that make up the smallest geographical region in terms of number of states has exploded in terms of both college success and program respectability along with a huge improvement in the type of talent that this area produces on the high school level. With the emergence of Texas under Rick Barnes and with the addition of Bobby Knight at Texas Tech, the Southwest has one of the country's finest coaches along with one of the premiere programs in the country over the past four plus years. The Southwest has a very maverick feel to it, it is the home of Alamo after all. Much of what makes the players and style of play so unique here is that pioneer spirit that still exists on many different levels.
It used to be the case that colleges from all over the country would come on into Texas and take their best players out. Now, with Texas stepping up the quality of its program that is not always the case any longer.
The Southwest is relatively new to the basketball recruiting landscape, being that it is only really now been 20 years or so since this explosion of basketball talent first started, but the style of ball is very distinct in this area. The kids coming out of this area tend to be explosive and athletic with real prowess on the defensive side along with the ability to run in the break and rebound. Guys like Larry Johnson, Chris Bosh and T.J. Ford are a few of the players you see coming out of this area who fit the typical mold rather well.
West Coast: The home of the Pacific 10 conference and the UCLA Bruins of John Wooden and more recently the Arizona Wildcats of Lute Olsen. The Pac 10 has long been considered a finesse conference that has been long on skilled players going back to the days of Ralph Miller at Oregon State or back to the USC teams of the Paul Westphaul and Gus Williams. Pac 10 and west coast basketball in general is one of athleticism combined with shooting ability. The West coast game has always been long on tall players who like to play outside and guards who like run the break. The West coast is home to Hollywood, San Francisco and Seattle. All cities on the water with very laid back and relaxed lifestyles. The scenery is lush and beautiful and life is really not that arduous. The people are friendly and the kids play a friendly style. Instead of looking to mix it up inside they would much rather pull up for the jump shot. Taking the ball to the basket is not nearly as important on the West coast as is sticking the 17 foot jump shot.
The Pac 10 has boasted many great players. Guys like Bill Walton, James Donaldson, Craig Elho, Keith Van Horn and Sean Elliot to name a few. The high schools on the west coast provide perfect players for the Pac 10 style as well. The west coast usually has an abundance of shooters at all positions and very athletic small and power forwards as well. Five men on the west coast tend to be better suited to facing the basket then they do to playing with their back to it.
When looking to find players out west it is best to go looking for a point guard who can shoot as well as shooters at the second guard and small forward. These are usually the positions that are the strongest on the west coast. The centers on the west coast usually come with all ready made games facing the basket and usually the trick is to get them aggressive enough or buy into playing on the low block with some sense of toughness. Year and year out California has the largest and deepest pool of basketball talent in the country because of its sheer size. Within the last five years, both the states Oregon and Washington have made strides in producing players on the national high school scene as well.
In a perfect world: Certainly it is well documented that we live in anything but a perfect world, but if all things were even and I had my choice of where I would get certain players at certain positions from year and year out here is how I would break it down on a general scale.
Point Guards: I would want to get one out of New York to give my team that toughness and be that strong defensive catalyst. I would also then want to get my second PG from the west coast somewhere, preferably California. When they are backing off my New York point guard I just bring in my West coast PG a'la Jordan Farmar and take advantage of them. At times I can play them both upping my over-all quickness and ball handling on the court.
Second Guards: Here I would want to steal one from either Michigan or Indiana for that tough minded, gunslinger approach that is needed in a shooter. My other second guard would come from either the Southeast or the West coast as I would go looking for a long athletic player who can lock up someone defensively but can still shoot the three pointer.
Small Forwards: Once again I think you find your primary small forward in the Southeast and get your second small forward either out of the southwest or the west coast. I would want my primary small forward to have range to at least 17 feet on his jumper but to be able to handle the ball a bit and really run on the break and board. He also needs to have that solid defense presence. My second small forward is a guy who needs to be able to stroke the ball from deep and is very offensive minded. I would be willing to trade offensive ability for defensive ability here.
Power Forwards: I would look to the Northeast for my first power forward. I want a kid who hates the world and everyone in it with him. I want a kid who thinks he owns the ball once it comes off the glass on either end. I want a player who is going to up the toughness level when he is on the court by about two notches. My second four needs to come from the Midwest, Southwest or the Southeast. I would like to get a kid who can step out and shoot the 17 plus foot jump shot and who can put the ball on the ground a bit. I also would want to get a kid who can defend on the low block as well in my second power forward.
Centers: My first choice in centers would be to get one off the West coast. A five man who can shoot, pass, rebound and most importantly outlet the ball well is what I would look for. My second five man I would search the Southeast first for looking to find an aggressive, athletic kid who can run and is really physical on the low block.
That is how I would go about recruiting the country.
Brett Ayers is originally from the Spokane, Washington area where after playing his high school ball he accepted a scholarship to come east and play at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. After graduating from Fordham with BA's in both History and Economics he accepted an assistant position at Steven's Tech in Hoboken, New Jersey where he assisted Coach Dr. Charles Brown for three consecutive years. Brett left coaching in 1998 to concentrate on his career in the world of finance in New York City. He continues to write about the game and get late night calls from his father who is a head boys basketball coach back home in Spokane at Mt. Spokane high school to go over some X's and O's. Brett can be contacted at email@example.com