‘Prep schools’ diluting the quality of high-school basketball

The MHSAA boys basketball finals were exciting.

There is no doubting that.

The games were close, competitive and generally exciting, but the level of play wasn’t what it could have been. There were some high-end recruits on the floor like Grand Rapids Christian’s Xavier Tillman and Clarkston’s Foster Loyer, but the elite prospects that we’re accustomed to seeing in the state of Michigan were nowhere to be found.

Throughout the last few seasons top basketball recruits from Michigan have followed a national trend of playing at a prep school for their junior and senior seasons.

Brian Bowen, who is the 12 ranked player in ESPN’s top 100 prospect list, played his first two seasons of high school basketball at Saginaw Arthur Hill, but last season he transferred to La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Indiana.

La Lumiere is a basketball school and this year it also has MSU signee Jaren Jackson and U of M signee Jordan Poole on the roster.

Bowen would have been the top player in the state of Michigan and the likely favorite to win Mr. Basketball had he stayed in Saginaw, but instead of staying home he decided to play for a prep school to help his game.

Last season both Miles Bridges (Flint Southwestern and later MSU) and Josh Jackson (Southfield and later Kansas) left the state to play at top prep schools.

Again, they each went to top prep schools out of state instead of playing for their local high school where they would have been favorites to win state championships.

For the players it looks to be working out. Two of the three players could be lottery picks in this summer’s NBA Draft and Bowen could be the following year. I’m all for players doing what’s best for them, and in this case it appears to be in their best interest.

That said, the diluted talent level was evident during the state finals. The play was slower and less impressive than it could have been.

The flip-side of that is that some teams that would have had no business making a deep tournament run in the past were able to make Cinderella runs deep in March. Without the top players the games were all competitive and fun. There are probably a dozen teams in each class that had a chance going into the tournament of winning it all, and that’s compelling for fans of those schools, if not for neutral basketball fans.

The finals are a free-for-all without the top two or three players in the state playing in it every season, but does that really tell anyone who the state champion should be?

Does it cheapen the value of a state title for those teams that do win one?

I’m not sure about either of those. At face value I’d say yes, without the best players the title shouldn’t mean as much, but after watching the games I doubt that was on the mind of anyone on the court.

More importantly it raises questions about the direction of high-school basketball across the country.

Could two leagues develop? One for soon-to-be basketball stars and another for kids just looking to play basketball for fun. The basketball factories, which are almost always prep schools, can recruit liberally across the country too, which makes the play uncompetitive.

As of now there aren’t any basketball factories in Michigan, despite a handful of prep schools spread around. It is probably only a matter of time before a couple of these programs pop up around Michigan, and that will be the future of prep basketball for anyone who is looking seriously into a professional basketball career.

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Posted by Brian Fogg

Brian is the sports writer for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3110 or bfogg@pioneergroup.com.

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