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The Era of Hype School Basketball

The McDonald’s All American high school game showcases the best high school basketball players annually (Credit: https://chicagocrusader.com/21-tryout-mcdonalds-american-games/)

Go on to a high school basketball fan’s YouTube and their recommended section is flooded with Ballislife videos with millions of views.

“LaMelo Ball scores 92 POINTS!!!!” (10M Views)

“LaMelo Ball vs. Zion Williamson!! CRAZIEST AAU GAME EVER!!!” (5.3M Views)

Besides the overwhelming use of exclamation points and this LaMelo Ball kid that they speak of, all of those videos share the same thing. Millions of views on YouTube, relevancy amongst the basketball world, and they are all about high school basketball.

As the NCAA basketball and the NBA have grown in popularity over the past decades, high school basketball in America has grown as well. Whether it be nationally known high school teams or nationally known AAU teams, the “game” of high school basketball has grown into something bigger than life. Generating money, giving young kids fame, and impacting the social media culture we have today; high school basketball is bigger than basketball.

What has allowed the likes of  Zion Williamson and LaMelo Ball to gain over a million followers on instagram, by just being really good at basketball in high school? The platform that high school basketball has been able to reach has been a long time coming, especially in today’s age of social media and technology.

In the age of Youtube and Instagram, high school hoops has gained a large fanbase. One of the many fans is Alex Steinwachs, a former high school basketball player and freshman at SUNY Oswego.

Steinwachs said, “The best thing about paying attention to high school basketball is you get follow players and sort of watch them grow.” He added, “Many of the players in the NBA now or in college I knew about them before they got there, so it’s like watching their careers progress in a way.”

High basketball for many years was overlooked and just viewed as a way for players to gain scholarships to play college ball. For many years that was the case. The basketball season for high schoolers was just the winter and lasted from November to late February. The season normally consisted of at least 20 games. The demand for high school basketball wasn’t that high during the 50s through the early 80s, not to mention basketball wasn’t all that popular nationally or globally. The high school careers of many legends in basketball is overlooked because of this lack of demand of high school ball.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s high school career is probably the greatest ever and many of his feats go unnoticed. He graduated from high school in 1965 with having only lost one game in his four years, scoring 2,067 points and winning three city championships in New York City. Imagine those accomplishments today and the hype that would follow.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar at the time known as Lew Alcindor in high school (Credit: Journal Sentinel)

Obviously high school basketball has grown as the sport of basketball has grown but the heights that high school basketball reached has mainly been a result of AAU basketball. The beginning of AAU basketball as we know it today started in the 80s where the popularity started to grow all across the country. The NCAA supporting AAU hoops and even changing their recruitment schedule to cater to the summer basketball schedule that the AAU presented.

AAU basketball changed the culture of amatuer basketball all across the nation. Playing for your high school was no longer the only way to catch the eyes of college programs like many of the greats had to. What the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Larry Bird didn’t have was now available to a new generation of high school hoopers trying to be like them.

What’s the difference AAU basketball and traditional high school basketball? Is it just hooping in the winter versus hooping in the summer? On the outside it seems that simple but the introduction of AAU basketball presented something that just playing for your school and against kids in your region or neighborhood couldn’t. Look at it this way, it’s easier to be the best player in your city, district or state than it is to be the one of the best or the best in the nation. AAU basketball put players from different corners of the nation up against each other.

Former high school player and high school coach Charlie Jackson has lived through all the stages of high school basketball. Playing and coaching high school ball in New York City, Jackson has saw the likes of Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker come up. He saw the change from both sides; as a player and coach.

Jackson said, “I’m amazed with the way they do things nowadays, all these AAU teams and traveling to play.” He said, “Back when I played we didn’t play all year round we played more than one sport football, baseball all of that. Kids now play all year round and there isn’t much else they do.”

A big component to the draw of high school in today’s age is hype. This no more evident than the Ballislife video of LaMelo Ball (younger brother of Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball) playing Zion Williamson(the first pick of this draft if the Pelicans don’t fumble the bag) that got 10 million views.

Hype has become a staple in modern day sports whether it be professional or amateur sports. The growth in the hype factor has been the direct result of highlights being spread around social media and the atmosphere that is cultivated in large basketball cities. YouTube channels “Ballislife”, “Home Team Hoops”, “HoopMixtape” and “In the Lab” have all helped elevate high school ball and giving it the hype and exposure it has now. Ask Steinwachs and he will tell you the high school mixtape that got it all started and possibly the greatest mixtape is John Wall’s.

Steinwachs said, “I mean just seeing the things he was doing in high school, I’m thinking he is going to a problem in the future. The dunks the crossovers the athleticism the mixtape is probably like 10 years old but it’s timeless.”

Ask Jeremy Fernandez and he will tell you it has to be Marcus LoVett Jr’s  junior year high school mixtape.

Fernandez said, “Bro, just watch that mixtape LoVett had the sauce. He was crossing up every person who came in front of him, double teams and triple teams.”

Everyone has their own preference. It just goes to show attention and hype these high school mixtapes and YouTube channels have been able to cultivate. Move on from YouTube and jump to Instagram and you will see sports media companies such as Bleacher Report and ESPN’s SportsCenter post highlights from high school basketball games.

Bleacher Reports Instagram has thousands of other videos similar to this Jalen Lecque highlight dunk.

Move beyond the internet and social media and put your ear to the streets of all the big cities throughout the city and you will see that high school basketball is evolving. With talent being discovered all over the nation and world through national AAU basketball tournaments, YouTube basketball mixtapes, and social media.

Coach Charlie Jackson said, “It’s kind of tough coaching and playing in high school nowadays.” He added, “The talent is so spread out throughout the country so every kid is coming for that top spot, there is talent everywhere and with all these nike and adidas camps and tournaments being made it’s only going to go up from here.”

High school is evolving as time moves on. High school ball players are almost becoming celebrities thanks to social media and the hype is increasing the demand for high school hoops everywhere. We all see the hype that the likes of Lamelo ball and Zion Williamson have garnered from high school; imagine if LeBron James or Kobe Bryant came up in today’s age of hype. We are truly experiencing the era of hype school basketball.

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