The average Division I men's basketball team this season includes nine African-American players and four white players, according to data provided by the NCAA. At Wisconsin, the roster includes five African Americans, 10 whites and one Native American.Thus, there's an opportunity for some investigative journalism.
A number of factors contribute to Wisconsin's predominantly white teams, including: state and university demographics; coaching at the lower levels; and [coach Bo] Ryan's system, which features a methodical, half-court offense that is key to his success but according to players and coaches can make it a challenge to recruit top African-American players.Nor should he. "Coach, can you comment on why your team is more diverse than your opponents' teams?" Wrong question. Proper question: why are some of the pre-collegiate teams failing to prepare their players?
Ryan, through a Wisconsin spokesman, declined to comment.
The Badgers ranked second in Division I in assist-to-turnover ratio, 12th in scoring defense and 17th in field goal shooting percentage.Undisciplined better talent beats undisciplined weaker talent. Plenty of highlight-worthy creativity on the playground or in the prison yard.
For DeShawn Curtis, who offers private basketball lessons in the Milwaukee area and coaches on the AAU circuit, the numbers are further evidence that Ryan wants his recruits to have strong fundamentals. Curtis says that is not an emphasis on the AAU teams he has seen in the area, especially in the inner city of Milwaukee.
"They don't teach their kids how to play basketball," says Curtis, who has worked with Diamond Stone, a Milwaukee product and one of the nation's top high school seniors. "The majority of the programs, it's about, 'We've got better athletes than you.'"
For years, though, Wisconsin has progressed deeper into the NCAA tournament by breaking the will of supposedly more talented teams.
Top recruits — regardless of race — also tend to favor a uptempo style because they think it will help them get to the NBA, according to Curtis, other high school coaches and former Wisconsin players.Discipline trumps talent. And the high schools, and the basketball factories, take advantage of young people, to the disadvantage of young people who perceive they have the latter, but haven't developed the former.
[Jordan] Taylor, who was an all-Big Ten Conference point guard for Wisconsin, says, "I think the style of play we have doesn't appeal to the premier athlete."
That's what led Jerry Smith, a top-rated recruit from Milwaukee, to sign with Louisville in 2006, according to Smith's high school coach, George Haas.
"Louisville, their push is, 'We get you ready for the pros,'" Haas says. "For a lot of those kids, that's the most important thing."
[Alando] Tucker, one of three players to be selected in the NBA draft during Ryan's tenure at Wisconsin, says pro scouts complained about the Badgers' style of play.
"It's just hard to watch one of those (low-scoring) games," Tucker says. "No one really wants to see a 55-50 game. They want want to see 80, 90 points scored."
Yet Ryan's style has helped elevate the program to among the elites, with the team being ranked in the Top 25 in 13 of his 14 seasons in Madison.
Numbers off the court might be contributing to the relative paucity of top African-American recruits at Wisconsin. African Americans represent 6.5% of Wisconsin's population, about half the national percentage.Mr Looney is going to be the first Milwaukee Hamilton graduate to declare for the draft. UCLA's academics will not be relevant. But if he doesn't make it in professional basketball, or, if like Jabari Parker, briefly of Duke and the Milwaukee Bucks, he suffers a career-damaging injury ...
By far the highest concentration of African Americans in the state — about 240,000, almost 70% of the state's black residents — live in Milwaukee. The city's four-year graduation rate for black students in public high schools is 58%, among the lowest graduation rates in the nation's urban cities, according to the Wisconsin and federal departments of education.
"We've got a lot of work to do on the ground level here as far as the quality of education and the coaches here preparing athletes before you get to high school," Curtis says.The problem is exacerbated at Wisconsin because of the school's high academic standards, according to Curtis and high school coaches. In January, when Gary Andersen quit as Wisconsin's football coach to take the same position at Oregon State, he cited Wisconsin's admissions standards as motivation.
But even top African-American recruits from Wisconsin who are eligible out of high school elude Ryan. The latest disappointment was the loss of Stone, who had Wisconsin on his list of finalists but committed to Maryland, which has not made the Final Four since 2002.
Kevon Looney, a five-star recruit from Milwaukee who signed with UCLA coming out of high school in 2013, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the lure of Southern California, UCLA's campus, Bruins coach Steve Alford and the team's style of play led to his decision.
J.P. Tokoto, a top-100 recruit who signed with North Carolina coming out of high school in 2012, said his decision came down to coaching style.
And North Carolina, one of the teams Wisconsin excused from the tournament?
Although UNC has tried to maintain an image of running squeaky clean sports programs that ensure student-athletes a high quality education, for decades it has actually been recruiting players who shouldn’t have gotten out of high school, then ushering them through a “curriculum” consisting largely of easy courses with negligible educational value.I think that's called the soft bigotry of low expectations. And it has a disparate impact on young, poor, black men.
I think we should contemplate the root of problem, which is that so many young athletes, mostly from minority families, grow up thinking that becoming excellent in a sport where the pros make huge money is the goal to strive for. One of Willingham’s students who had great trouble reading and writing told her, “I’m my family’s lottery ticket.”But even in professional sports, discipline trumps talent, an editorial comment in the New York Times notwithstanding.
Sadly, that’s how many of the “student-athletes” [Cheated] is about see the world from their early years on. Many young men let basic education slide so they can try to attract the attention of college coaches, and then let college education slide while they try to attract the attention of pro scouts, but only a fraction of one percent of them will ever sign a professional sports contract. They don’t think about the costs of ignoring school when they see college stars getting drafted and signing multi-million dollar deals.
Until concerned people can somehow replace that sports-lottery mindset in young minority males with an education-first mindset, I suspect that coaches and administrators will continue defying the rules that are supposed to prevent students from being cheated out of education.
Last year, Wisconsin lost to a freshman-led Kentucky team. On Saturday, the Badgers avenged that loss. On Monday, however, they lost to an equally talented but better-coached team of freshmen from Duke.Mr Krzyzewski has been building a program at Duke for almost as many years as Mr Ryan has been coaching, in one of the toughest conferences. Kentucky had enough talent to go unbeaten in the Southeastern Conference, but probably not in the Atlantic Coast or the Big Ten. And disciplined weaker talent can beat undisciplined stronger talent.
With the championship decided, Final Four fanfare over, college coaches will hit the recruiting trail in earnest, scouring the country for The One.
While Wisconsin’s veteran-led success this season was heartening, Kentucky’s 38-game winning streak and Duke’s championship run were poignant reminders of a timeless truth. Patience is a truly a virtue, but talent wins.