Points are great, but great basketball should be the point


Covering high school sports where I do, it’s not likely that I’ll ever see a kid score 92 points in a basketball game.

And I’m OK with that.

The headlines and highlights grabbed our attention last week when LaMelo Ball, a sophomore at Chino Hills, Calif., did just that. It was celebrated as a great achievement by a 15-year-old kid, and I thought the same thing when I first heard the news.

I thought, “Wow, 92 points? That kid must have been on fire!”

Then I saw the videos.

The first clip I saw didn’t change my initial thoughts much. It showed Ball making several contested 3-point shots and driving through the lane, at times beating triple teams, for layups and running jumpers.

The second video showed something else. It revealed what became a sticking point for critics of Ball’s performance. For much of the fourth quarter, the sophomore was the recipient of multiple wide-open layups as he hung out in the backcourt, rarely crossing the center court line or even reaching the volleyball line. His teammates would grab a rebound and find Ball for easy layup after easy layup.

The practice is known as “cherry picking,” and it is usually seen at the local rec league or YMCA, never at an IHSAA high school basketball game.

Before I go any further, I’m not here to rip the kid. I’d never do that to a high school player for any reason. He has plenty of skills, and will be the third of three Ball brothers to play at NCAA blue blood UCLA when his high school days are over. He connected on seven of 22 3-point shots, 11 of 14 free throws and 37 of 61 overall field goal attempts. The kid can play.

But I do wonder what the coaches were watching.

I wondered, could a kid put on a performance like that here?

In a word, no.

Basketball is played differently in Indiana. The only two single-game totals in Indiana history that were higher than 92 were both before World War I. This century, the highest point total was 62 by Desmond Bane of Seton Catholic Feb. 19, 2016. Interestingly, the second-highest total since 2000 was by Kyle Cox of Blue River Valley — against Lapel.

It isn’t like there aren’t good players in Indiana — there are plenty. But they don’t score 41 points in the fourth quarter of a blowout win, and they play both ends of the court, offense and defense.

That comes from coaching, and we are privileged to have two coaches — Jimmie Howell of Lapel and Kevin Bates of Pendleton Heights — who respect the game and teach it the right way.

Other than offensive turnovers, there isn’t anything that drives these coaches crazier than giving up easy baskets on defense.

Bates said there was no way he’d let an opposing player just hang out in the backcourt for easy layups. He’d have someone guard him and force him to play both offensively and defensively. He also said he’d probably have to resign if an opposing player ever scored 92 against his Arabians.

Howell, one of the most respected coaches in the state, rolled his eyes at the mention of Ball’s performance and talked about the lack of respect for the game he felt this incident shows.

And if one of their players tried this?

Forget about that, they would be sitting on the bench alongside the assistant coaches simply for not hustling on defense.

And these coaches are right. Basketball is a game that can teach many life lessons for high school kids; teamwork, discipline and honor, among many others. What did Ball learn from cherry picking in the fourth quarter?

I guess he learned that playing half a game can result in 15 minutes of Sportscenter fame.

If Ball and Chino Hills were ever invited to play basketball in Madison County, he would learn a far different lesson.

He would learn that basketball is a team game, requiring five players working together to succeed. He would learn about defense, Hoosier style.

I’m not silly enough to think local teams would have a chance to beat Chino Hills. It is a college basketball factory, churning out players for the next level year in and year out.

But I’m also not going to get excited about watching a layup drill; I can see that in pre-game warmups. Win or lose, I’d be more excited watching Will Jones or Eston Stull crawl into that kid’s jersey and make him earn every point.

That’s another lesson learned playing basketball in the Hoosier state. Success has to be earned.

Isn’t that why Hoosiers pack the gyms every Friday night?