I have to admit that I pay more attention to high school quality than to high school sports. But apparently it’s a matter of consensus among high school basketball aficionados that New York City was once, but is no longer, the undisputed epicenter of the sport. A long article in The New Republic, the magazine about politics, tries to explain why the city schools no longer produce top prospects.
One reason is that basketball simply isn’t a defining element of the city’s youth culture anymore, writes Jason Zengerle in the article, which focuses on Lance Stephenson, a senior from Coney Island who just led his team, the Abraham Lincoln High School Railsplitters, its fourth straight city championship.
Another problem, according to a recruiter that Zengerle interviewed, is the proliferation of small high schools in the city:
Not only were good players now leaving New York for New Jersey and for prep schools, but the ones who were staying were being spread too thinly across the city. He mentioned that last year there were 180 varsity boys basketball teams in the PSAL. “Banana Kelly is the name of one school,” Konchalski said. “Urban Peace is the name of another one. Shouldn’t that be a given? Urban Peace? Who’s their rival? Guerrilla Warfare?” It was impossible to cover that many teams with quality coaches, not to mention quality teammates.
One additional note: The city’s Public School Athletics League fielded 180 varsity teams last year — but there are far, far more than 180 high schools. Some campuses with multiple small schools inside have teams that draw players from all of the schools in the building, but there are still many high schools whose students don’t have the option to play competitive sports. I have spoken with many eighth-graders at small high schools who say the biggest downside of their school is the lack of sports and other traditional elements of student life, such as a wide range of after-school clubs.