It’s the era of specialization

Many prep athletes choose to play one sport year-round

By AARON COE

Herald Writer

Putting a ball into a basket seems so simple.

It is why so many are drawn to the game of basketball. Anyone can play, whether it be alone, or in a crowded gym somewhere.

When basketball inventor James Naismith hung up peach baskets, he probably had no idea that many high school players would essentially devote their lives to the game.

Sometimes, putting a ball through a net can be hard. Those who want to do it with some regularity have to work on the craft nearly every day of the year. To be a dominant basketball player — and to secure a college scholarship — athletes often have to specialize in the sport. The days of the jock who is the quarterback of the football team, the scoring machine on the basketball team and the flame-throwing pitcher on the baseball team seem to be ending. As the competition level grows, there just isn’t time to do all three effectively.

"I played tennis for a while," said Kamiak guard Jeff Knudson, who recently committed to Seattle Pacific University. "But then I thought I might be wasting my time. I knew someone else was out there working at it, so now I’m totally committed to basketball.

Knudson, a 6-foot-6 guard, plays the game year-round. A Kamiak practice may last for only two hours a night, but for Knudson and many other prep players, it doesn’t end there. Knudson spends additional time trying to perfect his jump shot, which is often good from well beyond the 3-point line. And time must be spent in the weight room if one wants to compete in a game that is becoming more physical.

Knudson will play at least 20 games with his high school team during the season. The Knights also play in a summer league. Knudson and teammate Scott Szalay, a 6-foot-7 post player, also played on the Emerald City Nike team, which played about a 50-game schedule during the summer, including several out-of-state tournaments.

What that means is, Knudson and Szalay will play approximately 100 games this year, not including the many pickup games they have participated in.

"You just love the game," Szalay said. "You want to get better, and you want to win, too.

The hard work of returning starters Szalay, Knudson and Mike Boyle has put the Knights in a position to contend for the Western Conference 4A South Division title. All three players may end up playing college ball. Boyle was a year-round player, but was talked into playing football as a senior. Boyle, in one season, proved to be one of the league’s best receivers and was a major factor in Kamiak’s 11-2 season that ended in the state semifinals last Saturday.

And as it turns out, Boyle may be going to college on a scholarship — for football.

"I was always afraid I’d get hurt," Boyle said. "Everybody said I should have played last year, and I wish I would have."

That’s why some believe the trend toward focusing on one sport is not necessarily a good thing. Athletes may be missing opportunities in other sports. And when athletes choose one sport, other programs in the school may suffer because they lack athletes.

"We need kids to turn out for more than one sport," Everett basketball coach Darrell Olson said. "We can’t survive if too many kids specialize."

Everett returns two starters from last season’s team that finished seventh in the state tournament. Reggie Limar and Josh Daniels, who play hoops all year, give the Seagulls a chance to compete with Stanwood. The Spartans are led by basketball specialists Ryan Appleby and Marcus Steele and may be the favorites to win the league.

Many athletes are drawn to select ball because of the exposure they receive and the opportunity to travel around the country. Some coaches are able to make a career out of select basketball, if they can find solid sponsorship, which often comes from athletic shoe companies.

"I don’t know if I would call it organized chaos, but that’s kind of what it is," Olson said. "I wish there were a way the number of games could be limited. I just don’t think it’s healthy to play year-round."

For some, the game can be expensive. Basketball is attractive to many, because all you really need is a ball and a pair of sneakers.

But, if you want to be the best, you’ve got to play select ball. Personal trainers can be hired at gymnasiums to improve foot speed, strength, quickness, ballhandling and shooting, among other things.

Though some believe athletes are missing out on other experiences, those who dedicate themselves to the game of basketball wouldn’t have it any other way.

"It’s all for the love of basketball," Knudson said. "I just want to get better. It’s kind of an addiction."

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