Staying back in school to become elite basketball prospects

Submitted by Leaders And Best on July 18th, 2013 at 9:09 AM

Didn't see this posted but really interesting story about the increasing practice of holding back basketball prospects in middle school to give them an advantage to become elite prospects. Some examples: Andrew Wiggins, Nerlens Noel, and Shabazz Muhammad. The four top rated prospects in New Jersey in 2014 & 2015 were all held back a year in middle school (including Karl Towns). The other interesting part is after some of these kids become elite, they skip their junior year to reclassify as seniors to get into the NBA earlier (Andrew Wiggins, Nerlens Noel, and Karl Towns).

NJ Star Ledger article:

Discussed at length on the Jalen Rose podcast:



Space Coyote

July 18th, 2013 at 9:15 AM ^

And it's kind of a different animal, but something very similar happens with many football players in Texas. The difference is that they get held back in high school if they don't look like they're going to be super elite, that way, maybe they can 1) play another year of high school football and be big man on campus; 2) possibly improve or look good enough to get a scholarship elsewhere, be it low D1 or D2 or whatever. 

IMO, it's absolutely ridiculous. Even with the fact that for many of these kids, sports is a way out and maximizing their sport potential is probably their best option, teaching them to cut corners and take the easier path short term will teach them terrible life lessons down the road. I'm sure for many it works out well short term, they get recognized and get free schooling and maybe even become pro potential when they otherwise wouldn't have, but I don't believe in the grand scheme of things it's having an overall positive impact on these kids' lives.

Leaders And Best

July 18th, 2013 at 9:28 AM ^

that students are graduating from high school earlier these days (age 17) with earlier academic programs. Would some of these students have earned a college scholarship (or scholarships to better schools) for athletics if they had an extra year of physical maturation?

I don't think holding a kid back in middle school is the best way to approach it though. I could see maybe doing a post grad year like Spike Albrecht did if you are trying to earn a scholarship.

Space Coyote

July 18th, 2013 at 9:30 AM ^

I think it's more a fact of - and this is coming from a child of an elementary school teacher, so I have some "inside sources" - parents are getting their kids started in school too early these days. Surely, some kids are better getting in early, but for the most part most of these kids should have another year of preschool and wait another year. I think so many parents are ready to get back to work themselves and also to do what they think is best for their kid - the idea getting them started early will make them more advanced - when in reality their kids just aren't as developed yet, and that applies to mental and physical capabilities.

Now, I don't want to tell parents how to raise their kids, but it is happening more and more these days which hints at a trend that it's happening more often than it should. I think that's also what you're saying, and I agree that holding them back in middle school isn't the correct approach.


July 18th, 2013 at 9:49 AM ^

I think you're right with this assessment - that parents are interested in 'other' things when they are scratching to get their kids into Kindergarten a year early.  Keep in mind there are other pressures, though, like the necessity of not having to pay for day-care, or needing two full-time incomes as parents.

That said, the advantage of an extra year isn't fully realized when a kid starts Kindergarten a year later.  Despite having the physical maturity, he still may only have ~7 years (3 M.S. + 4 H.S.) of basketball coaching and experience.  By holding them back in middle school, they gain an extra year of coaching, too, and at an age where you can really grasp the game.


July 18th, 2013 at 2:25 PM ^

Really?  Most sources claim its the opposite, that most parents are holding their kids back an extra year before starting kindergarten so that they are the oldest (the Malcolm Gladwell effect). 

In NY, the official cut-off day is December 31st, so some kids can technically start kindergarten at 4yrs 9 months old.   In practice, its rare to see kids with birthdays later than the summer start kindergarten as anyone younger is generally redshirted.

Space Coyote

July 18th, 2013 at 9:33 AM ^

And I think, to a major degree, it's not coming across as "scholarship for free school vs no scholarship for free school", but instead coming off as "scholarship for free football and I have to go to school vs joining the real world". That's the bigger issue I think. And then there is the whole issue with the precedent (I'm finally starting to spell that word correctly rather than "president", repition is working!) that's being set.


July 18th, 2013 at 9:43 AM ^

Have they ever done a study comparing people from similar backgrounds (poor, wouldn't get into college without football, etc.) where, all else equal, one group goes to college and the other goes "into the real world," and then compare life outcomes? I'd assume the group that goes to college has enough of a better life outcome that staying in middle school longer is worth getting any advantage you can get.


July 18th, 2013 at 10:33 AM ^

It's not cutting corners. It's a loophole in the system. Do you get mad when people use loopholes in the tax code? Or any other example?  How is not getting a free education an overall positive impact? These types of actions exist in all facets of life and it's probably better that they're exposed to it early on so they can learn about it rather than having this pie in the sky vision of how the world works, yearning for the way things used to be (which they never were btw). 

Space Coyote

July 18th, 2013 at 11:29 AM ^

I was acknowledging that there is some benefit to it, but overall I still don't believe it is the correct moral code to set for a kid. Call it loophole if you want - and I'm not going to jump into the political side of things here either - but there is moral issue when talking about taking advantage of a system (an child's education system at that) and giving the child the perception that academics are less important than being a successful athlete. I believe that long term there will be an issue with how that person reacts to things later and life and how they in turn decide to raise their kids. If it were all about simply getting a free education or getting better educated, that would be great, but I think for the most part it's not so much about that. And that's the problem.

Obviously there are other factors that come into play, and this is a generalization, but to hold a kid back so he can be a bit better at football, good enough to play DII, and give him the perception that he's going there for football and education is second, I believe is the wrong moral ground to set, whether it's "cutting corners" or "finding loopholes".

NOLA Wolverine

July 18th, 2013 at 11:48 AM ^

Like it or not (I don't) athletics and education are fully intertwined in basketball and football. Making a decision to increase your success in athletics doesn't entail that you don't care about academics, it just so happens that the academic and athletic tracks have been permanently linked together. Finding happiness in a sport you play and wanting to play it longer isn't a sin.

Hockey has a much more logical system where the effects of age and physical development are for the most part washed out by not forcing a kid to be ready to take a massive step by the time they're done with 12th grade simply because the only place to seriously play the sport is in college. 


July 18th, 2013 at 9:38 AM ^

It is true that kids who are old for their age group tend to have more success as athletes.  If you look at kids born shortly after the cut off between 2 grades, they tend to fare much better than those kids born just before the cut off.   By being bigger and more developed you play more, get more coach attention, and probably have more fun so you work harder.  Just the way everything works and if you want your kid to earn a college schollarship I can't really blame someone from doing that.  There are far worse things that parents do to screw up their kid's lives.


July 18th, 2013 at 9:45 AM ^

This is also true academically (read the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell), and, as a result, many parents also do interesting (crazy?) things to give their children academic advantages, too.

So I think the trend isin't so much about 'gaming football' or basketball, but just people and parents learning how to exploit the system, period.

Maize and Blue…

July 18th, 2013 at 10:03 AM ^

starting their junior year.  They are two of the youngest kids in their grade (still 15) and both started on the varsity football team as sophomores and are on the honor roll.  Would holding them back a year made a difference?  Who knows, but they were ready to go to school so we sent them.

Leaders And Best

July 18th, 2013 at 9:57 AM ^

He had major shoulder surgery that cost him his junior year. Don't know his situation, but his injury & surgery may have affected his academics his well. Repeated his junior year because of the injury, but he is graduating high school a semester early and enrolling college early. Essentially he is staying in high school for an extra semester.

This practice of holding someone back in middle school to gain a physical advantage (especially during years of puberty) is a completely different animal.

Leaders And Best

July 18th, 2013 at 10:22 AM ^

Albrecht did a post grad year at MA prep school after graduating high school in IN. Not sure the exact McGary story, but I think he repeated his junior year of high school when he transferred to prep school in MA from IN. McGary also had some academic concerns which also played a role in his transfer to prep school.

SI article from this past week delves a little into this bit of McGary's history:

Cali Wolverine

July 18th, 2013 at 11:07 AM ^

...this has been going on for years in CA in football and baseball since I was in high school 20 years is a different animal because it more important how tall you are v. how old. The Collins brothers played on my varsity team as 7th graders because they were 6'8 and 6'7...and dominated against seniors a juniors that earned D1 a QB...a point guard or an athletic swing player may benefit more from an extra year. Read the book explains all of this.

Ali G Bomaye

July 18th, 2013 at 11:08 AM ^

It's no surprise that when artificial and arbitrary boundaries are created (the NBA requiring rookies to be at least one year out of high school), people will find ways to get around them (players starting high school earlier).

Here's a question, though: the NBA requires U.S. players to be at least one year removed from the graduation of their high school class before being drafted.  How would they approach people like Spike, who took a post-graduate year?  Would they permit Spike to be drafted after his post-graduate high school year, since it's a year after his original high school class graduated?  Or would he have to wait a year after his post-graduate year?


July 18th, 2013 at 11:32 AM ^

My cousins held both their sons back before enrolling them in Kindergarten and that was in the late 70's!  They did it specifically for sports, although it is true that boys can take a little longer to develop than girls both academically and physically.


July 18th, 2013 at 11:43 AM ^

Kids and or their parents who decide to do this are cowards. They are afraid their kid can't compete with kids in their own grade/age, so they hold them back so they can dominate smaller, younger players. Simple as that. Thats the mindset-trying to look more dominate I order to attract collage scholarships.


July 18th, 2013 at 11:50 AM ^

Maybe it's a joke, but there's been research done to show it's actually a successful strategy, so it's also hard to blame them.  If anything, perhaps it shows they're wiling to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains.


July 18th, 2013 at 12:13 PM ^

As it becomes a more common and known practice, increasingly marginal prospects will do it to get an edge, so instead of Andrew Wiggins doing it, it will be lower tier D1 players, etc... until guys that are not even NCAA calibur players will be doing it because they think they are good enough, or are encouraged by AAU coaches, family, whomever to do it, and then they graduate and are just an extra old kid who didnt get an athletic scholarship, and possibly didnt value education enough to get an academic scholarship, and they basically wasted a year of their life in 7th grade reducing their earning potential in whatever career they get into by 1 year. Once this starts happening the NCAA will have to step in and do something. 


July 18th, 2013 at 12:14 PM ^

Good pickup by to OP on the video, looking forward to watching

If marginal value of last year of school for older kids (due to bigger bodies, etc) is enough to make a difference on the playing field (court, whatever) all other things (talent brains, etc) being equal, then by all means I would as a coach go for older kids over younger ones for a marginal scholarship. I just think that difference is pretty small once you hit the late teens for both hoops and FB. I suppose another year of good coaching in HS can help prepare for college, but that coaching would have to be pretty good to ensure no bad habits persist/get worse. 

If I were a college coach and thought all the other programs were either looking past age or targeting people old for their year, I would try and go the opposite route, especially if I was confident in my coaching abilities and that of the staff. Isn't that what (McGary nonwithstanding) Beilein is doing?


July 18th, 2013 at 1:09 PM ^

The marginal value isn't just the last year of school, though.  This has been studied a lot already, and the marginal value is built on every year for a lot of reasons other than just the incremeental time; and this has been studied in both athletics and academics and the benefits persist throughout a person's entire life.  Someone who is more mature (either physically or mentally) has that initial advantage over their peers, but this advantage is -- on average, as shown in these studies -- reinforced because they're seen as special and so get additional positive reinforcement, coaching, etc., that helps lock in their advantages over the long term.  This is why studies consistently point to professional athletes, CEOs, and successful people from a variety of fields being older than their classmates, on average (and, in the case of the studies of CEOs, this is an impact being seen 40, 50, 60 years later that's still statistically significant.)

Mr Miggle

July 18th, 2013 at 12:20 PM ^

I wonder what effect repeating a grade in middle school has on a kid's academics. It's easy to see how they could pick up some bad habits. Going into a school year knowing you are going to repeat it or repeating classes you have already passed isn't conducive to taking schoolwork seriously, especially with the implied message that sports are more important than playing school.

Steve in PA

July 18th, 2013 at 12:37 PM ^

I posted a thread about this a few years ago when my son's team played another in a basketball tournament.  There was some bad sportsmanship that went down and a parent from the opposing team was so embarassed she felt the need to apologize for the actions of their coach.  She explained how all the starters had been held back in 5th grade and the point guard had actually been held back in an earlier grade as well.


It explained why this teams is a perennial power.  A few of the kids have given up basketball and only play baseball now.  one just accepted an offer from Wake Forest and another has a Pit offer.  Both are sophomores and the team just won a state title.


July 18th, 2013 at 1:03 PM ^

I was looking at various middle and high school leagues and their rules on it, and I came across the UIL (University Interscholastic League) in Texas, which actually has rules regarding having middle school students repeating for athletic purposes. In a nutshell, it basically says that they would lose one year of eligibility (their last typically) in high school by doing this. Section 445 in their book, if you're curious. It goes further to say that anyone held back two years would lose two years of eligibility in high school.

I wonder if similar rules exist in various places and I wonder if reclassifying or switching schools is basically the way to make sure that the loss of eligibility is not an issue where such restrictions exist. I could be wrong, but I am curious as to whether the practice allows players to skirt potential eligibility concerns at the high school level like that. 

Wee-Bey Brice

July 18th, 2013 at 2:48 PM ^

This is something I've become very familiar with since I've been coaching D1 AAU bball since 2010. Our first year as a program at the 6th grade nationals, one of the coaches who's team had finished top 10 the prior year told me directly "if you don't have any grade exemptions, you won't win this". Grade exemptions, of course, referred to kids who were older but still in 6th grade so they were allowed to play. As the week went on, I realized just how right he was. Unfortunately for my team we didnt have one single grade exemption. But the teams that did absolutely dominated play.

Now it's becoming more and more popular that kids "reclassify" to increase their chances of being one of the better kids in the younger age group. The most surprising part of it all is that a lot of parents actually agree to it. For some it pays off but for others, not so much. In reality, middle school rankings don't mean much because there will be a completely different set of kids atop said rankings by 11th grade when the other kids catch up in speed/athleticism.