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Stay Home – The struggle to keep our most talented players in Michigan

By: Branden Hunter, July 12, 2014, 11:56 am

While Cleveland welcomed home their king of the hardwood, NBA superstar LeBron James, another one of Detroit’s young kings was making his exit out of the city. Josh Jackson just about put Detroit Consortium on his shoulders, leading them all the way to a Class C state basketball title in March, the school’s first. Most recruiting services around the country regard him as the top player in his class for 2016, including holding down the No.1 ranking for

Sadly, in a shocking, yet unsurprising announcement, the 6-foot-7 small forward decided he would take his talents from the gritty streets of Detroit, to the sunny beaches of California, in an interview with 1NationTV. And by no means should anyone knock Jackson for leaving for a prep school across the country, for we all have the right to pursue our own happiness, but that just hurts the city even more. 

Already struggling with job losses, corrupt officials, high volumes of poverty, and an even higher crime rate, high school basketball is an event that brings all Detroiters together. Many considered Jackson to be the best player the city has seen since Chris Webber. Which was over 25 years ago. 

Nowadays you just don’t you see players of Webber’s caliber, or a Jalen Rose, or Robert Traylor, or as late as a Manny Harris coming out of the city. For some reason, the city just doesn’t produce those types of players anymore. And when it does, as in Jackson’s case, there is an excitement like non-other.  

Jackson isn’t even the first player in the city, or even in the state to ditch their home schools for a prep school out of state. U-D Jesuit 2016 shooting guard Billy Thomas decided to pursue playing time elsewhere at Genesis Academy in Virginia, and reclassify to the class of 2017. Trevor Manuel would have been one of the top players in the state for 2015, but he couldn’t turn down a chance to play at the well-known Oak Hill Academy in West Virginia, over Lansing Sexton. Just like Detroit, the city of Flint has also been ridden with crime and poverty, if not more. So after one stellar year at Southwestern High, highly-touted wing player Miles Bridges bolted for Andrew Wiggins’ alma mater, Huntington Prep in West Virginia.

And once again, no one can these fault players for leaving, for whatever reason they chose to leave, but the real question is why are so many of our top players leaving the state? Prep schools are the hottest trend now among players today, like capri-shorts, nappy haircuts, and sneakers brighter than the sun. 
At a prep school, something that isn’t offered here in the state of Michigan, players have a larger variety of opportunities that most public schools simply just don’t offer. Of course there are arguments as to which schools are better, something fit for another day, but a lot of players nowadays are gravitating towards prep schools. 

At some of the more successful prep schools around the country, like Oak Hill, Findlay Prep in Nevada, Huntington Prep, and South Kent School in New England, those teams play 30-40 games a season. While we are still in our high school football season here in Michigan, schools like that have already gotten in 10 games or more in their seasons. The Michigan High School Athletic Association is the governing body here in Michigan, and won’t allow more than 20 regular season games to be played, or more than three games per week. Majority of high players around the country play AAU basketball, in which multiple games a day can be played. These young athletes play the sport of basketball because they love it, and the majority of them that I have talked to were all in agreement that the MHSAA should allow more games during the regular season.

Another big factor in players deciding to play out of state at a prep school, is the once in a lifetime opportunity to play on television. Unless your team has made it to the state finals at the Breslin Center, you more than likely won’t have an opportunity to play on television. The Worldwide Leader in Sports, ESPN, televises dozens of high schools games on their networks, and even AAU games in the summertime. I guarantee you haven’t seen a team from Michigan have a chance to showcase their talents to the entire nation. It’s ESPN! Who doesn’t want to be on ESPN, whether you’re an athlete, or even a sports writer?

Aside from not being able to play on television, most teams can’t even play other teams from another state. The MHSAA has a rule prohibiting a team from Michigan from traveling more than 300 miles to compete, unless it is in a bordering state. But also, that school cannot compete against a team that travels more than 300 miles to compete. Meaning we will never see a Detroit Pershing versus Oak Hill game, or have Findlay Prep come here to play Saginaw Arthur Hill. The rule was put into play mainly because trips like that can become so costly, and understandably so, but that only hinders our players from getting exposure elsewhere, and the experience of a lifetime.

So to avoid a battle with the MHSAA, one in which you probably won’t win, players just leave to play somewhere that will allow it, and I can’t blame them. Michigan is so far behind in high school athletics, compared to other states across the country, that it’s becoming harder, and harder to keep up. If something isn’t changed soon, and it probably won’t be, our Josh Jackson’s, and Miles Bridges’ will continue to leave Michigan for better opportunities. 

Northeast Ohio got LeBron to come home. We need our LeBrons to stay home.