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Who’s to blame for the mass exodus of players out of Michigan?

By: Branden Hunter, August 14, 2014, 12:57 pm

You would think, with all of the rain we have gotten since Monday, that the grass would be greener here in Michigan. But that’s now how our high school athletes view it. Well former high school athletes now. 

It has been well documented that several of that state’s better basketball talents have decided to leave Michigan, and finish their careers out of state. That number was at eight yesterday afternoon, before Saginaw High junior power forward, Algevon Eichelberger announced his decision to leave. Joining the likes of Josh Jackson, Donnie Tillman, Billy Thomas, Jaire Grayer, Bakari Evelyn, Charles Penn, Tariq Jones, and Rodney Scales, who are all quality players.

Eichelberger and Jackson will team up together at Prolific Prep in Napa, California, a school that is so new, that it hasn’t even opened yet.  Founded by basketball trainer Jeremy Russotti, and being coached by fellow trainer Philippe Doherty, Prolific Prep will look to offer what other prep schools can, and a lot of public high schools can’t, and that’s exposure. The 6-6, Eichelberger has a handful of college offers, but he wants more.

"The decision to leave was for the opportunity for him to train with some to notch trainers in Rossotti and Doherty," Eichelberger’s father said. "He has to be more than a post player. He gets a chance to expand his game on the perimeter, and improve his overall game. 

"We prayed about, and are at peace with ours, and his decision. We hate to see him go, but we all know this is a great opportunity for him as a player, and a young man. The school he will attend has great academics also, and that was icing on the cake."

Anytime you have a mass exodus of players like this, one that we haven’t seen before, you have an issue. You have a really big issue. And the real issue isn’t the kids leaving, it’s why they are leaving. Some like to blame the MHSAA, the governing body of high school athletics in Michigan. Who limits how far their teams can travel during the season, who they can play out of state, playing on national television, and how many games can be played in a season, among other rules. Which is why Eichelberger is heading west to get some California love.

"I feel that until the MHSAA changes their tight policies, kids will continue to leave the state," said the elder Eichelberger. "Putting restrictions on team travel really hurts kids exposure wise, especially the very talented players. They are bottled up in Michigan until AAU season, and it’s tough for a kid that knows he is just as good as the kids he sees on ESPN playing high school ball, but knows he can’t even dream of that exposure playing here in Michigan.

"They (Prolific Prep) have a great travel schedule, playing against some of the best players in the country. He’ll get seen by a lot more coaches with a national schedule, and he will get better from the practices alone."

Even some high school coaches don’t agree with the MHSAA’s rules, which are stricter than the parent’s of a 10-year-old trying to stay outside after the streetlights come on. Myke Covington is the boys basketball head coach at Detroit Cornerstone, a charter school on the city’s east side. This winter will be Cornerstone’s inaugural season on the hardwood, and interestingly, they won’t be a MHSAA participant in basketball.

"What is the advantage of playing under the MHSAA?", Covington said. "Kids will keep leaving, until they feel that they can get the same exposure as their competitors that they play against on the national AAU Circuit. They see players who have higher rankings, and more exposure than them, but they feel, and know that they a far more talented. 

"This is the reason the we have made the decision to play a prep schedule at Cornerstone, and watch the impact of thinking outside the box. We will play 30-35 games this season, and also travel to different states."

The MHSAA has shown some sympathy towards its student-athletes, by lifting its often scrutinized all-star game rule, but some believe that isn’t enough. Michigan is behind in high school athletics, and everyone, well almost everyone, is recognizing it. 

"Our state is behind, and will continue to lose out if they don’t open their minds, and be open to expansion of the rules, and limitations," said Covington.

Is the MHSAA the only one at fault? No. Some like to contribute the transferring issue to parents, and AAU coaches. Saying the coaches are "pimping" the athletes, and selling them dreams, just to benefit, or make a profit for themselves. High school basketball around the country has gotten a lot like AAU basketball. Players from all over are teaming up with other players, and some believe the loyalty factor among the young men is becoming non-existent.

"You get a lot of these high school coaches who let these AAU coaches pimp their kids for the sake of getting a kid," said Detroit Frederick Douglass head coach Pierre Brooks. "Then they become brainwashed to think that it’s ok to take flight. Unbelievable!

"I get the point of "doing what’s best for me", but what about the high school coaches in Michigan who really bust their tails to develop these kids, spend tremendous amounts of time with them, and then all of a sudden they bail. What about team members that have shed blood, sweat, and tears with their teammate, and then conveniently ‘I need more exposure, I’m out’.   To me something is wrong with that picture, and loyalty is a lost virtue it seems like."

At the end of the day it’s the parents decision to let their child, not athlete, leave or not, since they are still minors. Most parents want what’s best their children, athletically, and educationally, and will do whatever it takes to obtain it. Some will accept money, benefiting off of their child’s athletic abilities, then in Eichelberger’s case, he is paying for his son’s move, and think it will only benefit him.

"If a player and his family decides leaving is the best move for the kid, I see nothing wrong with it," he said. "You have to do what you think is best for your child. It’s nothing different than a tennis player, golfer or actor/performer leaving, and going to a special school/academy to get better, and further themselves."

Everyone has their own personal reason for leaving, and we all can continue to point the finger at one another, but the problem doesn’t seem to be going away. It has also trickled down into football, with two of he state’s best juniors leaving for schools in California, and Texas. Daelin Hayes is committed to USC, and he bolted for St.Bonaventure, in Ventura, California. Chris Daniels has a Western Michigan offer, and left Muskegon Mona Shores for Trinity High, in Euless, Texas. Both moves came as shock, and it makes you wonder if other elite players will follow suit, and leave as well.

No one can predict the future, but the way it’s looking now, the high school landscape in Michigan is only getting worse. Will we have enough elite players for bigger schools like Michigan, and Michigan State to choose from in both sports? Will certain rules be changed, to allow our kids to be more competitive? Or we will continue to lose them, to better opportunities elsewhere?

Still, with all of the movement that has been going on, Michigan still has quality talent in both sports, and that’s where our focus should continue to be on. Let’s just hope our young players in the state, like Brian Bowen, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Brandon Johns, and Corey Malone-Hatcher, among others, don’t follow the trend.