Commentary

Solid AAU circuit gives Seattle more hoops products

Originally Published: July 16, 2008
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com

The Sonics are headed to Oklahoma City. Washington, after back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances, didn't make the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive season. For the first high school season in a long while, the area didn't produce an elite Division I basketball recruit.

In a general, shortsighted way, hoops in Seattle might appear dead or on life support -- the "206" doing a deep six.

It's fair to say the area, which has produced six NBA first-round picks since 2005 -- seven if our list can include an hourlong ferry ride to Bremerton, Wash., to pick up Marvin Williams -- suffered a notable downturn in 2007-08. But the scuttlebutt at the grassroots level is that Seattle remains a basketball hotbed, particularly if its twin city of Tacoma -- the "253" -- is included.

That's where two of the nation's top 50 prospects reside: Bellarmine Prep stars Abdul Gaddy (No. 14 on the ESPN 100) and Avery Bradley (No. 49). Toss in fellow guard Peyton Siva (No. 26) of Seattle powerhouse Franklin High, who has committed to Louisville, and it becomes clear that the Puget Sound area will remain a critical stop for hoops recruiters in the Pac-10 and beyond.

[+] EnlargePeyton Siva
Chris Williams/Icon SMIPeyton Siva, who has verbally committed to Louisville, is one of the up-and-coming stars from Seattle.

Even after the NBA abandons the city.

Seattle's respected place in the hoops firmament exceeds what it should be based on demographics. Its metropolitan area ranks 15th in population among U.S. cities, but its eight NBA players in 2007-08 ranked the city fifth.

Bottom line: The Seattle area produces more than its share of NBA and Division I talent.

The reason isn't that complicated, either. Grassroots hoops in Seattle -- read: the AAU teams -- is organized and well coached. Talent gets every opportunity to realize itself.

"I applaud what the travel teams in our area are really doing," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "I think they really teach basketball."

Anyone who has followed the scene lists the same names. In the 1990s, first Francis Williams and then Albert Hall and Jim Marsh, with an assist from former Sonics coach George Karl, created a strong foundation of youth basketball -- Williams with Rotary Select, Hall and Marsh with Friends of Hoop.

"The quality of youth coaching -- in high school and AAU -- got a lot better and became a source of pride for those involved," said Marsh, a former NBA player and Sonics broadcaster. "It was no longer some dad down in the corner who was just doing a good deed for the neighborhood boys. The bad coaches weeded themselves out."

Though Marsh's "bad" coaches are those who don't know squat about coaching the sport, he also noted that the early commitment to quality leadership mostly kept at bay many of the oleaginous opportunists who lurk around youth leagues.

Notably -- and probably not coincidentally -- the Seattle area's list of elite youth prospects who became Division I and NBA players includes very few who ran into substantial off-court trouble.

Part of that can be attributed to skilled and demanding coaches who cared about their players' best interests. Another part is Seattle itself, which has a lower crime rate than most major cities.

"I don't know if you have the low low-income families as much as some other bigger cities," Romar said. "We have it in Seattle, but I don't know if it's as widespread as other cities. I think there's more mentorship in the Seattle area than maybe other cities."

That mentorship eventually helped 14 Seattle-area athletes play in the 2008 NCAA tournament for schools across the country, ranging from Louisville (Terrence Williams) to Stanford (Mitch Johnson) to Cornell (Conor Mullen) to Kansas (Rodrick Stewart).

A necessary interlude: Folks residing around Spokane on the eastern side of Washington reading (again) about Seattle hoops probably are wondering what in the name of Adam Morrison they have to do to get some credit, and not only for Gonzaga's long-standing and Washington State's recent success.

They would be quick to point out that their side of the state has dominated 4A basketball -- the state's largest classification -- of late, as two-time state champions Ferris High became the state's first team to go undefeated in consecutive seasons, while the Lewis and Clark girls team won its third consecutive title.

Still, programs like Franklin, Rainier Beach, Seattle Prep, Garfield and O'Dea, among others, are pumping the most talent into Division I schools. And the future is bright. Garfield's 6-foot-5 rising sophomore guard Tony Wroten, Nate Robinson's cousin, already is a YouTube phenomenon and is widely considered one of the elite prospects in the class of 2011.

The Sonics may be bolting, but Seattle remains a hoops town, with plenty of A-list talent representing the 206.

Ted Miller is a college football and basketball writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ted at tedmillerespn@gmail.com.

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