Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Problem with Youth

I seem to remember something like this happening 20 years ago.

Back then, the Fab Five dominated the college court. Their style was unconstitutional, their swagger was unorthodox. But they won - a lot. And the thing that really got people talking about them was their youth. Five freshmen started for Michigan, sending juniors and seniors to the bench that weren't bad players - they just couldn't keep up.

But what happened in the NCAA Tournaments? As freshmen and sophomores, the Fab Five (and Friends) couldn't pull out that last game. The more experienced Duke and North Carolina teams beat them.

And before we could say "Wait till next year, when we've got these guys as upperclassmen!", Chris Webber bolted for the NBA, and the magic was gone. Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose left the next year.

I even remember something like this two years ago. Darius Morris was poised to help Michigan basketball compete in a tough Big Ten Conference. But amid the whisperings of his NBA potential, Morris left Michigan after his sophomore year, and the team had to build from the bottom again.

Not to say that there wasn't anything at the bottom. Because Morris was gone, Trey Burke was able to get more playing time and help him develop. And Trey Burke, along with junior Tim Hardaway Jr, have become the leaders of the team.

But the rest of the players on the court are new to some of these experiences. New to the threatening nature of the Ohio State gym. New to the national spotlight. New to the idea that, with one game, they could be #1 in the nation.

So when the spotlight shines the brightest, the youth can't keep up the dominance.

THAT'S the problem with youth.

Youth has very little experience. Youth needs to live a little to get the experience needed to dominate and control a game. Youth needs to have some downs along with the ups. Youth needs to have that crushing defeat in order to know how badly it feels...and never want to feel that way again.

But there's another problem with youth - of the college basketball variety.

So many of the Youth of the NCAA are beckoned by it's older NBA brother - and the cash and fame that comes with him. Youth doesn't want to wait to get the experience in college - they want to be in the deep end immediately.

So how is Michigan going to adjust to this loss? To the fact that everyone was looking at them today, and they absolutely STUNK for the first 20 minutes of the contest? Are they going to grow up? Are they going to use the experience to adjust their game?

I can be encouraged by the fact that this happened early in conference play. Michigan has a chance to play OSU again at Crisler Center (still can't adjust to the name change), and will be seeking revenge. Burke and Hardaway Jr. and GRIII will hit the practice floor tomorrow ready to shoot around till their fingers cramp. A loss like this can only be good.

Well, kind of.

If the Youth decide to stick around and change from Youth to Experienced, then I am very, very excited. This year is gravy. Next year? Next year could be amazing. A team that grows together knows each other and understands what the other is thinking and can be there for the alley-oop by mere telepathy is a team to be feared.

But if Hardaway Jr. and Burke decide to bolt for the NBA come spring, then this loss is really, really hard. Any loss we get doesn't help us form an Experienced team - it makes the juniors and sophomores eager to play a solo game, energize their draft status, and jump ship. And then we're right back where we started.

With more Youth. And the vicious Youth cycle begins again.