Nearly half of the 65 teams playing in the NCAA tournament this week have players from north Jersey or New York City on their roster, solidifying the argument that the best high school basketball is played in the northeast. And it’s not just the city kids that can play either. New England’s prestigious prep schools are home to just as many Division I recruits as they are to future senators these days.
Schoolboy basketball is thriving.
Yet somehow, college basketball in the region is dying.
Only Connecticut and Siena managed to qualify for the Big Dance this week, and only the Huskies have a reasonable chance to make it past the first weekend. It’s gotten so bad that even the Northeast Conference had to find a team from Maryland (Mount St. Mary’s) to represent the league in the tournament.
It wasn’t that long ago that St. John’s and Seton Hall were among the country’s elite teams and Providence was thriving. Even more recently, Boston College became a tournament lock every year, Massachusetts was in the Final Four and Rhode Island was able to recruit and land a future lottery pick named Lamar Odom. And of course there was UConn and Syracuse, who eventually went on to win three National Titles in six seasons.
But all of that seems forgotten now, especially since the Huskies are weaker than normal and the Orange have now missed the NCAA Tournament two years in a row.
The biggest problem, clearly, is that the schools have done a horrible job at keeping the region’s top players home. Next season, Connecticut will bring in New York’s top rated player, point guard Kemba Walker, but five of the next six prospects are all expected to leave the area. The same goes for Jersey, which is sending its best player to Louisville and three of its top five to Kansas to play for Bill Self. The top players in New England’s high schools are heading to Arizona, Ohio State and Louisville as well.
City kids are trading city life for cow tipping and pickup trucks.
And the future doesn’t look much brighter. Sure, Connecticut and Syracuse will always be fairly prominent, but the rest of the region (especially the New York Metro schools) seems hopeless. Until they figure it out, the kids will continue to thrive elsewhere.
And the schools will continue to fade.
*Correction* Cornell is the third team from the northeast in the tourney.