Rocky Hulne: Basketball needs to be a team sport

Published 5:25 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2022

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I was watching the Minnesota Timberwolves take on the Memphis Grizzlies last week, and it was astounding to watch the Wolves blow 10 point leads in three separate games as the Grizzlies kept the Wolves from winning their first playoff series since 2004.

Thanks to the play of Isaiah Thomas during my childhood, I have never been a Wolves’ fan and I have stayed true to my Pistons, but I was more than a little aggravated at watching how the Timberwolves lost their season.

Throughout the series, their three biggest scorers Karl Anthony Town, Anthony Edwards and DeAngelo Russell found ways to hoist up horrible, early-in-the-shot clock heaves, when the game was tight and their season was being decided. It blew my mind how professionals could have no awareness of the fact there is a clock and scoreboard above their heads that should dictate the level of patience they are displaying with the ball.

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Simply put — if you have a small lead late in the game, you shouldn’t be chucking up desperation threes like you are down 20.

The Wolves didn’t lose because they were less talented than the Grizzlies, they lost because they did not play the right way.

The more I thought about it, the AAU and summer basketball world has had a dampening effect on the sport I love dearly. When players begin playing to get noticed instead of playing for their teammates, it taints the quality of play and sometimes that may carry over to the “real” basketball season, be it high school, college or pro.

There are plenty of players who can execute a euro step, a crossover, or even a slam dunk, but there are fewer and fewer players every year who can make the extra pass, take a charge or lift up their teammates with their voice.

I’m not hating on the AAU circuit because I do understand that it is a means to an end. Top players are able to play in front of top coaches, who are looking to fill out their roster.

I do have a bit of a problem with players who don’t have a college future playing AAU basketball. As a substitute, I say save the gas money and tournament fees and stay close to home.

There is nothing wrong with going to the YMCA or an outdoor court and playing pick-up ball with your friends. It will make you tougher, better and you’ll even strengthen a lifelong bond with a friend.

My final gripe about basketball today is the influence of social media. Again, mostly dunks and one-on-one moves are highlighted and oftentimes I see grown men fawning over the ability of a six-foot, four-inch high school senior to throw down an alley oop. Rarely are tough rebounds, great defensive plays or selfless passes highlighted.

Beyond the highlight reel spindlers, are the hype accounts on social media that offer glowingly positive reviews of players and never have any real criticism to offer. If you read these profiles, you may think Minnesota has hundreds of players who are Division I bound. However, once you do the math, you realize this is not possible.

Overhyping players not only inflates that player’s ego, it hurts schools like Riverland Community College, which emerged as a legitimate program in recent years, from getting players.

I still watch and love basketball and I’ll continue to watch the NBA playoffs with passion. I just hope I don’t see too many more finishes like I saw from the Timberwolves against Memphis.