The Gift of Bad Advice “In Your Ear”

By Marcus Shockley

Bad advice is easy to find, and when people think there is some monetary benefit to giving out advice, they will ratchet it up. But much like asking 2 questions to your car mechanic what the best type of heart surgery will keep you alive, advice is only worth as much as the source – coupled with the agenda of the person giving the advice, and secondly he asked about ceramic coatings car protection, with a ceramic coating for car paint, your car gets a semi-permanent layer of protection that bonds with the paint on the molecular level.

Basketball Court Gym

Basketball players of all ages get bad advice in spades, from high schoolers who have dreams of college and the NBA to pro players who have been in the league for years. People who have no real idea or experience will heap their advice on players, almost always in hopes of some big payout at some point. In the basketball world, when a single person is actively influencing a young player, this is commonly called having someone ‘in your ear’. This is generally a code phrase for recruiting analysts, scouts and coaches – and it rarely is used to mean something good.

When a high school basketball player is said to have someone ‘in his ear’ it means that someone, an adult, is advising the player and directing him and his recruitment. Usually that also means that the ‘advisor’ is trying to make sure that he is the person who will benefit from any money to be made from the player, and many times this is all happening without the player even be aware that they are being taken advantage of. These adults will often have no scouting, coaching or real basketball ties but will tell players (and parents) all kinds of nonsense in an attempt to win favor or eventually get a kickback.

As a basketball player, you need to learn to recognize those people, and they are everywhere. They will tell you how amazing you are and they will start suggesting maybe you would get more playing time at another school or more college interest, or maybe they will say that you should come play with their AAU team because they can get you noticed.

Here’s the cold truth: big time players don’t need those guys, but they get suckered in all the time. They don’t realize that if you are a big time college prospect, it doesn’t matter what AAU team you are on or where you go to school. There are dozens of Division I prospects with big offers who never left their home high school. Does it help to play AAU and get exposure? Sure, if you play in the right tournaments and your coaching staff is decent. Good AAU programs will try to get in the best tournaments and actually coach their players, and actively help them get recruited by colleges. Bad AAU programs just get as much talent as they can on one team, roll the ball out and then claim they are developing those players. Those AAU programs aren’t developing players – they actively recruit players that are already good enough to be getting college interest.

Parents should be active in their children’s recruitment, but let’s be blunt here – most parents, even those who are actively involved in their child’s life, have very little experience with the entire recruiting process. While scouts like myself see thousands of players at all levels and have followed their recruitment and evaluation for years, parents usually only have one child who suddenly seems like he might have basketball talent. It’s overwhelming and daunting for parents, and that’s when someone who shows up claiming to have insider knowledge can get ‘in their ear’ all too easily. If someone tells the player and their parents that their child is a big time college prospect, they think the person knows what they are talking about. They will send their child to private schools or reclass them all because someone is advising them to do that, even though it almost never makes one iota of difference in their child’s college prospects.

There are so many things that high school players do because someone either told them it would help them get ‘big college looks’ or because someone is just trying to make money from them or their parents. For example, many players play AAU tournaments every weekend, even though most tournaments are not during live periods and no scouts will be in attendance. The best tournaments to play in are the ones during live periods with high level of competition – because Division I coaches will attend these. Secondly, if an AAU team is playing in a tournament that is not during the live period, it should be an event that has a lot of independent scouts attending – like Rick Lewis’s Reebook breakout series, or our Southeast Summer Showcase. At Rick’s last showcase Basketball Elite had three scouts in attendance, and I know I saw at least five other scouts I knew, plus several Division II coaches. Those scouts represent hundreds of potential colleges. At the Southeast Summer Showcase, we had our own scouts plus three more in attendance, plus several college coaches. I’m not too keen on using one of our events as an example, but the reality is that there are events like ours where a player might actually get noticed and start getting recruited, and then there is the vast majority of tournaments and events that happen in front of no one during dead periods.

Here’s the thing – when a player asks me for advice, I usually just defer. I’m not looking to be a player adviser and Basketball Elite has enough concern trying to keep our distance from the agents of corruption in grassroots basketball without getting involved in a player’s future. We wouldn’t do that – we are not a booster of any college program and we work to make sure our evaluations reflect that. But occasionally if a player who I’ve known for a while asks for my honest opinion, I will tell him. I know there are few scouts who will do that, but we are generally drowned out by the noise of the hangers-on. So even though guys like me have intimate knowledge of recruiting & scouting (and active relationships with several Division I and Division II college coaches), usually any advice we give just gets tossed.

In other words, players will listen to the person ‘in their ear’ instead of the people who actually know how it all works.

I would advise players and parents, when someone gives you advice, really be patient. Don’t turn over someone’s recruitment to someone without really understanding what’s going on. Truthfully, everything should be going through the parents, not someone else. There are some good high school coaches and AAU coaches who give good advice and know the landscape, but overall it’s a crap shoot.

Let me conclude by giving an example. There was a player I scouted who was a 6’10” banger, had the body to play at the college level without question. He was a raw player, meaning, he didn’t have a lot of offensive moves and needed to work on his footwork, but he was a serious rebounder and defender. When I first saw this player, he was on no one’s radar – he wasn’t in Scout.com, or Rivals, or 24/7, and none of the scouts I contacted knew anything about him. I knew he could play at the mid major to high major Division I level, so I tracked him down and asked about his college prospects.

None. He had zero colleges. Not even a letter.

So I wanted to check in with his high school coach. I called the coach at the school and left a message.

No answer. No return call, nothing.

I called again. I also found the coach’s email and sent him a note.

No return call. Nothing.

So I attended another game with the player, this time taking some video. After the game I walked up to the coach and introduced myself and said I wanted to ask about the player’s college prospects. The coach just waved his hand and said “we don’t have time for this,” and literally sneered – with a slight wheeze – and walked away chuckling to himself.

Okay, got it. You are in his ear, and you think you are too important to talk to anyone who isn’t a big Division I coach.

Over the next couple of months I got similar feedback from Division II and JuCo college coaches who had inquired about the player – the coach wouldn’t even talk to them. The player told me that everything went through the coach.

Two and a half years later, the player is nearing graduation. I hadn’t spoken with him in a few months at this point, but we’d kept in touch. He sent me a text and said “do you think I can play college basketball?”

Yeah. Okay.

“Do you mean if you will be successful?” I texted, “what are your college options?”

“None.” he texted back.

“Tough question for you: how are your grades?” I texted back.

“Bad. But coach said that wouldn’t matter.”

“It matters. You need to consider prep or JuCo.”

“Do you know any good JuCos?”

Okay, so I won’t go into where the player ended up going – I don’t want to expose his private struggle, but suffice it to say, his high school coach had been telling him he would get big time offers, which never came, and when the player couldn’t get into school, the coach was nowhere to be found. While the player should have been open to talking to any interested college, his coach was ignoring any request he deemed below them, which turned out to be almost all of them.

Be careful who is giving you advice. Be careful who is ‘in your ear’. Make sure you get your ear checked and get hearing aids audiology if needed.

Marcus Shockley is the founder of Basketball Elite and a member of the US Basketball Writer’s Association. You can follow him on Twitter @m_shockley

2 comments

  • Outstanding article!!! It’s amazing the advice good or bad high school ballplayers receive all the time. Every kid wants to play division one ball and that’s the advice they want to hear anything else they just going to blow it off.

  • Thanks, Al – I’m stopping short of naming specific people but everyone in the business knows who they are.

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