Texas to London: The structural differences
There are distinct differences in the way that junior basketball is structured in the USA in comparison to the UK, which leads to more variety and ultimately success in the development of American basketball.
Many US States have vastly different shot clock rules than the standard 24 seconds in Britain. In college basketball the shot clock is 35 seconds long with teams executing a variety of elaborate offenses until the perfect shot has been found. Even more extreme is the High School ruling in many states, including Texas, in which teams do not have a shot clock! Execution is key to offensive production in these situations, although sometimes teams will spend a couple of minutes moving the ball in search of an open look near the basket. Limiting the amount of offenses a team has means that players and coaches feel more accountable for each possession and will be forced to make better decisions on and off the ball.
Despite the longer shot clock, the pace of high school games is often extremely quick and the players themselves display incredible athleticism and strength at very young ages. Young players in the USA are exposed to Strength & Conditioning programs from as young as 14, and while critics may argue this isn’t good for their bodily development, the results are certainly witnessed on a weekly basis. Check out current 9th grade phenom Cassius Stanley on YouTube to get an idea of some of the athletic ability stateside!
High School basketball players are generally placed on to one of three teams; the Freshman team, Junior Varsity and Varsity. The Freshman team is solely made up of first-year players, the JV team features both Freshman and Sophomores (and sometimes Juniors) and the Varsity team is for the best players at the school, regardless of age. All 3 teams have their own Head Coaches and compete separately against fellow Freshman, JV and Varsity teams and have their own playoffs and championships.
The High School season in the USA is considerably shorter than here in Britain, but by no means does that suggest there are fewer games! Once the season gets going in November, teams will take on 2-3 games per week through to February when playoffs generally start. The High School season is intense and full on and teams must be fully prepared for rigorous schedules week after week. There are many rules and regulations in place to ensure that teams are on a level playing field in regards to practice; most preseasons begin in October and official practice starts in mid-late November.
With the duration of the season in mind, may High School players work diligently on their games through the off-season from March – September, which also includes “travel ball” where they will suit up for their respective AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) teams and compete in tournaments throughout the country. It is during this time that many players are exposed to college scouts and recruiters, who flock to tournaments in Las Vegas, Houston and Los Angeles to see America’s brightest young talents battle it out on the hardwood.
The High School leagues across the country vary massively in level of play and ability. Basketball hotbeds such as Texas, California, New York and Florida have highly competitive leagues in both the private and public sector. New England is home to the NEPSAC, arguably the strongest Prep School league in the country where post-graduates compete alongside high school players for team supremacy. The public schools and private schools generally compete separately, but may end up clashing when it comes to the State playoffs and tournament.
The American basketball system offers so many avenues for competition and exposure; if a player has the ability and drive there is abundant opportunity for them to play against the best, and be seen by the necessary coaches to take them to the next level. High School basketball in the USA is so unique in its diversity and variety and the level of competition at the junior level is often breath-taking to witness. The developmental pathway from Middle School, to High School and on to College is so efficient that it gives every aspiring player an opportunity to fulfil their basketball dreams.