“Oh, yeah.” Jarrod nods his head. “But, my mom and dad make sure…they don’t push me too hard. They’ll say, ‘You need some time off. Have fun for a while.’ Or, I’ll tell them, ‘I need a day off,’ or, ‘I need a couple days off.’ ”
I’ll come back to this later on. “You said you play year-round ball.”
“Yeah. My dad says to go up against the best talent, the biggest players…he takes me to the big tournaments.”
I stop and remind myself again that Jarrod is 16 years old. “I would guess, when you’re playing basketball, there’s a part of you thinking, ‘I’m better than this guy’ or ‘I’m worse than this guy’ or ‘This guy I don’t know about.’ ”
“I know where I fit. I know what I can do and what I can’t do.”
I’d like more. “So by going to these big tournaments, you’ve seen all the best players in Southern California?”
“Do you have a sense of where you stand in that field?”
Jarrod takes a moment. “I don’t know if I want to answer that question.”
This is a smart kid. “Your mom said she can go anywhere in Lakeside and someone will mention your name. Does that happen to you?”
“Well, last night I went into Vons to get some money and this lady walks in and says, ‘Oh, do you mind if I use the ATM machine real quick? By the way, you’re a good basketball player. We came down from Ramona to watch you play.’ ”
“Does that happen often?”
“Yeah, quite a bit.”
“Does it feel strange?”
Jarrod takes a long, deep breath. “I know I’m going to get it more and more, so it’s not…I don’t think it’s too strange. It’s kind of embarrassing sometimes.”
“What do you say when it happens?”
Youth basketball is an industry, and its purpose is to feed adults. Anybody within reason can put together a youth basketball team. The team can be run by, supported by, or affiliated with government, community service clubs, businesses, nonprofits, churches, athletic organizations, volunteer organizations, a person, a corporation, or none of the above, or a combination of the above.
For our purposes we’ll stick with high school–aged boys and elite teams, teams with nationally ranked players or players who are on the cusp of being nationally ranked. On these teams, players are drawn from any number of high schools and any number of cities, or states, for that matter. These teams usually play in the spring and summer. So a parent who’s looking to have his superstar son get a shot at the NBA would want his kid to play on an elite team, especially one that travels to big-deal tournaments.
Big-deal tournaments attract elite teams from every part of the country. Last summer’s adidas Big Time Tournament, held in Las Vegas, featured 344 teams from 41 states, Canada, and Mexico. More than 300 college coaches clogged tournament sites, the number of college coaches on hand being the most important stat and the reason elite teams were there.
The idea is to show your super-talented kid to college coaches and scouting services in hopes of having him rated nationally, which means he’ll be recruited and offered a scholarship. In the process, in the years of having your super-talented kid play club ball, play in hundreds of games and scores of tournaments, all those coaches, scouts, tournament producers, the tens of thousands of people who have a money connection to youth basketball will need to be fed. And since we’re talking about adults and money, there is no such thing as too much — too many teams, too many camps, too many scouting firms, too many tournaments, too many spring leagues, too many summer leagues, too many clinics, too many tennis shoes, too many T-shirts, too much of anything that might generate one extra dollar.
Ross Furrow, 59, is the boys’ varsity basketball coach at El Capitan High School. Aside from the suicidal left turn one must make off Ashwood Street to enter the school parking lot, El Cap looks like any other public high school built in Southern California during the 1950s, neat rows of one-story classrooms tied together by cement walkways.
We meet in a classroom located on the back side of campus. A small portion of the space is set aside as Furrow’s office. His office decor is Late-20th-Century Clutter, meaning a riot of papers, books, trophies, newspaper clippings, photographs (some framed, some pinned to the wall), plaques, knicks, and knacks.
Coach Furrow is a small man, I’d say five foot eight, with close-cut gray hair, a ruddy complexion, an egg-shaped face, and a blocky torso. He’s wearing a festive tropical sports shirt that’s busy with blue palm leaves and colorful birds. The impression is Southern California Kind of Guy. But do not be deceived; there is a testosterone-driven oomph about him that lets you know Furrow is a basketball coach.
I ask, “When did you first meet Jarrod?”
“I first saw Jarrod when he was in the eighth grade. He bounced into our gym with his dad. He was tall, probably six foot six. I knew his father because he’d gone to school here, so I knew him from years ago. I simply mentioned to the father that if he wanted to bring Jarrod down to the gym we could start working with him.
“It looked like he had a lot of potential, just in terms of his size, but I didn’t get involved with him very much. The thing you want to find out is, does the kid want to do this? Sometimes tall kids get pushed down this road, and it isn’t something they want to do. Other people, whether it be a coach or a parent or someone else, want him to play basketball because he’s tall. So I stepped back to see what the kid wanted to do. It’s my memory that he went ahead and played freshman basketball as an eighth grader. In those days you could do that.”