iHoops CEO Len Elmore talks exploitation, recruitment, agents, coaches, fundamentals and much more.
SLAM: Just how involved is the NBA and the NCAA in regards to the operations of iHoops?
LE: On a day-to-day basis they are not going to have a lot of input. They make up our board pretty much half and half. Certainly, they direct and help us with accomplishing our mission and our objectives. They’ve valuable obviously as far as their impact on the game themselves. So when it comes to branding opportunities, when it comes to visibility, when it comes to developing and credibility out there in the basketball world, to have the NCAA and the NBA as your parents, sort of speak, is tremendous. They’ve been absolutely wonderful in helping us accomplish what we’re trying to do.
SLAM: What pushed you to accept the job of running iHoops?
LE: I was on the board of directors when iHoops was started. When my predecessor Kevin Weiberg left for the PAC10, I think ultimately they realized they needed somebody who has been and will continue to be an advocate for so many of the principles that iHoops stands for. Someone who is a basketball person, you know, a little more different than Kevin who was more of an organizer, and did a tremendous job. And me being right there, I was asked would I take the job. I couldn’t say no. I had been an advocate for so long.
SLAM: Any rules iHoops wants to set in place to better the grassroots basketball experience for the youth?
LE: Here’s the deal. It’s not about regulation. That’s the most important point. We don’t have authority to regulate. We have the authority to construct a better environment. If we can build that, then people will come. If we do that, when people want to cheat, if people want to exploit these kids, if people want to try to delude the parents, now we have a situation where the area is fixed up and that kind of behavior won’t be tolerated. Behavior is a matter of context. And if we change the context of this thing, showing that the environment is respected, that the environment won’t tolerate those types of actions, we can foreclose on that stuff. But right now this is still an abandon building that no one seems to care about. So that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to regulate, we’re trying to construct something where that kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated by the parents, by the kids, by the right thinking coaches, so that the bad actors will feel like they’re out of context.
SLAM: iHoops obviously has many different goals and things they would like to see improve. Which would you say is first on your list?
LE: The emphasis of developing fundamental skills, which can be a springboard to developing the skills necessary to be over-successful in the game, as well as utilizing the same focus on the fundamentals as you approach your education. Those two combined are going to take you as far as you can go.
SLAM: There are those out there that say AAU/grassroots basketball isn’t quite a positive thing for players and that it doesn’t make them better players. Some say it actually hurts their overall game. What are your thoughts?
LE: There’s some truth to that. There are a lot of coaches out there that aren’t necessarily qualified to focus on the fundamentals. It’s all about going out there and being a showcase, but the kids don’t realize that they want to showcase what the coaches want to see. And really they want to see how fundamentally sounded they are so they know when they get them into their program, they can built on the fundamentals. They are not in the market for developing kids and we know who these coaches are. But what we are trying to do now is we have a coaches education program that’s going to be launched in late January of next year. We have agreed with the AAU that any coach that wants to coach in a championship series has to take this program. And what it does is it teaches coaches how best to coach kids under the ages 19 and 12. It’s about X’s and O’s and it’s also about the psychology of coaching. It’s about how you develop and teach the fundamentals. The other thing is the AAU particularly gets unfairly blamed for a lot of the problems. Certainly there are a lot of coaches who are in the exploiting area that come from AAU but the AAU is trying really the best they can to stop this and that’s why they partnered with us.
SLAM: How do you get the kids and coaches on board?
LE: I think there are far many more coaches out there that really care about the kids and what we try to do is enlist them into our way of thinking. If we can do that and they start to improve and become better coaches and better people in the way they interact with these kids, then you’ve created a context where the bad coaches will stand out like a sore thumb. So that’s part of it. The other thing is the parent. The parents are the ones who often a make a decision on whether a kid can play for a coach or not. Many times they don’t know the difference between a good coach and a bad coach. And so with this information we can continue to impact the parents and arm them with the knowledge so that they can make the right decision. And finally, we make them go through the program so at least we know they’ve been exposed to the information and the structure that’s going to make them better coaches.
SLAM: You’ve been around the game for so long. Do you agree that the basketball skills of today’s generation have gone down compared to the old days?
LE: Absolutely. You speak to many of the college coaches and they’ll tell you the same thing. And unfortunately a lot of it comes from the high school coach – there is a sizeable number of them who aren’t experience enough and more importantly don’t have enough time with the kids because the kids are spending more and more time with the grassroots coach. And the grassroots coaches, many of them, are just focused on winning instead of teaching the development. And so you see it affect the high school game, the college game, and even the pro game adversely. We’re coming back to it because what we are trying to do along with USA basketball, if you take a look this was the first year USA Basketball captured every age group including the pros, and a lot of it has to do with us going back to an emphasis on the fundamentals of the game. That’s why international basketball for a while seemed to catch up with us and surpass us because they were more focused on utilizing the fundamentals of basketball combined with athleticism. We still have the best athletes in the world.
SLAM: What do you tell kids/parents about not getting utilized and exploited?
LE: Put it this way. It’s not about the money. It’s about the opportunity. And if you break the rules, you’ll ultimately be found out. And the fact is that anybody that offers to break the rules for you, in other words offer the benefits and such that transgress the NCAA rules and eligibility, anybody that offers you to do that doesn’t care. They don’t care about ultimate success; they just care about the period time you’re with them. And if they can’t convince you that their school is the right place to be without stepping the line, then you need to think twice of whether that’s the right place for you child – I would say that to parents. And to the young men, I would say, you need to think twice of whether this is the right place for you. In the end, if people are willing to exploit the rules, they are willing to exploit you. On the other hand, the NCAA and the conferences need to come down harder on violations on recruiting. The Bruce Pearl example is perfect. That was a slap on the wrist he got for something that was very serious, including lying about it. Hopefully the NCAA will take a stronger view. If they don’t take a hard stance against this stuff, it’s cause-benefit, risk-reward. People will be like, “OK, I can take the risk because the reward is far greater than the punishment.” Eight games is like calling sick. That wasn’t punishment; that was mercy. So hopefully the NCAA will take a stronger view on that because that’s the only way you’re going to stop it. You gotta make the punishment severe enough that these young coaches and even veteran coaches aren’t going to put their livelihoods at stake by violating these rules. That’s basically what it comes down to.
SLAM: Is there any particular way in which iHoops wanted to go about in putting together the website, as far as info and approach is concern?
LE: We wanted to base it essentially on the overall educational and informational element. Not just academic education—education on the game. How to prepare yourself, how to condition yourself, how to develop fundamental skills. The other side of education would be what are the eligibility rules. What kind of recruiting issues might come up. And then we wanted to develop community. There are so many people out there that have the same experiences, you know, going through the same things. If they gather as a community and exchange ideas, kind of look at what this environment is about, then maybe then they will take action as well. So that’s what it comes down to, education not only for the players and their parents, but also for coaches through our Coaches Education Program. For officials as well. We are having an Officials Education Program hopefully in 2012. All of them focus on the health, safety and welfare of our kids, and getting players to be the best players, coaches to be the best coaches, and officials to be the best officials. That’s what we want our website to be about.
SLAM: How important are those programs that iHoops has implemented and are planning to in the future to changing the current culture you have been speaking of?
LE: I think it’s very important. Through our agreement with AAU and with others it will be mandated that they have to go through that. And I’m going suspect that somebody is going to learn something. Someone is going to take away something of value away from those education programs. Ultimately, when you start doing that and you start growing those numbers, you won’t help but see a change. Then again, it comes down to changing the context as we continue to fix different areas of the pre-collegiate environment and the bad actors will feel less comfortable participating in what they do in that environment.
SLAM: Three or five years from now, how does iHoops measure success?
LE: I think from a quantitative standpoint, we’ll just take a look at the numbers of people participating at the various programs, you know, the coaching and officiating programs. We’ll take a look at how many folks are part of our community on our website. That’s one of several things. But also on a qualitative standpoint, we’ll see how much better events are for kids, you know, whether the focus is on the kids and not on the event; whether kids can still attend class and still play at these events. We’ll see how much better players are as players and as people. We’ll see maybe less recruiting violations because now people will be armed with not wanting to be a part of certain situation because of the education. That’s the qualitative standpoint. So the quality of the game and the environment, and then quantitatively, the numbers of people participating in these programs. Combine those two and we will see real change. That’s how we will measure our success.