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Today's athletes reside in a different world from generations past

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The days of pick-up ball are no more

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - 4:17 am

INDIANAPOLIS – The west side of Indianapolis witnessed a generational juxtaposition of sorts Monday and Tuesday, as Ben Davis High School hosted the first annual National High School Basketball Coaches Association Rising Senior Event.

It brought together the top senior-to-be prep basketball players from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin for two days of competition and presentations on life in the sport, all of which would've reaped curiosity from any high school hoopsters converging on the school a few generations ago.

It wasn't that long ago that if a player wanted to develop his skills and test himself in the summer, there was no better place than the Ben Davis outdoor courts on a hot, muggy night.

Former Giant legend Randy Wittman played against NBA competition on the blistering asphalt (with chain nets and metal backboards) long before he was drafted into the league after his stellar career at Indiana University.

Those players of yesteryear somehow enhanced their abilities without the incessant coaching, parental intercession and provided uniforms, which are prevalent in youth basketball today. There was simply an abundance of sweat, a handful of shoves, 10 guys and a rubber ball.

“I got next” referred to a player's night on the court continuing, not the grabbing of a sport drink from Mom's cooler.

Those games at Ben Davis pitted players from the stars to the wannabes to the never weres, all just trying to get a run in before losing and being run off. Girl's School Road and West 10th Street hosted a vastly different atmosphere Monday and Tuesday.

The best prep players of 2013, guys like Indianapolis' Trey Lyles and Trevon Bluiett, only venture onto courts that are wooden and regulation size. They play almost exclusively in structured settings, and both admitted to not having played outdoors in years.

“It's too risky for me,” Bluiett said of pickup basketball. “You could mess around and get hurt.”

If it isn't a high school game or an organized event on the summer circuit, count them out. But they aren't alone.

Former Northrop High School standout and Purdue University freshman guard Bryson Scott also cited being wary of injury this spring when he said the only basketball he was playing in preparation for the Indiana All-Star series was individual training sessions and maybe an occasional one-on-one battle with his twin brother, Brenton.

Lyles and Bluiett said they'll play in an open gym setting with their high school programs on occasion, but that is as close to unstructured athletics as they'll play in, and even those opportunities are few and far between.

“Usually, my high school (Arsenal Tech) doesn't do that,” Lyles said of playing in open gym settings. “We'll do it when (college) coaches come in and watch us, but that is very seldom. But when we have a chance to, I always try to play with the guys.”

In players' defense, it isn't just the fear of injury that keeps them out of pickup games; it's also a matter of finding time to do so.

Players of the ability of Lyles and Bluiett have been traveling throughout the spring and summer at an almost dizzying pace. Bluiett has been everywhere from Los Angeles to Georgia for tournaments, and Lyles did the same, plus represented Canada (he lived the first seven years in Saskatchewan) in the recent FIBA U19 World Championship in the Czech Republic.

“If my summer was longer, I'd be fine with that,” Lyles said of trimming his schedule. “With how short my summer is my schedule is hectic. I only get to be home for a day or so, but it's what we have to do.”

Neither Lyles nor Bluiett played in the Rising Senior Event, but they did come to the games Tuesday to cheer on the Indiana squad after being named to the team earlier this spring. Both just came off five days of intense competition in Augusta, Ga. at the Peach Jam Tournament.

The two still have a pair of evaluation periods remaining this month before finally relaxing for a couple of weeks next month before their senior years begin. Bluiett said August will be more family-oriented than the past months have been.

“We usually go away in August,” Bluiett said of his vacation plans. “That's when all of the basketball stops. During the months of July and May, it's always hectic with AAU, and then in June you have high school ball (team camps). So there really is no time for a family vacation.”

Time with family and, on the court, time with friends have gone the way of the VCR for this generation of athletes. I'm not sure Wittman, who now coaches the Washington Wizards, would think that is necessarily a positive.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. E-mail Tom Davis at