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Sorry, prep all-star games are no longer important

Participation and attendance have dwindled over the years.

Snider senior Malik Williams slams home one of his four fourth quarter dunks during a February 10, 2017 game at Snider against Bishop Luers. (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)

Earlier this week, prep hoopsters Malik Williams and Jaylen Butz decided being named an Indiana All-Star was good enough, and they’ll pass on playing in next week’s Kentucky-Indiana All-Star Classic series.

Yes, there was social media outcry. Some declared how being an Indiana All-Star used to mean everything. Others recited that tired line of, “In 49 states it’s just basketball but…” well, you know the rest.

Me? I could care less.

I noticed a common denominator with the people angry about the decision-making of the two Fort Wayne stars. Their ages are, um …. well, let’s just say “not young.”

Here’s the thing about older generations of Indiana basketball fans. Many of them still believe this is 1975.

The choice that Williams and Butz made – citing busy schedules that include graduation and prepping for college – reinforced the fact the days when basketball in the Hoosier State rivaled organized religion in importance are long gone.

In late March, two of the best teams clashed in primetime at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for the Class 4A state championship. North Side was there for the first time in decades, while Ben Davis has nearly twice the student enrollment as the University of Saint Francis.

Some people would have you think the 4A title game is a premier event, even in the current multi-class landscape.

I watched North Side fall to Ben Davis in a back-and-forth game decided by three points in an arena that wasn’t even half full.

Being named an Indiana All-Star is still a goal for high school basketball players. Less of a goal? Playing against junior all-stars and Kentucky’s best in June games hardly anyone shows up to watch.

Have you been to any of these “all-star” games around the state? The fan turnout for some is embarrassing. The crowds for the Indiana-Kentucky all-star games have been on a steady decline in recent years, with no rebound in sight. With only 6,000 people at last year’s Indiana-Kentucky game in Indy, it would be no surprise if the series folded soon.

With every passing year, the numbers of people who care about the games dwindle. So why should the players make it a priority?

You know what is more important to athletes than glorified exhibitions for “bragging rights?” Preparing their bodies and minds for college basketball and the rigors of collegiate life. Butz and Williams are both already ensconced in DePaul and Louisville hoops, respectively. Both hope to earn meaningful playing time as freshmen. Anything that deviates from that goal can be discerned as meaningless and a waste of time.

To me, that’s a perfectly acceptable reason not to participate.

And what about the threat of injury? The debilitating knee damage suffered by Fort Wayne’s Jaylon Smith in a pointless bowl game on New Year’s Day in 2016 resonates in the minds of athletes striving to make it at the next level, whether it’s high school to college or college to pros. NFL first-round picks Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette wisely sat out their teams’ bowl games to avoid a Smith-esque injury that would have affected their pro career.

Sure, devastating injuries in basketball are far less common than in football, but the possibility is there. What does Malik Williams gain from playing in a game that next to no one under the age of 40 cares about?

Oh, but critics say he and Butz are supposed to care because people tell them that the games are important and that representing Indiana in pointless all-star games is important.

Yet attendance continues to decline.

Maybe, just maybe, it isn’t important anymore?

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Justin Kenny at jkenny@news-sentinel.com.

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