She Got Game

The hoops and dreams of Colorado's budding girl basketball stars.

Still, Hook sees the potential for more abuses of the open-enrollment policy. "I just hope it doesn't get to the point where none of the top-school kids are going to the schools they're supposed to," she says. "It would be hard to see the recruiting get as bad at the high-school level as it already is at the college level."

A more immediate problem for the athletes themselves is that the club teams don't include all the best players. Because a summer of travel with a club team can cost thousands of dollars, there are quite a few high-school players--especially inner-city kids--who can't afford to pay for the experience and exposure.

One mother watching her daughter play during a local club-team scrimmage says she has three kids playing club basketball right now. "Even with all the fundraisers," she says, "it gets very expensive. That's why my husband and I tell our kids that this is their summer job. If they're not going to play hard, there's no point in paying this kind of money."

Rick Lopez, coach of the Hoopsters, one of metro Denver's most successful club teams, admits that national exposure comes at a price. "Basketball isn't a country-club sport," says Lopez. "A kid can play for free at any high school, rec center or playground. Becoming a good player isn't a money issue, and if you can play, the college coaches will find you. Now, to play club ball and travel all around the country could be another story."

Lopez estimates that it costs a Hoopsters player anywhere from $500 to $3,000 per summer. He says that's one of the main reasons why his club teams are made up primarily of suburban white kids.

"It isn't by design that a lot of black girls from the Denver Public Schools league don't play club ball," says CU's LaTonya Watson, who is black. "It's got nothing to do with race. It's just what's accessible and available to some of these low-income kids. The fact is that girls who play on these high-level club teams get as much exposure in one summer as they would in two years of regular high-school basketball. But in light of that, kids also have to realize that if they have talent and are willing to work hard, they will be found, regardless. Their names will get out."

Lopez agrees. "If you're a player like Keirsten Walters," he says, "you're going to get recruited hard whether you play on a club team or not. The girls that club basketball is going to help are really the second-tier kids. For them, it could mean the difference between having five schools recruit them and 55 schools. But as to why we don't have more African-American kids playing for our club, it's a question I'm asked at every tournament we play in across the country. I guarantee you that if I could get more inner-city kids involved in our program at a young age, by their senior year they couldn't be touched."

Lopez has no trouble rattling off the names of top DPS players like Manual's Kenyada Frasier and East's Atim Otti. "Those kids can play with anyone," says Lopez.

Former Xplosion coach Hook, who runs two major summer camps in Chicago, says the inner-city kids are really missing out. "We still need to get more DPS kids involved in the summer programs," she says, "because the bottom line is that you can tell the kids with traveling experience, because they're that much more confident in their games. It really shows.

"But at the same time, you can't say that playing for a club team makes success a given. In all the professional players I coached while working with the Xplosion, I saw one thing that separated the great players from the rest of the pack: a pure love of the game. There's no substitute for that.

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