The state of Texas – including all of its more than 268,000 square miles – is still the home to $60 million high school football stadiums, Johnny Football and the NFL franchise that considers itself "America's Team." But as Arlington this week welcomes the men's basketball Final Four – the seventh to be played in Texas since 1971 – another slice of this pigskin-crazed state will come into focus. The tired cliché that everything is bigger in Texas now applies to the grassroots basketball world. No state can claim as many elite high school prospects in recent years. And that has led to a rapid emergence of shoe company-sponsored summer programs and a pronounced rise in competitive recruiting battles around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, throughout Houston and everywhere in between. "Right now I would say this: Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston produce more talent than New York and Philadelphia," said Fran Fraschilla, the ESPN analyst who lives in Dallas. "It is true. The recruiting landscape in recent years, for a lot of economic and sociological reasons, has shifted to the Sun Belt. There's just more talent here." And some of it gets first-class treatment. Consider Larry Brown's reintroduction to the AAU world in the spring of 2012 after taking his first college job since he was at Kansas in the late 1980s. Southern Methodist's coach recalls that one of his first meetings was with representatives of the Texas Titans, a well-respected AAU program financed by telecom billionaire Kenny Troutt, who has had sons on the team. Although most AAU teams fly commercial or pile kids into vans to travel to events, the Titans, including players as young as third- and fifth-graders, and their parents fly to events across the country on chartered planes. "He was really a decent guy," Brown said of Troutt. "I really liked him." Recruiting, of course, is cyclical. There was a period of time in the past decade when the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area produced one blue-chip prospect after another, from Carmelo Anthony to Kevin Durant to Michael Beasley, among many others. The state of Washington also enjoyed a recent gold rush of talent, with three players being named McDonald's All-Americans in 2005 alone. And now Texas is king. During the last two years, 10 high school players – five in 2013, five this year – were named McDonald's All-Americans who were either from or played high school basketball in this state. "Texas has established itself as one of the top markets," said Evan Daniels, the national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "It's loaded with top players, especially at the top. It's also a state that has a lot of depth. And there are a lot of other schools trying to mine that area." When asked which state possesses the best high school talent, Jerry Meyer, the national director of basketball scouting for 247Sports, said: "Without a doubt, it's Texas." *** Fraschilla said there many reasons why the "talent level here has exploded," including that "there are a lot of people who have moved back to the South from the North in the last 15 years. The cost of living is cheaper. They bring that love of basketball with them from Baltimore, New York and Detroit. The pool down here of kids is just incredible." Baylor coach Scott Drew has capitalized on it in recent years, helping him engineer one of the greatest rebuilding jobs in college basketball history. Aside from last season, Texas has landed enough in-state talent – in addition to securing key commitments elsewhere – to remain a national contender. And SMU has landed attention-grabbing commitments – Dallas products Keith Frazier last year and Emmanuel Mudiay this year – since Brown arrived. "That's one of the neat things I thought about when I came here," Brown said. "(Texas coach) Rick (Barnes) can have his guys, this team can have theirs. There's a lot of kids maybe under the radar that we can coach up. And the way people perceive us since Keith came and now with Emmanuel, it's been incredible." Out-of-state schools have also benefited. Kentucky freshmen Julius Randle (north Dallas) and twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison (Richmond, Texas) return to their home state this week. Dallas native Jordan Mickey left the state to play at LSU, where he shined as a freshman this season. For all the stars who have left, there have been scores of under-the-radar players who have found a niche. Long Island University's Jason Brickman, a native of San Antonio, led the nation in assists. Vanderbilt's Luke Kornet, a Lantana, Texas, native, was a rail-thin high school senior who grew 5 inches and is now 7-feet. And Wichita Falls' Marcus Foster earned second-team all-Big 12 honors after starring at Kansas State as a freshman. "It's extremely competitive in Texas," said Missouri coach Frank Haith, who recruited multiple McDonald's All-Americans while an assistant under Barnes. "It's one of those states where you're going to see a lot of people come in and recruit the state, it's so big. You talk about some of the teams, like Baylor, which has made a tremendous impact in the state. Kentucky, Duke, Oklahoma State have also all come in and got really good players." At Oklahoma State, eight players on this year's roster hailed from Texas. Coach Travis Ford said his staff places a particular emphasis on the state because of the talent throughout. Landing sophomore Marcus Smart from Flower Mound, a northwest suburb of Dallas, was a coup. "Oklahoma State has done a good job," longtime Texas Bluechips AAU coach Mitch Malone said. "Marcus Smart has saved that guy's job. I absolutely think that if Marcus Smart didn't go there, Travis Ford gets fired. Getting Marcus has opened up the doors for some other Texas kids to look at Oklahoma State and then they become sexy." *** More prep talent also has had negative consequences, Malone said. The prevalence of third-party influences – long an issue in recruiting – has increased, he said, adding that players increasingly don't receive proper guidance because individuals involved have ulterior motives. Pointing to the relatively affluent North Dallas suburbs of Plano, Frisco, McKinney and Allen, Malone said that nearly 100 grassroots programs have emerged in recent years, with many attempting to play at levels they are not equipped for. "This has become the most polluted state, and with the most talent," Malone said. "There's too many programs, too many are in it for the wrong reasons. Too many people who don't have the experience who can't help kids develop. It has become a nightmare. It has become such a nightmare that I don't even know how much longer I want to deal with it at the level I've dealt with it for the last 25 years."
Texas riches extend to basketball courts
USA Today | Apr 2