When Franklin High School won their 2nd TOC title in 3 years. There was lots of cheering around the state. They had become the new Shabazz of the state. It was Franklin holding down the last line of defense for the state vs. the Shore Conference. As Shabazz had done for a decade prior. You heard the talk about how the state had caught up with the Shore conference. The truth is that the Shore Conference is still the most dominate force in girls basketball. But it’s clear some things are changing in girls basketball across the state.
So the big question is has the state caught up with Shore basketball? That question for me is easy to answer. The state has closed the gap in the past 6 years. There are reasons for this closing of the gap. First you must start with this, the Shore Conference is not known for Power 5 players up and down their roster. Neither is the rest of the state. In the past that state as a whole has produced more P5 players than the Shore Conference, in most years. But there are only 4 to 5 P5 players in any year. But the Shore has far in away produced more D1 players than the state by a large margin. Just look at this year alone, most of the D1 players like most years will come from the Shore. But then why has the gap closed in recent years? Well that’s real easy for me to answer.
In the past the Shore Conference had the best youth basketball organization maybe in the country. Mid Monmouth in the past has been loaded with great players and coaches. It has always been an organization that focused on competition and winning. Unlike other youth programs where playing time was a gift and winning and losing is not as important. But here is what has changed about Mid Monmouth in recent years, that I ‘ve noticed. Now players as young as 3rd and 4th grade make AAU a focus. Now that kid who played Mid Monmouth and then trained when not playing Mid Monmouth is playing games, lots of games. Some kids are on as many as 3 teams. While the Mid Monmouth organization is still king. Many talented kids are not as invested as in the past. This in my opinion is the biggest reason of all why the state is closing the gap. The work ethic, accountability and competitive edge starts early and Mid Monmouth is the best at developing this…but many kids and parents are not taking advantage of this as much.
Next, if want a the poster child for how the Shore went threw a change. Look no further than the 2018 class. No class in all my years in the Shore put more of a focus on playing games year round. The result one of the smallest D1 classes in the Shore history. If you are bored notice how many in this class saw limited mins as freshman in college. But those who played less games got major minutes. It not a mistake folks! But the question is how did this happen? That again is simple. There are many parents and coaches who enjoy games. They love the excitement and experience of traveling and playing games. This group played games in the fall, spring and summer. Why is this so bad? The answer is, it’s not. But if you’re asking why the state has closed the gap its starts right here. How? Let’s remove the P5 type player where positional size and athleticism is the #1 factor in recruiting.
The Shore is known as a mid major to high major conference. It has developed more kids at this level than anyone by a long shot. Why? Because Shore kids in the past by far were the most skilled not most athletic players in the state. Why? Because while the rest of the state played games year round and not getting the year round training, the shore kids receive at an early age. The Shore kid were becoming highly skilled and talented to boot. But when Shore kids like the 2018 class for example started playing more than training, what happened? Unlike in the mens game, where athleticism is king, Shore kids forgot skill set rules the day in the girls game and is the great equalizer the boys game does not have. The result? The rest of the more athletic state caught up. Because when all things are equal skill wise, the athletic player wins out..and that is exactly why the state is closing the game…The Shore is full of kids who play more than train…joining the the state’s more athletic model towards basketball development.
Shore players never played AAU or trained with their AAU team year round years ago. But AAU has been forced to change and in order to keep their kids, AAU teams are forced to train all year out of fear of people stealing their kids. This leads to players training and playing AAU for 8 months out the year…this is an old model for the state for YEARS. Now it has become more and more of the Shore Conference’s model. We are seeing more and more less skilled players and more importantly less competitive players, therefore fewer D1 players. Why? If you practice and play against the same faces all year… the developmental curve is not the same. You develop at the rate of your environment…
Now at the end of the day I’m not sure the State is catching the Shore anytime soon. The state ranking prove the shore is by far the dominate force in girls basketball. When teams beat a shore team, it’s big news. When Shore teams lose to each other, they drop in the ranking like a rock. Winning the SCT is a way harder feat than winning the TOC and shore kids value the SCT title more than the TOC. The list of great teams who have won a TOC and not a SCT is long. There are too many teams to list that made it to the TOC and never won a SCT title. Yes there are the Franklin’s and Shabazz’s of the world that come along and hold the fort down for the state. But if you look at most years there is 3 to 4 Shore teams in the TOC. That was until the State brackets were changed and Shore teams knocked each other out of the State tournament left and right(only 2 shore teams were in the TOC last year)…So a better question is has the state gotten better or has the Shore taken a step back? I say it’s a combination of both… but I will say this…the 2021 and 2023 classes are loaded..stacked like Shore classes from the past….bad news for the State!