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Thursday, April 25, 2013
Updated: April 28, 10:40 PM ET
Coaching in the 'Diva Generation'

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

No doubt it was Adam and Eve, watching their feuding sons fail to appreciate the largesse in their luxurious backyard garden, who shook their heads in disappointment and uttered for the first time the words destined to be repeated by every generation:

Kids today.

Every incarnation of America's youth is theoretically worse than the one before it -- given more yet somehow less appreciative and more entitled.

Tom Izzo
Tom Izzo doesn't blame players for the culture they grew up in.

It's a sad state only magnified by sports, where hot prospects are treated like popular girls during prom season, coddled and wooed to the point that they become almost blasé to the attention they receive, more worried about what's next than the free education being offered.

Or at least that's what we like to think -- that it's their fault. If we allowed ourselves a little terrifying introspection, we might see that we are just culpable as they are, that blaming the kids is a lot like shooting the messenger. They are, after all, only regurgitating the banquet of ease we've fed them.

"I'm not sure it's the kids that are different," said Michigan State's Tom Izzo. "I think the environment is different. They're different because we don't hold them accountable anymore."

If the most recent run of college recruits were given a label, instead of the "Me Generation," it would be the "Diva Generation." Basketball players today, not unlike kids today, are viewed as entitled and lazy, so accustomed to being the center of the universe that they've lost sight of the bigger picture; so used to being tended to that they aren't interested in working hard.

It's a woefully unfair broad brush, splashing paint on a Louisville team that this year won because of its togetherness and commitment to improvement and a Kentucky team of a year ago that boasted six NBA players and not a diva among them.

Still it's a perception that exists and is not entirely without merit. Shabazz Muhammad won himself few converts this season when he sourpussed his way through a UCLA victory after Larry Drew II failed to pass the ball to him in the final seconds.

That, though, isn't really new. Plenty of kids yesterday were selfish, too. What has changed is how prevalent the problem has become and how it's infiltrated every nook and cranny of the game. The bigger question is: Are the kids really to blame or are they merely the byproduct of a broken system, as opposed to the ones who actually broke it?

"It used to be you were taught more than you actually played," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Now they play more than they're taught, so I think you're getting more athletic players but fewer players who understand the team concept. I don't know so much that they're divas as they are a little bit more concerned with their individual outcome than their collective outcome."

Krzyzewski spent last summer working with a group that should be the biggest diva collection in basketball -- a collection of multimillionaires also known as Team USA. Except instead of stars worried about their numbers, he found a collective group worrying about winning gold.

Part of that no doubt is maturity. LeBron James, for example, surely has aged and wised up since the nadir of "The Decision." But Krzyzewski thinks part of his team's combined sense of purpose came from the USA emblazoned on their jerseys. They had something and some place to play for, and it mattered.

That's not the case for high school kids, anymore. Sure, they still play for their school, but the real aim isn't to win a state title; it's to star in the summer. Blaming the summer circuit for the evils of basketball is nothing new, but it is also not without reason.

Kids play here, there and everywhere, yet rarely does anyone talk about who actually won a tournament. They talk about which player "blew up," about who made the biggest name for himself -- not for his team.

"You see it sometimes with a one-and-done type of thing," Krzyzewski said. "A kid can enter school and just be thinking he's in a sort of extended stay hotel instead of unpacking his bags and being part of a culture. That's what they're accustomed to with AAU. Where is my home? Who am I? Who am I playing for? They come to college and where have they played? They've played in Venice Beach or been to the Nike Global Games, but who have they played for? Usually themselves."

The kids, then, who come to college and buy in are the ones who succeed. But it's getting the kid to buy in that can be tricky.

Rick Barnes coached one of the best in the game in Kevin Durant, but it is not the points that Durant is remembered for in Texas. "He was the greatest teammate to ever come to Texas," Barnes said.

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant didn't bring baggage or an entourage to Texas.

Without a posse and freed of an entourage, Durant wasn't afraid of criticism or hard work. No one was in his ear telling him he should be getting more shots or being used differently. Barnes coached. Durant played. That's not always the case.

Let's face it, players do, in fact, come to college with posses and entourages, hangers-on who are only too eager to tell their star how good he is and how dumb his coach is for misusing him. Mix that in with a generation of helicopter parents who want to soothe every wrinkle or ease every burden for their children, and you have a concoction waiting to blow.

"It's not always the kids with the sense of entitlement," Barnes said. "It's everyone else around them. There are so many people around them, telling them what they want to hear that they stop listening to you."

Before the two eventually parted ways, Izzo threw Korrie Lucious out of practice one day. That's hardly a news breaker. More than likely, at least one college basketball player is being tossed out of at least one college basketball gym weekly, if not more often.

Izzo admitted he couldn't count the number of guys he has shown the door in his career. But on that day, the news spread like wildfire.

"Within minutes, everyone knew I threw him out and then they wanted to know, why?" Izzo said. "I threw him out because it was the right thing to do, but now you have to answer for it and not everybody wants to answer for it.

"If a principal throws a kid out of school, the next day the parents are there with a lawyer. If there's discipline, now there are questions and you end up thinking, 'Is it worth it?' Of course it's worth it, but it's hard because people question it. I don't blame the kids for that. I blame society."

So where's the solution? That's the tricky part, because there isn't an obvious one. Plenty of people realize that the summer circuit has shifted the power balance away from the high school and team concept of the game, yet no one knows how to redirect the sport.

Krzyzewski hoped iHoops, the partnership between the NCAA and NBA, would help. It hasn't. It's a great concept, but it hasn't been able to muscle its way into the grassroots level of event hosting, where the money and the problems exist.

USA Basketball is also good in theory, but it's afforded to only a handful of players and isn't big enough to blanket the entire year.

"I don't know if there is a solution," Krzyzewski said. "Right now our youth culture is about a lot of events but not about the chase of a championship. We need to find a way to change that so it's not individually motivated."

Maybe that's the solution -- individuals.

Maybe the only way to fix what ails basketball is for a future "Diva Generation" to find the value in the chorus and make "kids today" sound like a compliment and not a curse.

Editors' Note: For recruiting guru Dave Telep's take on the entitlement culture in AAU and high school basketball, click here.