A reader crunches the data on where white college basketball players come from:
Looking down the Rivals 150 list for the high school class of 2011 (roughly, the ranking of the top 150 high school seniors/entering college freshmen), I'm counting eight or nine white players. I didn't necessarily look at all of them -- mostly the ones where I had any question. (For example, I didn't bother to look at a picture for LeBryan Nash, who goes to Lincoln High School in Dallas -- given his name, and the fact that I know Lincoln to be almost entirely black and Hispanic, I don't really need to see a picture to know that he's black.) Why eight or nine? Well, there's no picture for Patrick Connaughton, but given that that name sounds very Irish, and that he's from Danvers, MA (which is less than 2 percent black), I'm guessing he's a white guy. Naturally, Patrick is going to Notre Dame in the fall.
Of more interest, though, is where these nine players are from. Aside from Connaughton, the others are:
- Cody Zeller, from Washington, Indiana (0.5% black) -- signed with Indiana
- Kyle Wiltjer, from Portland, Oregon (6.4% black -- very low for a major city) -- signed with Kentucky
- Alex Murphy, from Southborough, Massachusetts (0.9% black) -- signed with Duke
- Marshall Plumlee, from Warsaw, Indiana (2.0% black) -- signed with Duke (*Rivals lists him as being from North Carolina, but he goes to a prep school there; he's actually from Indiana)
- Hunter Mickelson, from Jonesboro, Arkansas (15.7% black) -- signed with Arkansas
- Josh Oglesby, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa (4.6% black) -- signed with Iowa
- Paul Jesperson, from Merrill, Wisconsin (0.2% black) -- signed with Virginia
- Jarrod Uthoff, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa -- signed with Wisconsin
What immediately jumps out, of course, is that all of them (except Mickelson) are from some very, very white places. (I looked up Mickelson's high school, Jonesboro Westside, and it turns out that his school is 97% white and only 1% black. Mickelson is also 6'10".)
And, this isn't a one-year blip. Jimmer Fredette, the white college star of 2011, is from Glens Falls, New York (which is 2.3% black.) Aside from Fredette, there's one other white American player projected to go in the first round of the draft -- Duke's Kyle Singler, who's from Medford, Oregon (0.6% black.) Thinking back to 2006, you had two really good white players in college: Adam Morrison, from Spokane, Washington (2.1% black), and J.J. Redick, from Roanoke, Virginia (26.7% black -- but Redick went to a high school that was 91% white.) Mike Miller of the Miami Heat is from Mitchell, South Dakota (0.4% black.) And, of course, Larry Bird is from French Lick, Indiana (7.5% black.) (David Lee, who averaged 16.5 ppg for the Warriors this season, seems to be the exception that proves the rule. Lee is from St. Louis.)
My theory is that athletic white kids growing up around a bunch of black kids are actively discouraged from playing basketball. When I was in high school, I noticed that other high schools which were around 15-20% black often had one or two white guys on the end of the bench. Schools that were 30% or more black often had all-black teams. I had a friend in college who went to a high school that was 60% black, and he told me that his high school basketball coach wouldn't even let white guys try out. And yeah, I know that it's all about the AAU circuit these days -- but if you can't even make your high school team (or you're on the end of the bench), why would you even bother trying out for an AAU team?
On the other hand, high school basketball coaches in places like Iowa probably have the same prejudices about white players, but they might have only one or two black males in the entire school to work with, so naturally they're going to have to take on some white players. So, if you take a white high school freshman who's 6'2" (presumably, he might grow to 6'6" or 6'7" by his senior year), and put him in Memphis, Tennessee, he's probably not even going to bother with basketball. On the other hand, if he's going to high school in Iowa, he might try out for the basketball team, figure out that he's pretty good at it, and decide to pursue the sport.
So what's happened to the white American star is, basically, he probably decides in high school that he's not going to bother with basketball and go play football or baseball. Still, white kids from relatively homogeneous areas of the country at the very least get a chance to prove that they're good at basketball -- which white kids in more diverse areas basically don't. The problem is, of course, that most of the remaining areas of the country that are homogeneous are sparsely populated.
While it's true that a lot of basketball recruiting takes place very early, most college programs below the Big Six conferences (the BCS conferences in football) don't really fill their scholarships for the coming year until the spring before the freshmen enter college. So while a "late bloomer" probably won't get a scholarship offer from a powerhouse program, they might still be able to catch on with a mid-major program and make a name for themselves there.
One interesting question is: what's the cultural difference between football and basketball that makes for a less hostile environment for whites in football? My guess is that it's coaches coach in football, while recruiting is an even bigger part of the game in basketball. There's also a lack of AAU showcases for hotshots in football.