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Len Elmore Adds Class to iHoops

May 7, 2010 – 1:30 PM
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Milton Kent

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Len ElmoreIn a previous life, Len Elmore was a real life Jack McCoy from "Law & Order," helping put away some of New York's worst criminals as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn.

In his new life, as CEO of iHoops, Elmore is in charge of helping bring some sensibility to the youth basketball scene in the United States and Canada, which, given the fractiousness that exists there just might send him sprinting back to locking up the bad guys.

For Elmore, a college basketball television analyst for ESPN and CBS, the chance to try to make some sense of the mess that pre-collegiate hoops have become, couldn't be passed up.

"After some discussion, I decided how could I not accept the challenge, simply because my advocacy for the very principles that this youth basketball initiative stands for," said Elmore, who succeeds Kevin Weiberg, who left to become deputy commissioner of the Pac-10.

Operating under the auspices of the NBA and the NCAA, and with the support of USA Basketball, the National Federation of State High School Associations and shoe companies, the nearly year-old iHoops consortium offers tips and hints for better play on its impressive website.

More importantly, iHoops intends to impress upon its constituency the importance of blending education and basketball, especially in the minority community.

"If that sounds paternalistic, then so be it," Elmore said. "But I think we have to find a way to get young people to take advantage of every opportunity that they can to go to institutions of higher learning."

"That small percentage of your life that you're playing professional basketball pales in comparison to the rest of your life. But you have to be prepared to go forward to succeed. And that's what college does. It's supposed to develop leaders. I'd like to see more and more of our kids there."

And once they're there, Elmore, a 1974 All-America at Maryland, who still holds the school's career rebounding mark, wants them to stay. He believes players should be ineligible for the NBA until their high school class is out for at least three years.

That's two years longer than the current "one and done" policy and a year longer than even NBA Commissioner David Stern has publicly expressed a preference for.

In fact, Elmore said the majority of kids who elect to leave college early to try their hands at the NBA are going after three years, not one.

"If Kobe [Bryant] or LeBron [James] or Kevin Garnett had to go to college for three years, I don't think it would have hurt them one bit," said Elmore, who played center and forward in the NBA for eight years.

"It might have been a little delayed gratification, but they still would have gotten to the Promised Land. Those other 999,000 kids that I talk about who think they are as good as those guys will at least have some exposure and they'll have an option that will last them a lifetime."

Elmore, who will continue to call games on television, says he's not thrilled with the idea of high school teams playing televised games, but believes television can assist in the educational process.

To be sure, iHoops is not a regulatory body and Elmore does not have Jack McCoy's prosecutorial power. But if this doesn't work, Elmore understands the next step, governmental involvement, might instill more fear for youth organizers than a room full of muggers and prosecutors combined.

"We're trying to be a unifying force," Elmore said. "But the logical progression is, if unchecked, if the exploitation continues, if the lack of balance continues, when the game is placed outside of perspective, then I think eventually something like that (governmental involvement) could occur."

"But if we can do our jobs properly, there's not a person out there of reasonable intelligence who has the best interests of the young participants, there's not a person out there who would deny the need for what we're trying to do or would be anti-what we're trying to do."

Remembering a Fallen Giant

As hard as it might be to believe, not everyone on this side of what you read, watch and listen to is a good person. The paranoia, megalomania and egotism that attach to just about any industry are magnified in the media business.

But every so often, there comes along a figure whose immense talent is exceeded by their graciousness and humility. The media business lost such a person this week with the passing of baseball broadcaster Ernie Harwell.

Many baseball cities have been blessed through the years to have a signature voice that entertained and informed generations of fans. In Pittsburgh, for instance, there was Bob Prince. Jack Buck and Harry Caray held court in St. Louis, before Caray moved on to Chicago, succeeding Jack Brickhouse. In my own native Baltimore, Chuck Thompson and Jon Miller called Orioles games with grace and flair.

For more than 40 years, Harwell, the first voice of the Orioles, was the sound of Detroit Tiger baseball, but his dulcet tones could also be heard on Saturday broadcasts of the "CBS Radio Game of the Week," permitting a national audience to get a weekly taste of his brilliance.

Anyone who ever had the pleasure of meeting Harwell, as I did, came away more impressed with his decency than with his talent, which was prodigious. Since his passing Tuesday at the age of 92, there hasn't been a single bad word spoken about him, and that's not hyperbole.

The list of great local baseball announcers has shrunken over the years and has not been adequately replenished. The Baseball Hall of Fame should take a major step toward remembering two of the best of all time by renaming the Ford C Frick Award, presented annually at July induction ceremonies to a deserving broadcaster for their body of work, for Harwell and Vin Scully, the legendary Dodgers scene-setter.

With all due respect to Frick, the former baseball commissioner, a career award named for Harwell and Scully would resound tremendously, just as they have.

Under the 'Lights'

Normally, we don't do much here with prime-time, entertainment programming, but the return of "Friday Night Lights" for a fourth season is worth breaking protocol.

Based on Buzz Bissinger's best-selling book and a subsequent movie, Lights, airing Fridays at 8 p.m. Eastern on NBC, is a brilliant look at how the culture of high school football permeates the life of a Texas town.

Kyle Chandler, as coach Eric Taylor, and Connie Britton, as his wife, Tami, have turned in Emmy Award caliber performances over the series' run, but they're just the most visible stars. There's acting brilliance all around and the football scenes are fairly true to life.

This season's episodes, which have already aired last fall on DirecTV, find Coach Taylor having to set up shop at a new school across town from his old school, whose principal is his wife. Even if you've seen these before, make a point to watch them again.
Filed under: Sports