Former NBA player Tim Thomas made a guest appearance on the Knuckleheads podcast, where he discussed several things from his NBA career. One of the things he touched upon in his conversation with Darius Milles and Quentin Richardson was the difference in how young players of today approach the game compared to his generation.
Thomas believes the competition was more fierce back then and that predominantly good players participated in those youth tournaments. Players came with a mindset of trying to prove they are the best, and it didn’t matter where you come from, as long as you showed up to play hard.
Kids of today wouldn’t be able to survive. It was a war. Each and every game, you were going up against somebody that was a dawg. It’s not like now where you can hide kids on a certain circuit. You had to face guys, and you had to show them you were the guy. Guys didn’t care about names, rankings what school you went to, you had to play.Tim Thomas, via Knuckleheads Podcast
When Thomas came up as one of the best high-school players in the mid-’90s, there were also some other prominent names out there. Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal, and others were the competition Thomas had to face even before his NBA career started. He remembers that Kobe Bryant was the number one player in the country at that time, so it doesn’t surprise the Los Angeles Lakers wanted to draft him at all costs.
I remember the summer between my junior and senior year at ABCD Camp, Kobe actually took over the number one ranking. I was playing against Jermaine O’Neal, and I was tearing him up, dunked the ball, and ripped my fingernail off, and I couldn’t play the rest of camp anymore. Kobe was just killing, and I was watching him from sidelines just kill.Tim Thomas, via Knuckleheads Podcast
Thomas refers to those times as the ‘Wild West’ where you had to come ready to play on each camp or AAU league. Players of that time were hungry for success, and they all used every possible opportunity to play against the best players in the country and showcase their skillset and what they can do.
Yea, man kids today wouldn’t have survived the camps and AAU. It was the wild Wild West, and you could get players from anywhere. Like Vince and Kobe said, we definitely played on the greatest AAU team ever, beating teams by 50,60 points. No team could match what we had. It was different. Definitely different from back in the day.”Tim Thomas, via Knuckleheads Podcast
There is a notion these days that AAU basketball is no longer a great choice for a young player to develop their skillset. The late great Kobe Bryant talked about how AAU is a place players don’t learn the fundamentals of the game, which later catches upon them when they have to use any edge they have to be better. Gilbert Arenas also heavily criticized the AAU, saying it doesn’t incentivize players to become better. Whether the AAU will change or not remains to be seen, but it’s evident it’s no longer an environment where young players are taught the basketball in the right away.