James Burns: Golden Valley's Big Two hoopin' it up elsewhere

04/21/2009 12:12 AM

10/19/2009 10:51 AM

There are no culprits in a story like this. No wrong-doers. No recruiting scams or shams.

Just a not-so-simple case of three basketball beings -- a coach and two players -- agreeing to disagree, and yet agreeing to agree at the same time.

Vague enough for you?

Golden Valley sharpshooter Alex Fletcher appears set to continue his career at a junior college. And unless a four-year scholarship falls into his lap sometime soon, wingman and teammate John Sykes will join him.

Sadly, their junior college of choice isn't Merced College. Fresno City -- the state's No. 1-ranked team for most of last season -- tops that list, positions 1, 2 and 3.

And rightfully so.

Through reputation and success, Fresno City has earned the right to attract and actively recuit the best basketball talent in the south Valley.

Fletcher and Sykes certainly fit that mold.

They might be four-year caliber players, but not yet. Not now. Not without more training, a year-round basketball schedule and exposure to a "bigger, faster, stronger" game.

They're four-year guys who need a two-year boost.

And there's no shame in that.

The junior college game will invariably make Fletcher quicker on his toes, a better on-ball defender and a more precise decision-maker. And just imagine how sharp his hoops IQ and shot will be after two years in a good system. Scary.

Same can be said about Sykes, Mr. High Wire, owner of the 747 wingspan.

Sykes hasn't even begun to tap his potential as a point guard, off-guard or small forward -- whatever position he settles into at the next level.

He'll expand his range beyond 10 feet, learn to dribble with his left hand and, who knows, maybe poke a few holes in the ceiling along the way.

They are talents. End of discussion. And Fresno City will be lucky to have them.

Of course, the home-grown, hometown thought is this...

Why not Merced College?

Why hasn't Bill Russell already given these two the keys to the gym?

Couldn't Fletcher and Sykes plug a few holes on a team that took on more water than the Titanic in 2008?

Though Russell seemed mystified and miffed that somebody would dare question his whereabouts on the recruiting trail, he did shed some light on the apparent disconnect.

The longtime Merced College coach has tried to recruit Golden Valley's Big Two. In the last three years, he says he's "watched about 100 games."

He was there the night Sykes went bananas at the University of the Pacific during the quarterfinals of the Division I playoffs, never missed a Merced game and even scouted the two as freshman.

Alas, Russell's hands are tied. He can't force someone to enroll at Merced College.

If that were the case, LeBron James would have been the Blue Devils' all-time leading scorer long before he was the NBA's resident King.

Fletcher wants out.

Same for Sykes.

And honestly...

Wouldn't you want the same? Isn't every teenager's dream to flip the tassel, grab a diploma and hop the first bus out of town?

So in that respect, Russell can only agree to disagree with their decision to test the waters in Fresno.

But there's something else at play here. Russell cares enough about the local talent, particularly Sykes, to let them go. To let them be young adults. To let them make their own decisions.

The way parents do.

He's known the Sykes family for years. John Sr. is a former assistant coach, which places him inside Russell's inner circle.

Like family.

And family understands that the heart makes no wrong choices with life decisions like this.

If Little John wants to play at Fresno City, Cal State Fullerton or in Somewhereville, USA...

He'll support him.

Fletcher, too.

Simply, Russell will agree to agree -- even if it makes him look passive and non-interested in a recruiting world that rewards the stubborn and hard-headed.

See, no culprits, no wrong-doers and no victims. Everyone gets what they want.

Except the fans.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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