Statistics, culture and psychology fascinate me. By extension, I’ll never be able to quit sports, which are more inseparably intertwined with those concepts than ever before.

I saw an informational graphic this past week. It was released by the NCAA. You might have heard that the organization has this little tournament going on right now. It was part of a propaganda barrage to coincide with that event and convince us that the sanctioning body is wholly committed to the education process of these young adults.

Stop laughing. Money-grubbing aside, the NCAA is reputable enough in the alphabet-soup world that we can take the study seriously and consider its ramifications. The big reveal took the form of a United States map, color-coded, and showed how each state ranked by the percentage of its male and female basketball players recruited by a Division I school.

What’s your guess for Maine boys? 1 in 75? 1 out of 100?

Try 1 in 250. Based on data furnished by the NCAA’s member schools and the National Federation of State High School Associations, from a four-year sample, 0.4 percent of boys’ basketball players out of Maine can expect to land in Division I.

Hmm. Surely I thought it would be higher. With the proliferation of AAU opportunities, summer tours of the East Coast, and baseball gloves and soccer and football cleats tossed into cold storage, it’s hard for me to imagine Maine not ascending to the upper limits of that graph.


Back in the real world, the Pine Tree State is in a statistical deadlock with that hardwood hotbed, Hawaii. In fact, the only states with a smaller percentage of boys’ basketball players making it to the highest rung of the ubiquitous “next level” are Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Alaska.

Yes, you say, but those are the boys we’re talking about. Maybe Maine is the victim of its own remoteness and the sheer numbers game. What about the girls? Division I programs are discovering Maine’s female hoop talent left and right, aren’t they?

Cue up the sad trombone. Same study, different map, similar results. The percentage of players making the jump to Division I is negligibly higher at 0.6, but that uptick appears to take place across the board. Only girls from Rhode Island, Wyoming and Nebraska are less likely to be recruited by a Division I school than in Maine, where your odds are 1 in 167.

I can read your mind. You’re thinking this is the guy who left for bluer pastures, milder climes and a more sports-centric populace, disparaging the old neighborhood by whacking at low-hanging fruit.

Well, the chances of your little fishy getting hooked if he or she were born and raised in a bigger pond are not substantially better. In the boys’ study, Maryland is an odd outlier at 5 percent, but North Carolina, Georgia and Nevada are the only other states at 3 percent or above.

Full disclosure: My new home state, Kentucky, is roughly the caboose of the upper third at 1.6 percent, comparable to neighboring Indiana and Illinois. It’s 2.2 percent here for the girls, with Maryland leading the way at 4.6 and Tennessee, California and North Carolina next in line.


There’s one obvious message from all this, and I’m merely the messenger. The numbers themselves stand up and scream it from the top of a mountain.

Stop specializing in one sport. Just stop. It’s a colossal waste of time and money.

It is robbing you of great memories shared with different teammates, and it is cheating your school and community of the success they could achieve in those sports with your athleticism in the mix. More than one sports medicine expert also will tell you that it sends your risks of repetitive-use injuries and emotional burnout through the ceiling. And numerous elite coaches are on record: They are less likely to recruit the one-sport athlete than a multi-sport standout of equal ability.

And while this study only presented the phenomenon in a basketball context, I assure you that it applies to football, basketball, field hockey, ice hockey, soccer, wrestling, lacrosse, track or anything else. I could grab a wide-ruled notebook right now, write down the name of every D1 athlete I covered in all those sports from 1989 to 2016 and barely fill the page.

Sure, there are Maine kids who took advantage of that year-round meat market and made it. They’re outliers, too. Most of them either had size in the 99th percentile or a gym-rat mentality that couldn’t be taught.

Some of the locals who stood out most glaringly in basketball — Troy Barnies, Andy Bedard and T.J. Caouette — were multi-activity athletes and freakishly good at one of their “other” sports. Oh, and sometimes that other sport is what punches your golden ticket. Isaiah Harris, anyone?

Others of less ability are being sold a bill of goods. It’s that simple, and I’m sorry if the truth hurts. One or two adults are gaining financially from their colossally remote dream. One or both parents gain — I guess, on some perverse level — by living vicariously through the child.

Who loses, 99.4 to 99.6 percent of the time? That child. He or she will end up hating that sport as much I still love it. And that’s a crying shame.

Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. You may reach him by email at

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