The highest-ranked high school football player in Alabama just happens to also be one of the state’s best basketball players.
That bodes well for Pinson Valley High School near Birmingham, where Ga’Quincy “Kool-Aid” McKinstry has the Indians in the second round of the Class 6A football playoffs after being one of the most talented basketball teams in the state last year.
Star basketball player Kam Woods has graduated and is off to Troy after being named the state’s Class 6A Player of the Year two years in a row. But with superstar transfer Greedy Williams arriving at Pinson Valley to join McKinstry, there was no reason to believe the Indians would take a step back this season.
That is, until McKinstry announced his next move would be one that is becoming all too common for football players who have a realistic dream of not only going to college but making it all the way to the NFL.
Here’s what McKinstry had to say a week after committing to Alabama over his other two finalists of Auburn and LSU.
“I’m taking the whole basketball season off to work on football,” he said. “I’m just looking at the bigger picture and what I need to do to reach my ultimate goal, which is the NFL. It also could be the NBA. I’m not counting that out, but right now I want to get up there as quick as I can and work my butt off to learn the things I need to learn in football to get on the field.”
It’s hard to fault McKinstry for his decision. While he has been steadfast in his desire to play college basketball in addition to football, there simply isn’t a demand in the NBA for a 5-foot-11 shooting guard, even if he does have long arms, speed and incredible leaping abilities.
But those same skills on the football field can lead to generational riches.
It sounds like McKinstry got the message that if he didn’t graduate high school in December and get to Tuscaloosa right away then he was going to fall behind in his football development. He’s not wrong about that. With the exception of athletes who play at schools that do not allow early graduation (such as UMS-Wright, St. Paul’s and McGill-Toolen), players are increasingly feeling the pressure to get to college early and begin bulking up physically to prepare for their first spring practice.
Without that early start, they fall behind the competition on their new team and those players who they will eventually be compared to by NFL teams.
Under the current rules, McKinstry is doing the right thing. Nobody wants to miss their final high school basketball season or senior prom, but compared to a chance to prepare for a multimillion-dollar contract, there is no debating which is more important.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It would be so easy to change the rules in such a way that McKinstry and other talented athletes like him would not feel the pressure to rush through what should be one of the happiest years of their lives.
Here’s how the rule should work. No freshman should be allowed to be on scholarship until June of his high school senior year. Anyone who chooses to arrive before then would have to pay their own way through college and would not be allowed to participate in any football-related activity, including spring practice.
If they chose to accept a scholarship before then and compete in football-related activity, that would count as their freshman year of eligibility. By the time they got on the field for their first game, they would be competing as a sophomore.
No college team would garner an upper hand. No player would fear falling behind the competition.
Instead, they could take advantage of all of the great days that come with being a high school senior. Among those is a chance to finish what they started with all of their spring sports teammates.
For McKinstry, that would mean one more year on the basketball court for Pinson Valley. He might even have a shot at becoming Mr. Basketball in the state, one of his stated goals just a couple of months ago.
But that was before he realized he had little choice but to expedite his arrival in Tuscaloosa if he didn’t want to fall behind the competition and disappoint his future college coaches.
The solution is so simple and would eliminate the problem of pressuring star athletes to give up what should be one of the best years of their young lives.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m. and on the iHeart app.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here