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Flint hoopers lost in the shadows

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Former Grand Blanc Bobcat Amont'e Allen-Johnson

Former Grand Blanc Bobcat Amont'e Allen-Johnson

The Flint basketball scene has a seen huge change in the past 20 years.

What was once a hot-bed for NBA and college talent is drying up. Flintstones are getting lost in the shadows. 

Most people will agree that the golden era of Flint basketball was the early 1980s. But in recent years the city has seen a renaissance.

Right now, there are four players from Flint in the NBA -- the most the city has ever had at one time. 

A lot people do not connect because they didn't play high school basketball here. Players like Kyle Kuzma, Javale McGee and Miles Bridges went to prep schools.

Now, it's a snowball effect, and Flint-town ballers keep leaving the Vehicle City. 

"Me leaving and going to this prep school, I just feel like coach's trusted in me and that it's going to pay off for me with scholarship," said Amont'e Allen-Johnson.

Flint native Amont'e Allen-Johnson is a state champion and the 2021 Saginaw Valley League MVP. But, he chose not to return to Grand Blanc for his senior season. He's going to Phoenix to play for Dream City. 

He isn't the first Flint baller to take this path. Two years ago Jayden Nunn made the decision to go to Dream City and playing a national schedule helped him sign with VCU. 

"He's a big role model for me, even though we are so close in age," said Amont'e. 

But, this wasn't always the case for Flint basketball, where players had to leave the city to get college recognition. 

During the Golden Era in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, college coaches and recruiters from all over the country would flock to the Vehicle City. 

"I was class of 1997, but I remember when all four schools were 'Class A' schools, every school had killers," said Flint Native John McKenney. 

"Back in that day when you went into the city of Detroit, Flint, or Pontiac, you were watching pros. Now of days when you watch a game, I feel there's not even five division one players on the floors in those cities," said Greg Kampe, Oakland Men's basketball coach. 

Flint had four schools: Northwestern, Southwestern, Central and Northern Multiple NBA players were produced from Mateen Cleaves to Charlie Bell to Glenn Rice. 

Flint basketball players lost in the shadows part 2

With the population on a steady decline since 1980, Northern and Central closed, Northwestern became Flint junior high, leaving Southwestern Classical Academy as the last of those schools still standing. 

Two major events have led to this. General Motors sent thousands of jobs out of the city in the 1980s and 1990s and the Flint water crisis sent more residents leaving in the 2010s. 

"I grew up in a neighborhood in a two-parent home and everybody had two parents that worked for GM," said Flint native John McKenney, who is the father of rising high school superstar Trey McKenney.

Going into his sophomore year, Trey already has offers from Michigan, Arizona State, Alabama and Illinois just to name a few. 

But, Trey goes to Orchard Lake St. Mary's, a private school 45 minutes away from Flint, which was on purpose. 

"I just felt I needed to get out, if I stayed around here it would've been too many distractions," said Trey. 

"Sorry if this is controversial. I'm just being candid as a father, I think he outgrew the city. If this was 25-years ago when I was in high school, then he would've gone to Northern. But I just felt he needed more, he needed to be challenged more not just in the classroom, but as an athlete," said John. 

Trey is in the 1% but, many kids are fighting a congested system called the transfer portal. The transfer portal debuted in October of 2018 and allows college athletes to transfer from one campus to another with no penalties. 

Think of college basketball recruiting like a market, at any given time there are over 1,000 players in the Division 1 transfer portal for basketball. 

They all are fighting for 4,654 scholarships, but then add in about half a million high athletes bidding for those spots too. 

The market becomes flooded, and the high school hoopers are lost.

"I'm going to recruit a young man, he comes here and he has to learn what college life is about and it's not easy or I can take a guy out of the transfer portal who already knows scouting reports already knows and understands travel… He's two years older and I can get two years out of him, I'm probably if they're the same level of talent. I'm going to go with that kid and I think all 358 coaches in the country would say the same thing," said Kampe. 

Kampe has been coaching men's basketball at the Oakland since the 1980s. He agrees that high school players have gotten the short end of the stick because of the portal. 

But, there's also another factor

"The COVID year has changed our recruiting. Somewhere there were no scholarships added, now you have taken a whole group of high school kids and added them to that pool; somebody is going to get lost. There are a lot of kids in the portal that is going to get lost, the 5-star kid they'll be OK, the 4-star kid yeah, but the 3-star, 2-star kid, won't get the same interest as they did before," Kampe said. 

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