THE GRIND is a weekly series presented by Scott's Auto Center.
A week after Pinecrest Academy boys’ basketball lost in the Region 8-A tournament, putting a period mark on an educational 2013-14 season, point guard Nick Palmer took inventory of everything he learned about himself as a player.
He learned he was a capable scorer, passer and defender as he led the Paladins in points (15.2), assists (4.3) and steals (2.0) per game.
He also learned he needed his scoring to be more efficient (he shot just 30 percent) and to improve his decision-making (4.9 turnovers per game.)
So, with the season barely in his rearview mirror, Palmer got back on the court.
"Got to keep working all the time," he said.
Such is the expected refrain now for high school athletes who aspire to play at the next level. Their sport of choice no longer fits into a neat, compartmentalized season calendar anymore. The high school season rolls into the season for amateur travel teams back into the high school season with barely a pause, and for the hyper-ambitious – and, in some cases, hyper-affluent – there are any number of personal trainers and skill specialists to augment a player’s talent.
Palmer could restrict himself to the summer workout regimen of Pinecrest head coach Jay Lynch and get ample time on the court. The Paladins practice four times a week from 7-9 a.m., followed by weightlifting from 9-10:30 a.m.
But, for those like Palmer, that would be just enough.
"If you have aspirations to play at the next level," Palmer said, "you got to keep working and develop skills to the point that a [college] coach has to notice you."
Indeed, much of the motivation for the year-round dedication of high school athletes is the competition for college scholarships.
According to a 2012-13 annual High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), there were 971,796 high school basketball players in the country last season. Only 59,865 (or 6.2 percent) of those went on to play college basketball at any level.
So when Palmer is done with weightlifting, he goes back to the gym and puts up another 500-750 shots, he said. On Wednesdays and Sundays, he trains with Scepter Brownlee of Great Day Basketball, a skills development company. On Thursdays, he sees renowned shooting coach Bruce Kreutzer at the Mark Price Shooting Lab out of Suwanee Sports Academy for one-hour sessions.
"When a young man or woman signifies that they want to play college basketball, it’s going to come down to who did extra," said Brownlee, who was recently hired as the Kings Ridge boys basketball coach.
All of Palmer’s extra work comes at a cost, which he knows.
"There are always certain sacrifices you have to make, whether it’s not hanging out with your friends or going to a party," Palmer said. "You got to make choices in life. I feel with the goal of mine to play at the next level, then it’s necessary to do these things."
But Palmer’s work is starting to pay off. He’s gained interest from Berry College, Georgia College and State University, Shorter and Young Harris. With a grade-point average above 4.0, Palmer has also started to get attention from Ivy League programs. He recently went to a weekend camp at Princeton.
This has been the goal for Palmer since he was young. Sure, he played other sports; he still plays football for the Paladins. But basketball stuck.
And now he’s doing anything he can to make sure he can keep playing.
"My dad always told me he’d help me any way he can to follow my dream, so I got to just put the work in," Palmer said. "The harder I work the better it’s going to get, so I figure why stop?"