"I think it's just getting harder and harder to be an athlete,'' he said. "[Athletes are] beginning to specialize more and more. There's not enough talent in this Valley for kids to specialize. You can play your school season then you come right into offseason workouts and club ball season and that thing can go almost to the beginning of the next school season.
"These coaches convince them if you're going to play for me you're going to play club ball. These kids get sold this mentality. I think it hurts them. I would like to see the kids be a little more versatile. If we had kids that specialized we'd be in trouble. I've got some good-sized kids here at GW that only play other sports.''
LaMaster, who is in his 19th season as a high school or middle school coach, said he has to work around athletes' schedules or he risks losing that player.
"I don't want those kids to feel like they have to make a choice,'' said the GW coach, who has guided the Patriots to the AAA state semifinals the past two seasons. "I've had to, in the past, work with [them]. I've got to be flexible as a coach. If I put them in a position like that, I'll lose.
"I've had to cut deals and say, 'Let me know in advance and if we're having a Saturday practice and you have to go to Charlotte to a weekend tournament we can work this out.' Last weekend there was a big indoor soccer event at Cabell Midland and my practice was at 9 a.m. Monday and [my player] doesn't get home until 2 a.m. then gets back up and comes to my practice. I'd rather have them here 95 percent of the time than none at all. If I want them playing, that's the deal I have to work.''
Steve Ash, the coach of the DuPont Middle School girls team the past six years, encountered the same problems. Ash has also been a boys assistant coach at Riverside and an AAU coach.
"When I came to DuPont I had 56 girls a year tryout for basketball,'' he said. "Then when they start getting a little bit older and getting involved in specialty sports, their coaches tell them if you want the opportunity to get a college scholarship, you have to spend all of your time in this sport.
"It's really hurt. You get to Riverside and during the three weeks of summer practice [coach Scott Garretson] only had three freshmen. That's hard to survive that way. It takes away a lot of good athletes, kids that could really help your program.
"Some could be starters and others sixth or seventh men. That could really help your team. It seems back five or 10 years ago you had more teams of players out there. Basketball is a grind. It's a sport that you've got to work hard at it. There are a lot of things you have to do to be good at it.''
Ash said athletes are picking their best sport and sticking with it.
"I see a lot of players I know that could be excellent basketball players but aren't out playing basketball because they have other commitments,'' he said. "[They think] 'I may be OK in basketball, but I'm not sure I'm really good.' There's a lot of girls I know that play AAU basketball that don't even play for their [school] teams during the season.
"They feel they're going to get noticed playing during the summertime. I do believe there are influences out there telling them you can be noticed or obtain a college scholarship by playing travel sports instead of your regular season. It's just an uphill battle. I don't know if you'll ever overcome it. It's here to stay.''
LaMaster said he also sees a generational shift.
"I'm not sure the kids are held accountable from a parental standpoint,'' he said. "I think there's a little bit of entitlement going around today. Young kids come in and if they're not starting then [they'll] go somewhere else. It's so easy to quit. Once you begin quitting it becomes easier and easier."
Ash said he sees some help on the way.
"I have watched some teams and I'm really impressed with South Charleston Middle School,'' he said. "I've seen Charleston Catholic [Middle School] play and they have a couple of players I like. John Adams has four or five I really like. There are players around and I have noticed that when I do go out and watch AAU.''
Burgy said it simply might be timing.
"The talent's down, there's no question about that,'' he said. "The kids still play hard. There were just some great athletes that came through here at that time.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkin...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.