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SMAC: An AAU basketball organization doing things the right way

Carlos Shea-Ron with Midpark players Stasha Carey, Jess Barnes, and Becca Ziska
Carlos Shea-Ron with Midpark players Stasha Carey, Jess Barnes, and Becca Ziska

There is a lot to like about the Score More Athletic Club (SMAC). In what can be seen as the "Wild West" that AAU basketball can be, there are many national organizations and teams that wear the black hat and form the negative perception that many people have of AAU basketball. Fortunately here in the Cleveland area, SMAC is one of the organizations that wears the white hat.

SMAC developing young basketball players

The best players in the Cleveland area from 3rd to 12th grade can attest to it

​SMAC was the brainchild of Executive Director and Strongsville grad Tucker Neale, and it is appropriately named. If there was one thing Tucker could do in his career, it was "Score More". After a high school career at Strongsville where he set the single season scoring record, and after a season at Division III Ashland, Neale went on to play at Colgate, where he was Patriot League Player of the Year his junior year, and led Colgate to the NCAA Tournament as as senior, almost upsetting top seeded Kansas in the first round. He then went on to play a year in Germany, where he averaged over 30 points a game, and was in the training camps of both the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers. Quite an accomplishment for someone not heavily recruited at all coming out of high school.

The man knows his basketball

What makes SMAC different from most AAU organizations?.... In a word: Teaching. In a world of "let me get mine" and "I wonder who is watching me?", SMAC takes a different approach. They actually teach the game.

Since its infancy 19 years ago, SMAC has thrived to teach kids HOW to play. SMAC has always taken the teaching aspect as the most serious aspect of what we do. Our players are taught in practice to maximize their skill set by working on the fundamentals of the game. We never roll a ball out and just scrimmage.....Executive Director Tucker Neale

The three negatives on AAU basketball are the coaching the kids receive, too much individual play, and outside influences such as shoe companies and "runners" representing off the court influences that aren't in the players best interest. SMAC pretty much debunks those three obstacles.

Coaching....Scanning through the list of coaches of each age group, a couple of things stick out. There are at least two coaches for each age group, both boys and girls. Of those coaches, virtually all of them have had coaching experience, and the vast majority of them have been coaching for SMAC for a number of years, OR played for SMAC, and have played basketball on the college level. This isn't the national AAU standard of "My second cousin's brother can coach our team" type of structure. These are REAL coaches that TEACH the game, not someone looking out for something off the court for his or her kids.

We want players to learn the difference between a curl cut and a flair cut. Understanding rolling off a ball screen versus slipping a screen....Executive Director Tucker Neale

It is more than just FINDING the talent, it is about DEVELOPING it:

Everyone is trying to find the next LeBron James. We are trying to develop the next LeBron James. In all youth and high school sports, the best clubs are the the best teachers of the fundamentals of the game....Executive Director Tucker Neale

Too much individual play....Yes, players work on their individual skills with SMAC, but it is all done with a team concept in mind, with development on both sides of the ball.

We teach how to play defense with strict man-to-man principles. SMAC is a place to learn the game. Learning the game and exposure should be one in the same....Executive Director Tucker Neale

Still not convinced? Take a look at the Class of 2014 Girls SMAC squad. It consists of the best players in the Cleveland area, including Solon's Kristen Confroy, Berea-Midpark's Stasha Carey, Twinsburg's Baleigh Reid, St. Joseph Academy's Greta Burry, Holy Name's Kim Cook, Hathaway Brown's Beth Brzozowski, Clyde's Amanda Cahill and Lexi Webber, Austintown Fitch's Megan Sefcik, and Toledo Notre Dame's Jayda Worthy. With all those stars, how is just one ball enough to satisfy these players?

Our 2014 team was a great example of SMAC pride, love and commitment to our program and each other. Each of them sacrificed their own individual success so that the team could enjoy success. Every event they played in attracted a crowd. Opposing coaches & parents always commented on how "unselfish" and "classy" that group was. Family, in every sense of the word, is what that team and our club is all about....Girls Director Carlos Shea-Ron

Shoe Companies and other outside influences....As we know, the bigger an organization gets, the more attention it receives, and the more outside influences try to get a foothold within the organization. Fortunately, despite the fact that SMAC has grown from just a Cleveland area organization to teams in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Columbus, they have been, and WILL STAY, clean:

SMAC does not take shoe money, bribes from runners or any other sort of financial inducement that other clubs may choose to accept. We are set up as an investment in each players future success with the game of basketball....Executive Director Tucker Neale

Where SMAC has really exploded is on the girls side. These statistics not only show the amount of players now playing for SMAC teams, but what good coaching and good player development can lead to:

  • There are now over 400 girls playing in the SMAC organization
  • In the last nine years, there have been 70 girls sign Division I offers, and another 44 sign Division II offers
  • In the Plain Dealer's Top 25 team poll, SMAC has players playing on 11 of them
  • In the latest state AP Poll, they have players on a team in Divisions I, II, and III
  • They have five players from this year's teams nominated for the 2014 McDonald's All-American Game
  • Last year, they had 23 players named All-Ohio in Divisions I, II, and III, including the Division II Player of the Year in Clyde's Amanda Cahill
  • In last year's "Sweet 16", SMAC had players on five of those teams

​Pretty impressive

But the most important key to our success as a program is the "family" atmosphere our kids/parents experience. People feel so welcomed and loved inside our club. We support each team and player like their our own family. They feel welcomed when they first join SMAC. After that, they experience the love we have for each other and everyone around. Players spend so much time off the court as well as on the court....Girls Director Carlos Shea-Ron

Why has the growth in girls basketball exploded so quickly?

Two main reasons why we've grown to a national level is the type of coaches we have teaching our players, as well as the opportunities we give young ladies, starting as young as 4th grade, to expand their game and be recruited. We have some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable coaches in our club. They're dedicated people that love being in the gym making players better. In the normal AAU realm, most coaches are volunteer or part-time coaches. SMAC coaches are more than that. Their countless hours spent working with players outside of the AAU season is incredible. Fall workouts, winter workouts, time spent at players community or school games and many hours on the road recruiting more players to join our club, is the type of dedication our coaches have. They love teaching the game and building relationships through the game of basketball....Girls Director Carlos Shea-Ron

Still not convinced of the family atmosphere that SMAC provides? How about an opinion from a finalist for Miss Basketball in the state of Ohio on how SMAC develops players and the experience of playing for the SMAC organization:

I would not be the player I am today without Carlos! Our team was a family and playing with them will be one of my best memories....Solon's Kristen Confroy

Hey, that is great that the players love playing for SMAC, but what about the parents of the players? Aren't they the ones PAYING for the SMAC experience? Yes, there is a cost to play for SMAC, but it's a two way street:

To be able to teach kids and parents alike, each must invest in the process. This investment includes transportation, club fees, off season workouts and in season practices. AAU programs pay for flights, meals, hotels, shoes, uniforms, electric bills, rent, cars; the list goes on and on....Executive Director Tucker Neale

So, is it worth the time and money to invest your child's basketball future to SMAC? One parent who has all four of his kids playing for SMAC, thinks so:

Our girls originally chose SMAC because they wanted good coaching and a chance to play against the top competition in the country. He (Carlos Shea-Ron) approached us and said he was starting a very competitive team in her grade the following year and would love to have her play for him. From there we started going to his workouts and practices and we saw her improving right away with Carlos and Dee has never considered another club since then. Everything fell into place after that. Jordan went with another SMAC coach, Andre Gault, who has played a huge part in her development as a player. My boys then hooked up with another SMAC coach, Gene Reddy, and have been with him ever since.

All four have learned a lot about basketball from their SMAC coaches. All four get the chance to play against some of the top competition in the country every Spring/Summer with their respective SMAC teams. All four have developed relationships with their coaches that continue even in the off season. Their coaches are always there to support them. SMAC was exactly what our kids were looking for...They wanted to learn and get better...They wanted to get challenged and compete on the highest level...SMAC has accomplished these things and they have also built relationships with their coaches and teammates that goes well beyond just basketball. I know that every time I drop them off at practice they are in good hands....Solon's Kevin Bekelja

Another "classy" touch that SMAC players and coaches do? If you watch the slideshow above, you will see that they go to each other's Senior Nights. It's a nice touch, and speaks to the bond that is formed throughout the organization.

What makes SMAC really go is the passion of its founder Tucker Neale. Reflecting back to his own career, I asked him if the reason he is so passionate about SMAC is because was overlooked as a player during his early career:

That is exactly why. I know how little help I received and want to make sure kids have the opportunity if they work hard

In the world of AAU basketball, where it is getting dirtier and dirtier by the minute, where the focus is skewed away from getting the players exposure instead of making them better players, SMAC is proving that an organization can have success doing things the right way. Teaching the kids HOW to play, instead of just playing. TEACHING the fundamentals of the game, not just looking at stat lines. Forming bonds and relationships off the floor, not just "going their own way".

Neale sums it up very simply:

SMAC is part of the solution and not part of the problem. We will continue to teach kids the game of basketball as everyone else waves around free stuff and all the perks. We will continue down the road of teaching and helping each of our players to maximize their talent and love for the game.

Yep, Skip, you are 100 percent correct

For more information on SMAC please visit their website at, or follow them on Twitter at @SMACBasketball or their Facebook page SMAC Basketballclub

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