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The double edged sword that is AAU Basketball

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It's really an easy question to answer. It really is. Ask a high school basketball player who his or her coach is. Pretty simple answer, right? If you go to Brunswick, your coach is Joe Mackey. If you go to Strongsville, your coach is Darren Collins. If you go to St. Ignatius, your coach is Sean O'Toole, and if you go to St. Edward, you coach is Eric Flannery.

Not any more

It's really a disturbing trend what is going on now. The answer to the very simple question has turned into the new "Fifty Shades of Grey". Who really is the kid's coach? More and more high school basketball players are giving a different answer to the very basic question, and the repercussions for the kid and for high school basketball are becoming bigger and more obvious as time goes by. What is this mysterious answer that the kids are giving?

My AAU coach

The rise of AAU teams and the year round schedule they provide is slowly shifting the onus of importance for many high school basketball players. AAU teams can play up to as many as 80 games during one's high school off season, allowing players to stay in top form for when their high school season starts. At least, that's the theory

AAU Basketball does provide many positive things for the player. Among them are:

Exposure.... There is no better way to get kids looked at by potential colleges than playing on the AAU circuit. College coaches from all over the country come to see them play. With tournaments held all over the country, these college coaches can see these players numerous times. With the addition of plenty of media outlets and ranking systems, coaches KNOW who these players are.

Competition.... The AAU circuit is filled with players are the best of the best. The old adage states that the quickest way to get better as a player is to play against other players that are just as good, if not better, than you are. What better way for players to evaluate themselves, than playing against the best competition.

The Schedule.... AAU teams play the majority of their games during the summer, which allows more games to be played, which means more experience, more competition, and more working on one's game. Up to 80 games may be played between the end of the high school season, and the beginning of high school tryouts. Tying this in with the exposure and competition elements just mentioned, it can provide a way for a player to improve very quickly.

But, as with most things, there are downsides to AAU basketball, and in this case, things can be sending the wrong messages to the players. On some levels, it has become a dirty business

The Coaching.... Not ALL, but MOST AAU coaches aren't really coaches. It's usually the father of one of the players, or someone with contact with most of the players involved. Do they really know the game? Do they really have the right priorities in knowing how to teach the game? Are they really working on the player's weaknesses, or just trying to win games and get their kids exposed? What this lack of "real" coaching does is lead to.....

Too much individual play.... Think of it this way: If AAU provides exposure to college coaches for the players, how easy is it for the players involved to want to show off their individual skills? This leads to lack of team play and to the "I've gotta get mine" way of thinking. Watching an AAU game with a father of one of the players, he said something that I think sums up this line of thinking:

It's an AAU game. If you pass the ball on offense, you probably aren't getting it back, so you might as well try for an offensive rebound

It's almost like players are playing for the name on the back of the jersey, instead of the name on the front

How does this line of thinking develop them as people? Doesn't it lead to kids feeling that they are more entitled than ever?

The Shoe Companies.... This really doesn't happen in the younger age groups, but is very much visible at the junior and senior level of high school. Think just college coaches are attending these games? Think again. Shoe companies are always looking for the next "big thing" coming out of high school, and want these players wearing their gear. So, how does the process work? Shoe company execs get close to the coach, or the player's family to try and get the player to eventually sign with their company. Don't believe it? How about this quote from a player now in college, talking about his college recruitment. Keep in mind that the kid said it ON CAMERA as he was being interviewed:

I have narrowed it down to about four teams. I like (TEAM A) and (TEAM B) the most because they are (SHOE COMPANY) teams, and all of us wear (SHOE COMPANY) gear already.

Not only do these shoe companies want to steer these players to teams where they already have clients, but they also provide bags, uniforms, and other "swag" to these teams.

For a list of The Most Manipulative Presences in College Sports, click here

How does this growth and emphasis on AAU basketball affect high school basketball?

Plenty

On a positive note, the high school team is getting a player with loads of game experience, a player that has been playing year round, and a player that is probably in good physical condition.

On the downside, the player has been exposed the the AAU "culture" that was explained above. Will he or she listen to the high school coach, or will he or she revert back to "That's not the way my AAU coach teaches it". Another question is: Are they REALLY better for playing AAU? After getting questionable at best coaching, and playing all summer in a "me first" type mentality, can a player really adjust to the discipline and structure of a high school system? AAU makes kids be "professional" before they are ready. A great example of this is the new documentary on AAU basketball called At All Costs, which takes the viewer through the life of an AAU player.

Can AAU basketball become more relevant than high school basketball?

Many high school coaches think so, especially in this era of "pay to play" which is increasing rapidly throughout high schools here in the Cleveland area. One Cleveland area high school coach hits the nail on the head when explaining how AAU CAN eclipse high school basketball in the near future:

If parents have to pay for their child to play on their high school team, why wouldn't they pay to play AAU if given the choice? AAU is not governed by the OHSAA, so the kid can travel, play all over the state or country, and play on hand picked teams if they want

There will always be pluses and minuses in the choices we all make. Choosing AAU basketball for one's young athlete will be one of them. AAU does provide a service and an organization that can help a young athlete get better. However, there are pitfalls and land mines all over the place if your child becomes one of the better players. The questions that one has to ask is: Is AAU really in the child's best interest? Is my child going to get the proper coaching in teaching him HOW TO PLAY, instead of HOW TO GET ATTENTION? Do I really want my son or daughter to miss out on having the pride of playing on their high school teams? How do I know, as a parent, who is influencing my son or daughter regarding their choice of college?

Bottom line is.... It's really a case by case choice. By making this choice for their kids, parents should know as much as they can as far as what to expect.

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