I coached at my old high school while in graduate school and after practice towards the end of the season one day I remember a player saying to me that they may have an issue coming to a game because his AAU team.
I was shocked that there was even a decision, but in our player’s mind AAU was his platform to shine more. This baffled me.
This kid was going to play in college, but he felt, and was told by people he trusted, that AAU was where the scouts were going to be. Why wouldn’t they be at a high school game instead of an AAU “workout?”
Because AAU has become that big of a deal in the world of basketball. A business exploiting kids who either need or want more exposure, or at the basic level, playing time.
When I was playing we had “The Church” aka Riverside, which took the best of the best, and the rival the Gauchos. The Church is gone but now the Gauchos live with other programs. Now, this isn’t to disrespect anyone who puts their love for the game ahead of everything else in their lives. This isn’t to say that there aren’t great people who are a part of AAU. This is to relate the AAU’s style and impact and relate it to the Jeremy Lin’s of the world.
Bear with me for a second.
Lin is a wonderful story and he’s a great athlete. He’s also a player who looks to pass first.
Having spent many an afternoon either coaching, driving or advising players in their AAU seasons let me say that the quality of basketball is underwhelming. There is no teaching. It is a pinball style that allows guards to showcase their speed and athleticism, and gets big men into a position of trying to keep up with the pace. The only plays run are pick and rolls, but plenty of stubborn PGs don’t call for them because they want to play one on one, while everyone stands around.
Bob Knight said a few years back that the AAU game doesn’t teach kids the value of winning. Why? Because you can play 3 games in a day. That much volume leads to sloppy officiating and coaching. Practice time? Forget it. Too many kids playing on too many teams. Is there loyalty in AAU?
The fact of the matter is that, at its peak AAU, is a showcase of thoroughbreds, which guards dictate. Those guards are the Rose, and John Wall’s of the world, the Kyrie Irvings, who are 17 or 18 playing at an NBA pace. Scouts hope these players, these alpha dogs, can learn an offense as they progress while actually skipping the progression part and fast forwarding to the NBA life. It’s a platform that teaches high school prospects to deal with travel, media and the overall life of a professional player. To a kid, it’s intoxicating. Often times more so than a cross town rival game.
In all actuality, the NBDL and NBA summer leagues are the highest forms of AAU, just at a professional level. Look at the 2010 draft class. Drafting is not only an inexact science, it’s all about trends. Teams looking less for need and more for the Rose or Wall-types. Memphis took Geivis Vasquez, the only real pass-first point guard because they had Conley and O.J. Mayo, who has proven not to be combo guard in the Ben Gordon mold.
Now for exposure the Jeremy Lin’s of the world, the start and stop guards, are always overlooked because they are out matched physically, yet they have to play the game to get noticed. They have to pick up their pace. Play faster. But moreover, they aren’t given the ball to play with the best of the best on the biggest stages during the college recruiting process. It’s why Stanford passed on him and why he ended up at Harvard.
But then progression takes over. And the understanding and studying of the game. It’s the patience and respect of a coaching staff that allows a player to develop. It’s why I love going to Portsmouth for the PIT so much. The best athletes aren’t there but the maturity is. The progression is. It’s great basketball.
Life is fast enough, but in the world of NBA development it’s lightning fast.
Jeremy Lin is proving to you that it doesn’t have to be. The rewards can come to those who develop slowly in a proper environment.
Don’t listen to me. Go to a national AAU tournament and watch the teaching from the sidelines. Watch the situational play calling. Watch the officiating. You tell me what the impact of it is on the future of basketball.