“I can see the day, probably within 15 years, that the really talented kids will play AAU ball year-round and won’t bother playing high school basketball.”
I know an unfair fight when I see one and I think high school basketball is in the fight of its life.
It might be a fight it cannot win, sort of like the unsuspecting victims of the Knockout Game.
It’s difficult enough that high school basketball is fraught with helicopter parents, uncompromising superintendents and mindless school boards. But, those are just minor threats.
The real threats looming are far more powerful, and when combined, are strong enough to reduce high school basketball to nothing more significant than a Saturday morning shirts-and-skins rec league.
The odds are stacked heavily against high school basketball. The perpetrators, whether they admit it or not, are in the process that threatens the existence of high school basketball as we know it. They are:
• Too many of those who claim they “coach” in the Amateur Athletic Union.
• Many major college coaches. See the Top 25.
• The media, mostly scouting evaluation websites that focus only on individuals
• Shoe companies
• The basketball factories that operate as “prep schools.”
One entity begets the other and together they provide a land mine that high school basketball might not be able to avoid. But, let’s stick with the AAU.
Many of these guys claiming to be coaches, especially at the “elite” level, care little about a kid beyond his vertical leap, his 3-point range and his ability to dribble through a pit of rattlesnakes.
Unless they double as both a high school and AAU coach I see them as Exploitation Eddies. They have little concern about a kid’s development as a person. They provide no help in a kid’s academic livelihood. They spend zero time addressing a kid’s basketball shortcomings, drilling on what he or she needs to improve on, such as off-hand skills, footwork and overall knowledge of the game.
All they care about is winning the Preparation-H Basketball All-Star Extravaganza Classic in Las Vegas so they can brag about it to their buddies down at the barbershop. They bribe kids with gratis offers of shoes, team bags and travel to desirable destinations, with the promise they will be seen by all the big-time college coaches.
“The biggest attraction for the elite-level kids is the level of competition,” said a former high school coach who spent more than three decades teaching and coaching at two Ohio high schools and two or three summers involved in the AAU. “And, in that regard you have to give the AAU its due. After that, the kids ask how many games are we going to play, where will be playing them and who will see me?”
I wish I had 10 bucks for every high school coach who has told me about one of his players returning from a summer of AAU ball with diminished skills, a lack of how the game is played and an “it’s all about me” attitude.
“I had an underclass kid go off to AAU ball one summer,” the former AAU and high school coach recalled. “When he came out in November he wasn’t as good as he was when he left. So, another kid took his spot. The father came in and wondered why his kid wasn’t starting. I told him his son had no left hand, couldn’t go to his left. I had planned on working with the kid on that over the summer but he was always off playing AAU. The dad just didn’t get it.”
Some organizations below the elite level charge kids to play, anywhere between $500 and $2,000 a summer. So, parents risk shelling out serious cash for their sons or daughters to become worse players?
Most of the elite players have college scholarships clinched by the time they’re in middle school. For the simply very good players it is their junior year. And, it is common knowledge that if you are an elite player – or even a very good player — the colleges will find you if you are playing in New York City, Las Vegas or Put-in-Bay.
In the big picture, nobody really cares about the AAU, outside of the Exploitation Eddies.
You never read a news story like, “Stevensen (SpaceShuttle) Sparks, who led the McTracy Grady All-Stars to the 16-and-17-year old national AAU championship last summer, will attend Ohio State on a basketball scholarship.”
But, you frequently have read that the SpaceShuttles of the world might have led their high school teams to a state championship, a regional championship or even a conference championship.
How many communities have staged victory parades down Main Street for teams that have won AAU championships? The next one might be the first.
If a majority of people cared about the AAU you would read more about it. A team winning a national AAU title gets about 5 paragraphs in the hometown paper. A team winning a state high school title gets almost as much coverage as the Cavs.
Dedicated high school coaches, the guys who have devoted their careers to teaching, building and maintaining a solid and successful program, despise or tolerate the AAU. They also fear it.
“I can see the day, probably within 15 years, that the really talented kids will play AAU ball year-round and won’t bother playing high school basketball,” said one coaching source, who won a Division I state championship in central Ohio during the 1990s. “Hopefully, it won’t come to that because the AAU just doesn’t provide all the support and development that a high school setting can provide.”
If you think the AAU threat is just my imagination or an attempt to induce panic, I refer you to a coaching clinic held in Cleveland about 20 years ago. In his address, the main speaker expressed concern that if high schools were not careful, the AAU would eventually put high school basketball out of business.
His name? Mike Krzyzewski.
Yeah, that Mike Krzyzewski.