Rethinking AAU Basketball by John Mietus
Instead of demonizing AAU basketball as corrupt and abusive while lauding high school basketball as pure and righteous, let’s examine them both individually and compare the benefits of each.
1. Visibility to scouts and recruiting services
2. Travel and access to better competition
2. Length of basketball season
3. Overreaction to one good or bad game
In the modern era, it ‘s hard to be recruited, especially by high-level schools, unless you play the AAU basketball circuit. This isn’t the fault of the schools or the shoe companies as much as it is a necessary evil. AAU brings more players together in the same places to compete against each other than high school basketball ever could. It allows for a somewhat level playing field in the sense that whether you play little high school basketball in Iowa or a big city private school league, you now have a chance to demonstrate your ability against everybody else in the country. If you do well, your high school size, competitiveness, etc., don’t matter.
On the downside, apparently, greed and profiteering are rampant in AAU basketball. Coaches who have modest basketball resumes sell parents on a dream that their child will earn a scholarship to college if only the parents pay the AAU team a large sum of money to travel their child around the country. Because high school players who will receive D1 scholarships are a rarity, they tend to be extremely noticeable in comparison to their peers. These players are well known, understood to be on the path to college scholarships, and use AAU games as a means to determine their player ranking rather than simply whether or not they can play in college.
Scouts and recruiting services use AAU as a means to promote their brand, meaning that they want to give out massive plaudits when they see a player have one good game at a big tournament. Ultimately this leads to meaningless player rankings, now with kids as young as fifth grade. This is done as a profitable enterprise but should not be taken seriously, particularly in the younger ages. We as a country desperately need to get away from rewarding “early bloomers” for being a bit stronger than their peers at age 13 and then disappearing by the time they get to late high school and college.
1. More opportunity to play
2. Safer, less pressure-filled environment
1. Not designed to aid recruiting
2. Lower level of competition
Due to the massive number of public high schools across our country, many more young athletes will have access to basketball than AAU. Typically the coach will be a teacher at the high school, someone the athletes are familiar with, and someone who has been around the game for a long time with no motivation to “sell” kids to shoe companies, recruiting services, etc. Bottom line, high school gives more athletes a chance to play. That is a tremendous service and a great reason for our high youth basketball system in America.
However, high school athletics is not directly linked to college athletics. Athletes can go widely unnoticed if they do not escape their competition bubble and find tougher places to play.
Bottom line, I don’t think it does any good to belittle AAU basketball even with all its problems. AAU is just a system, and like any system it is imperfect. It still does provide some significant benefits, and it is possible for many young athletes to use the system to help be recruited without being exploited.
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