Why AAU basketball has hurt the sport

One of the more touchier issues when it comes to high school sports and the recruitment of athletes to colleges is AAU.

This is particularly true in basketball. A debate has heated up over the past decade or so about AAU basketball and the role it plays in developing players and talent.

AAU basketball has its fans and defenders.

I am not one of them.

First, I'll acknowledge that AAU does give kids the opportunity to travel. That can be neat the first year when you're involved in sports. Many student-athletes cannot afford to travel outside of Kansas City, Kan., even just for a simple vacation.

In that arena, I'm happy that many KCK kids can get the opportunity to travel to cities like Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Houston or Atlanta.

And of course, college coaches have gotten lazy and prefer just attending AAU events rather than high school games.

At those AAU events, only the creme of the crop are on display and many of the guys you see ranked on Rivals' rankings can be scouted in the same area.

(The pattern of college coaches only attending AAU events is a bad one, but that argument is for another day.)

Those two things are certainly important, but outside of that, AAU basketball has very little going for itself.


• VERY FEW AAU COACHES ACTUALLY DO COACHING. There are a few AAU coaches I respect because I do think there are some who honestly care about player development and teaching life lessons to their players.

But, again, I say few – and just speaking from experience, I see a very limited number of skills developed because of AAU basketball. Many players get better during the summer when they play with their teammates from high school in summer leagues.

Though I'm not a huge fan of the coaching talent in KCK basketball right now, they are certainly better than the talent on display on the sidelines during AAU games. High school coaches are employed, after all, by school districts. Most of the ones I've experienced in KCK have the needs of players in their hearts.

Having attended two AAU tournaments the past few years, I get the sense that many AAU coaches care mostly about themselves and are desperately holding on to any opportunity at former glory.

• AAU COACHES OFTEN INFLATE HOPES OF THEIR PLAYERS. A suggestion to parents. If you want to have some adults tell you and your son that he is a lock for Division 1 basketball, hang out with an AAU coach. AAU coaches employ a "say anything" attitude when it comes to recruiting players for their teams. You will very rarely get 100 percent honesty from some AAU coaches.

• THE QUALITY OF AAU BASKETBALL IS POOR. Outside of the coaches and players involved with AAU basketball, I would bet that the only people who have passion for it are those who cover it for their jobs and those who can make money off of it. You get nothing that resembles hard-nosed defense or good teamwork. The AAU defenders I know are those who either coach it, play in it or work for a scouting service. I know very few high school coaches who defend it either to me or other people or just general basketball fans who love it.

• AAU BASKETBALL MAKES A HIGH SCHOOL COACH'S JOB HARDER. Having the great relationships I do with many coaches inside KCK and outside of the city, I can give you countless stories about how high school coaches have to "correct" habits their players develop during the summer. One active coach in Kansas City has told me it feels like he has to spend "most of his time" on correcting the mistakes developed during the AAU season. Many of those bad habits occur because of AAU basketball.

• AAU BASKETBALL DOES NOT PREPARE ATHLETES "FOR THE MOMENT." Most AAU games are played in small recreational centers or high school gyms with very little attendance there. While the talent at AAU events is stacked, I'm more impressed with the player who can hang in during a rough Friday night at Washington High School or Shublom Gymnasium than those who "kill it" on the AAU circuit. Intangibles are developed when you go against a high school rival.  

• AAU BASKETBALL HAS HURT ALL LEVELS OF THE SPORT. Many good to great coaches in college basketball have hired coaches with strong AAU connections or AAU coaches themselves to serve on their staffs in order to get the upper hand in recruiting. Those AAU coaches do not have the skills of an average college assistant, meaning college players do not receive the best coaching possible.

In regards to the NBA, a big reason many general managers have looked at drafting European and South American players is because they don't participate in AAU basketball.

Check out this Wall Street Journal piece and focus on the part about Brandon Jennings. Jennings, after playing AAU basketball, decided to skip on the one-year mandatory college season and played in Europe. Jennings remarks in the WSJ piece about "how different" it is in Europe and how tougher it is.

Is it any wonder why today's NBA players fail to live up to the standards that Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Oscar Robinson and other past greats set?

I know Magic played AAU, but he played AAU in a time when it wasn't this bad and before the time AAU basketball took a major turn for the worse.

One overlooked reason why the world is rapidly catching up to the United States in basketball is AAU rotting the basketball knowledge of America's top athletes.

Though the growing popularity of basketball and success of international stars in the NBA have certainly helped the world edge closer and closer, the AAU culture has contributed as well.


As long as the AAU culture and increased participation in AAU basketball continues, the sport of basketball at all levels will continue to slowly erode.

It's starting to sneak into the high school level.

And that's truly bad news.