Busting Brackets

The AAU, Good or Bad?


July 25, 2012; Orlando FL, USA; CP3 AAU 16U player Shelton Michaell (1) drives to the basket as Tampa Fastbreak player Austin Walker (15) defends during the AAU 11th grade mens basketball national tournament at Wide World of Sports. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend, there was a large amount of AAU tournaments going end as for most squads, it was the end of their year. While high school basketball is still used as a medium to scout players, a lot of college coaches and scouts have decided to focus their attention on the ever more popular AAU circuit.

Formed in 1888, the Amateur Athletic Union was created as a non profit organization with the goal of promoting sports for young people across the United States. While the AAU includes many sports like baseball, football, hockey and badminton, among others, when the words AAU are spoken, people’s minds will usually jump straight to basketball.

That is because in the late 90s and early 00s, the basketball AAU circuits started becoming populated by sponsored teams that included a lot of top players joining together. These teams became all the rage for NCAA schools to scout because they grouped a bunch of good prospects together and made it a one stop shop for teams.

While it has done a lot for basketball, the debate always rages on. Is AAU basketball good for young players or does it hurt them more than it helps?

It is not a black and white argument. There are valid points to both sides of the coin. In terms of player development, the AAU is excellent for young guys. For the top teams who are playing against similar competition, it allows them to face off against competition that these players don’t have the luxury of playing against in high school. For guys like Greg Oden or John Wall who dominated in high school, having the chance to prove to schools that they are just as dominant against the nation’s best players is a great way to show that they are as good as advertised.

As well, the AAU is very well structured and organized. The best teams have some great coaching and often have backing by professional players who often show up to help out the kids. For prospects, this is a great chance for them meet their favorite players and also get fresh coaching outside of their high school experience, allowing them to grow as players.

For post secondary schools, truthfully, the AAU has been a recruiting blessing. Following players at their high schools is a tough task. Their games are at odd times, they play sparingly throughout the year and often, a high school team might only have one player worth recruiting. When AAU tournaments roll along, a bunch of players that interest schools are suddenly all playing on the same days. Games go all day and coaches and their scouts can sit there and watch every team play and get a good idea of many top prospects’ abilities without having to travel through many states.

On the other side, the AAU has also created some bad scenarios. For one thing, players start quite young on the circuit, usually as 12 or 13 year olds. As young players, they get lavished with attention by both teams and scouts. For a lot of them, it goes to their heads and leads them to thinking that they are already the best. One needs only to look at a player like Lance Stephenson, who was told since he was very young that he was the next big thing only to have disappointing college offers and having his pro career derailed for a few years.Once he realized he was not as good as he had been told, he was able to get his career back on track but Stephenson lost precious development years thinking he was the best and not working as hard as he could have been. This was partly because of how often he was told those very things as a player in the AAU circuit.

There has also been a lot of criticism for players wanting to play on “super teams”, teams that are stacked with a lot of talent. Old school players don’t believe that these type of teams are good for quality basketball, believing that talented players should want to beat each other instead of joining forces. The super teams may not have been birthed by the AAU but it has certainly popularized them for younger players. They play on this circuit for years alongside some of the best players in their states. For example, growing up Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daquean Cook all played on the same team since 8th grade. It also led to them all committing to Ohio State together. While it may not be a bad thing for a lot of people, it becomes a little bit dangerous. Assembling massive amount of talents on one college team leads to extremely high expectations and if they aren’t met, it somehow hurts these players’ professional stocks. That isn’t exactly fair for these young men.

Ultimately, the AAU does a lot of great things for college basketball and for the development of young players around the nation. It may have its flaws but it has a lot of success. Many of their alumni are all star basketball talents in the NBA and a lot of them would probably credit their time in the AAU circuit as a big reason for that success. Nothing is ever perfect but I do believe that the benefits the AAU provides definitely outweigh the failures of it.