Illinois Wolves' coach Mike Mullins bristles when compared with some AAU programs that simply take ball players to games and leave them to their own devices. Mike's a coach, not a chauffeur.
"Once in awhile we try to coach, yeah. It seems to help. That's what we pride ourselves on, trying to help them prepare to succeed in college."
Mullins challenges his youngsters by having them play against players older than themselves.
"We play all our teams 1 and 2 years up. They're never playing their own age until their last season. I think it gives them a great preparation for when they walk in as a college freshman. With injuries, redshirts and transfers, sometimes your first game is against a 23-24 year old player.
"I think the progression with our team is the same as the progression of a high school team. Each year, they're asking you to do more and more, which forces you to expand your game. We're very bent on trying to make them complete basketball players. It's not always comfortable for young players to do things they're not really comfortable with yet.
"We have some very talented kids in the program. Hopefully, their work ethic and willingness to learn will get the ball started for them the next couple years."
Among the most talented players has been Sterling guard Joseph Bertrand, who recently signed to play basketball at Illinois.
"Joseph Bertrand played with us the last three springs. Joseph is a long, rangy, athletic combo guard who can play both positions. He's sprouted a few inches since he started. Physically, he's just starting to catch up to his body. I think he has a tremendous upside."
Mike is high on DeAndre McCamey.
"We have DeAndre McCamey, who's Demetri's younger brother and is recovering from an ACL right now, working hard at that. He's probably one of the most talented point guards in the country. He's got a couple more months to go on healing his knee. If he was on a college campus with a 24 hour professional to help him, those things come quicker.
"He's only a junior. He's a great leader and has made tremendous strides as a point guard. We're looking for great things from him."
The Wolves have some tremendous young sophomores in their program as well. Mullins recently brought a couple of them to an Illini exhibition game.
"Our 2011 class is extremely talented. Obviously, that starts with Chasson Randle (Rock Island), Jacob Williams (Bartlett), and Nnana Egwu (Chicago St. Ignatius). They have caught the eye of alot of people, and Chasson is a priority recruit for Illinois for awhile now and has a scholarship offer on the table.
"Randle is very dominant scoring the ball when he's in his own age group, with multiple 30 point games. We tried to move him up and concentrate on being a point guard to work on his skills distributing and making good decisions.
"It's a process. We've been fortunate to have a lot of great guards in the program, so it's kind of the process we've taken them all through. I think he has a chance to be a very special one.
"Chasson travels three hours each way to play with us. So that's quite a testament to his family that he's willing to take that time and make that kind of commitment."
AAU basketball is a spring and summer endeavor and doesn't overlap with the high school season. But the opportunity for travel and exposure to a variety of college coaches makes it an attractive alternative for aspiring basketball players.
"We've had kids from downstate Illinois, central Illinois, to kids from Rockford. You have to come to practice to play. We did our fall workouts September and October, then gave them a week off to get them ready for their high school seasons, freshen their legs as they're still growing. From November until their teams are eliminated in the state playoffs, we don't do anything with the players."