In recent years, AAU basketball-the general term used for summer basketball-has taken a beating from many people in the basketball establishment. Critics site examples of sleazy coaches who manipulate young players and parents' with promises of D-1 scholarships and NBA contracts. Also, many "experts" contend that AAU basketball is hurting player development, undermining high school basketball programs, and are calling for additional NCAA reforms aimed at reducing AAU basketball's growing influence on the game.
Since most critics are calling for a return to the days when high school coaches had more influence on young basketball players, the Buckeye Prep Report decided to question high school coaches about the subject. Needles to say, we were surprised with their responses.
According to Tony Stiab, second year head varsity coach at Gahanna Lincoln High School, "AAU is a positive experience for kids, and affords them the opportunity to play competitive basketball after the high school season has ended." As a varsity coach, Staib supports AAU basketball because his players continue play basketball during the OHSAA's mandated "dead periods," when he and his assistants cannot have contact with the players.
Coach Stiab, like many of his peers, is concerned that some summer basketball programs simply "just role out balls,' and fail to emphasize fundamentals. "I would hope that the summer basketball season is an extension of the school season," says Stiab. Despite these concerns, Coach Stiab believes, "if a coach drives home fundamentals during the season, they will carryover into the summer." According to Tim Casey, head basketball coach at Upper Arlington High School, "AAU programs are only as good as the coaches that coach the teams." Coach Casey believes kids should balance individual workouts with AAU basketball.
Sean Taylor, head basketball coach at Eastmore Academy, echoes Stiab's sentiments about summer basketball. Taylor likes the fact that players get an opportunity to face "real game situations" that cannot be duplicated though individual workouts. Also, Taylor likes the fact that his players get to compete against the best players in the country, who have different playing styles and moves. In terms of the difference in the roles of high school versus AAU coaches, Taylor does not see any. "The bottom line, players need to improve their skills, and both coaches should be about that."
As an example of the benefits of AAU basketball, Taylor points to last season and his starting point guard, a freshman, Ronnie Stewart, who came to his program prepared to step in and run his offense. "He has seen it all, he can see the game unfold and he knows the speed of the game," says Taylor. "The team Ronnie played with this summer-the D-1 Greyhounds who have won multiple national championship-has prepared him to contribute right away," says Taylor. "You can tell the guys who played AAU basketball, I wish I had 11 more players just like him," Taylor said.
One of the concerns mentioned by the high school coaches we talked to, centered around recruiting, and the influence AAU coaches have on a player's decision where to play high school basketball. Although many high schools have been accused of the "R word," and seem chummy with elite summer basketball programs, allegations are often just that, allegations that are rarely proven. "I've heard the rumors about recruiting but I'm not concerned about that," says Taylor. "A player should find the best place for them," Taylor said.
Tim Casey, although he does not feel the problem is wide spread, is also concerned about the relationship between AAU coaches and high school programs, and how those relationships lead players to certain high schools. "It's not always intentional, but AAU coaches develop bonds with players, who look up to the AAU coaches and want to follow them to certain programs," says Casey. "When this happens, there can be a power struggle between the high school and AAU coach," Casey contends. For the record, Coach Casey, who himself coaches 3rd & 4th grade travel teams, supports AAU basketball, and as he points out," "good high school coaches are probably involved in some way with AAU basketball."
Like Coach Stiab, Taylor recognizes the difficulty a lot of players have in finding a quality summer basketball team. The costs to participate in just a mediocre program can reach several hundred dollars, not including the costs of travel expenses. Although some of the more elite and established programs pay for most of the player's travel expenses, if a parent or friend wants to accompany a player, they are responsible for their expenses.
According to Scott Aronhalt, 14 year head coach at Zanesville High School, he and 80% of his colleagues favor AAU basketball. The other 20% of those coaches come from smaller programs, which have not had many players who have played AAU basketball, and their experience with summer basketball is more limited. Tim Casey places the figure at about 50/50 for and against AAU basketball. Casey hears complaints from his colleagues which center around the growing influence of AAU coaches and programs, which, based on their schedules, reduces the amount of time the high school programs have with the players (i.e., weight training & open gyms). Roughly half of his returning varsity players play some level of summer basketball
There you have it, straight from the high school coaches. Like anything, there are pluses and minuses. Where you fall on this issue is probably directly related to you experiences and frame of reference with summer basketball. AAU basketball is here to stay, and from most high school coaches, that well and good.