In terms of a solution, "there really is none," according to Watson. However, "if a program is going to be successful, you must start young," If not, you have to steal another program's players," contends Watson. Over the past couple years, the larger basketball programs have recruited smaller "start up" programs in order to develop feeder programs. With the success of last year's 5th grade teams at the AAu Nationals - 3 teams finished in the top twelve- its no wonder that the eliet programs are trying to attract these young programs. All-Ohio has been the most aggressive in terms of recruiting these younger programs, but other programs have seen the future and are joing the race. Also, some programs have resorted to sharing players to compete in big tournaments. It's not uncommon to see elite players playing for 2 or 3 different teams, often between rival organizations.
Although Ohio is dominated by two or three major programs, smaller "mom and pop" type programs are popping up yearly, and are demanding attention and respect. One such program on the rise is the D-1 Greyhounds, which has arguably the top freshman in the nation in O.J. Mayo on the roster. D-1's top team is the U-14 team with Mayo and Bill Walker, another nationally ranked player from Cincinnati, which has won several national championships. Jerry Watson characterizes these programs as "short term programs who started with kids in the 4th grade and are here today and gone tomorrow. The real test is will they be around after O.J. is a senior?" says Watson. Other smaller programs such as the Dayton Airmen have attracted major shoe companies like Reebok and are proving to be a force to be reckoned with.
Mike Duncan believes there are too many "underground" teams that hoard one or two quality players preventing them from playing on elite teams. "There are just too many teams. Everybody wants to coach AAU basketball. There were over 450 teams in Vegas alone last month," contends Duncan. According to Duncan, "everybody is trying to get a shoe contract." People are trying to buy teams and players to try and get a shoe contract," says Duncan. Duncan indicated that he first signed with Adidas back in 1988 when Sony Vacarro, now with Reebok, first approached him. "Its hard work running a program like this," Duncan said. The costs associated with running an elite summer basketball program are enormous. Duncan points to ever-increasing tournament fees elite events in Las Vegas charge $500 entry fees- and travel expenses as the reasons behind the escalating costs of doing business. Duncan estimates his annual travel budget at $30,000 to send his teams to tournaments, with an overall budget of approximately $55,000.
Mike Price, program director of Cincinnati AAU, has run a very successful summer basketball program for over 15 years without any assistance from shoe companies such as Nike and Adidas. Despite the many negative perceptions often associated with AAU basketball and shoe company influence, Cincinnati AAU has run a very respected program which has been able to attract quality players, who for whatever reason, have shied away from other elite programs in the state. Although Price's program is based in Cincinnati, his program consistently attracts players from across the state. It's not as if Price does not want shoe company sponsorship, he just hasn't been able to land a contract. "I guess I just haven't worked hard enough at it," says Price. Although Price has been able to find some local sponsorship, he and his players must all chip in to make it all happen. "I think players should be responsible for contributing something, it makes them more appreciative of the experience," says Price.
Clark Kellogg, arguably one of the best high school players in Ohio history, has also seen an evolution in AAU Basketball. "AAU basketball is really only about 15 years old. When I was coming up in the mid to late 70s, the big thing was invitational camps and big competitive summer leagues in your city," says Kellogg. " During the summer, all I can remember was going to high profile camps where high school coaches would be working." With two young sons of his own who have just recently ventured out into AAU basketball, Kellogg has been conservative in his approach. "I don't want to substitute quality for quantity or instruction for games," says Kellogg. "I think kids should have a balance games and instruction. It's like the game of golf, if you don't work on chipping, putting and getting out sand traps, your game won't get any better."
Kellogg supports AAU basketball and has seen positive results in the game since AAU has exploded on the basketball scene. "What's been obvious is that kids are really accelerated in parts of their development. These kids aren't afraid of big crowds," says Kellogg. Although Kellogg is a fan of AAU, he has recognized some developmental issues. "Many kids don't know the nuts and bolts of the game. Kids don't know how to play without the ball, kids are more interested in playing with the ball," contends Kellogg. "Kids emulate what they see in the pro game," Kellogg said.
Kellogg believes AAU basketball provides the opportunity for kids to learn the game. "Early in a kid's development it should be about fun and learning the game. I'm interested in my sons learning the game, not a system," says Kellogg. "We could learn
from what is happening in Europe, they teach their kids how to play and they teach everybody all aspects of the game regardless of their size," contends Kellogg. Finally, Kellogg believes AAU coaches need to place more emphases on teamwork, self-discipline and to be good teammates. "This stuff is transferable in life," says Kellogg.
Another hot button issue in the state surrounds the possible mergers of the two associations in the state, the Lake Erie and Ohio Associations. Pressure has been mounting for such a merger due partly to the reported lack of organization in the Lake Erie Association. There have been numerous complaints about the leadership in that association and the quality of their state qualifiers. In fact, reports have it that in some age groups, no state qualifiers were held last year. "Why not form a board to control both associations to ensure fairness for both associations," asks Watson. Mike Price is not so sure it would be such a good idea. "There would be more competition, but it's okay the way it is," says Price.