Jerry Watson of All-Ohio supports such a merger, contending, "A merger would bring more parity in the state." Of the 88 counties in Ohio, the Lake Erie Association comprises about 22 counties located in the upper northeast corner of the state. Coaches from the Lake Erie Association, including Ken Taylor of the Ohio Showstoppers program, complain that because that association has done so poorly at the AAU Nationals in the past, Gold Medal winners from Lake Erie are seeded lower than Gold Medal winners from other associations, resulting in a tougher road in pool play and the championship round of the AAU Nationals.
The Ohio Association has it's own problems as well. Like Lake Erie, participation in the association qualifiers has continued to dwindle over the past several years. There are many concerns, and in fact complaints, relative to the fairness of the qualifiers and how they are structured. Many coaches complain about the tournament draw and how teams are seeded in the tournaments. Of particular concern is the relationship between the Ohio Association Chairman, Tom Sunderman, and his basketball program, the Cincinnati Royals. Many coaches believe there is a conflict of interest between the best interests of the association and the best interests of Sunderman's basketball program.
Sunderman has heard the criticism and has developed a plan as a response. By next year's state qualifier, Sunderman hopes to have selected a nine-member board to help govern the Ohio Association. The board makeup will include selected coaches from teams who participate in AAU sanctioned events in Ohio. As part of their responsibilities, board members will help administer seeding for association qualifiers. With this procedural change, Sunderman hopes that will have more confidence with the structure of state qualifiers.
In terms of Ohio's ability to develop it's young players, many coaches in Ohio, including high school coaches, complain about the Ohio High School Athletic Association's (OHSAA) policies that impose a number of restrictions on Ohio athletes relative to other states. The policies in neighboring Kentucky and Indiana are much more liberal and allow AAU coaches to work with their players on a more frequent basis. Many of OHSAA polices limit the number of days high school coaches can have contact with their players, and prevents players from participating in any AAU team related activities during the school season.
In Kentucky for example, kids can play middle school basketball and travel basketball simultaneously. This can be a tremendous developmental advantage for players in that state. According to Watson, "you have a lot of people (in OHSAA) making decisions who are not familiar with the game." In fairness to OHSAA, their restrictive policies are intended to protect Ohio athletes from over zealous high school and AAU coaches who would over work young athletes leading to burnout and injuries. Most observers would agree that the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
According to Mike Price, himself is a high school coach, "OHSAA policies are more restrictive in some areas, but less restrictive in other areas. As an example, in Kentucky, kids can't play in the fall but we can in Ohio," says Price. Also, Price supports the prohibition that limits the number of players from the same school (2) who can play on the same travel team, is good because it forces kids to meet and interact with other kids from other areas. Price, like most of his colleagues, would like to be able to coach his players more than the current dead periods allow. Mike Duncan believes the 2-player
rule hurts Ohio's ability to compete with other states. As examples, he points to states like New York, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada where there is no such rule and where kids in the same community can stay together through school ball and AAU ball.
In addition to some of the OHSAA restrictions previously mentioned, Duncan believes that Ohio's unwillingness to certify events with the NCAA-which is required before college coaches can attend events-greatly effects recruiting in Ohio. "We don't have certified events, Texas and Nevada are the only states that are certified," says Duncan. "As an example, I had to spend $7,000 to take my team to Texas for one weekend so they could be seen by college coaches. If Ohio had certified events, I would not have had to spend all that money," Duncan said. As most people know, AAU is about exposure. To obtain a scholarship, college coaches have to see you on a regular basis. Teams that are unable to attend high profile tournaments and other exposure events are doing their players a great disservice.
Any discussion about the state of AAU would be incomplete without talking about players and parents. Because we live in the LeBron James era, where every player and their parents dream of NBA contracts, expectations have gone through the roof. A side effect of the unreasonable expectations can be found in the attitudes and decision making of parents and players. Often, in order to keep talented players on a team, coaches are forced to pamper players who know full well there are other programs who would love their services. Likewise, parents are often courted with promises of a free ride. Shoe company product and fame to pull their child from program A and place them with program B. Mike Price has heard rumors about some programs promising kids playing time, preferred positions and money to play their teams. According to Mike Duncan, "kids today are spoiled rotten. Kids don't know what it takes. I hear all the time, "your practice is too hard, you can't yell at me, I'll go play with Watson," says Duncan.
"Parents and players think that just because a kid plays AAU ball, he or she will get a scholarship," says Price. "Kids are pushed to specialize in basketball way too early. I get parents of 5th graders calling me saying their child is ready to totally commit to basketball now, "Price says, "I think kids should play as many sports as possible for as long as possible." Price believes AAU is most important for 15-17 year olds.
There is a great deal of jealousy and envy in the game, which often results in resentment on the part of players and parents. Conflict appears to be the name of the game in summer basketball driven by numerous factions in the game, which require players, parents and coaches to choose sides in an ongoing battle for power and success. It's becoming increasingly difficult to be an independent with the pervasive attitude "that either you are with me or against." Trashing talking and self-promotion between players, coaches, parents and organizations is controlling the dialogue on statewide messages boards and chat rooms. Rarely can one read positive messages or obtain meaningful information from these sites.
One of the reoccurring indictments of AAU basketball is the perception that AAU coaches' simply just "role out the ball," with little attention directed toward teaching fundamentals. Duane Lumpkin, an OHSAA certified referee, offers a unique perspective on AAU basketball. "As a referee, I have seen some very well coached AAU teams where kids are learning fundamentals that will help them make the transition too high school basketball," says Lumpkin. "I think AAU is good for the game. I see kids running plays and using both hands, there must be discipline."
Lumpkin in not entirely enamored with the AAU basketball experience for the development of youth. He, like a number of his colleagues, is disturbed by the behavior of so many AAU coaches who exhibit boorish behavior on the sideline. "If there is anything that can be improved (in AAU basketball), it is the overall conduct and demeanor of the coaches. Specifically, you see coaches ranting and raving at officials trying to profile on the sideline," says Lumpkin. "Coaches need to set an example
for their players by showing respect for referees. It's been my experience that well-behaved coaches have well behaved players and parents. Where you have coaches who behave poorly you have parents and players questioning every call and exhibiting poor attitudes on and around the court," contends Lumpkin.
According to Jerry Watson, although only 20-30% of all basketball players in the state will play any basketball at the next level, let alone the NBA, parents and players act as though they have the next LeBron and manage their child's basketball career accordingly. Because of the pressure to get division one-college scholarships or a NBA contract, players and parents often become hostile to anyone and anything that is contrary to their dreams. If it is a coach or team, they quit and join another team. If it's a talent scout who fails to recognize their child's talent they lash out and refuse to accept the obvious shortcomings in the development and attitude of their child.
There are approximately 798 high schools in the State of Ohio with approximately 12 players on a varsity roster. If an average of 5 seniors graduate each year, that's 3,840 players hoping for a college scholarship. Although these numbers don't add up for a lot of parents, most parents still believe their son or daughter is the chosen one, destined for Duke, North Carolina, Ohio State or the NBA. If parents, players and coaches were more realistic, there would be fewer fights between parents and coaches, less cussing at players and referees, less pampering of top players and more fun in the game.
In an attempt to end this article on a positive note, many believe that because of the success of youth basketball programs around the state, Ohio basketball has a bright future. According to Chris Johnson, a talent scout for The Hoop Scoop, a nationally respected scouting service, "in the last 5 years, Ohio has been doing a much better job of preparing players for high school basketball. You can see it now with the freshman class with all of the talented players." Johnson believes that Ohio is among the top ten states in the country in terms of talent and can compete with states like Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky.
It's important to note that Ohio is no better or worse than any other state when it comes to summer basketball. Although we have some unique challenges we must contend with, we are quietly shedding the "football state" image as Ohio basketball gains more respect on the national scene. We at Buckeye Prep Report & OPS hope that after reading this article, you see yourself; your child, a friend or a coach depicted, and you try to use your influence the effect positive change. After reading this article we challenge each and every one of you to do your small part to clean up the game, while making it an enjoyable experience for our families and kids.