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Changing AAU Basketball Will Hurt, Not Help College Basketball


© Robert Deutsch | USATSI

Over the last week few days, some of the biggest name writers in college basketball (including our buddy T.J. Walker) have descended upon Peach Jam, the biggest AAU event in the country. And over the last few days virtually every single one of them have written the same article, about how the NCAA’s proposed changes to the July college basketball recruiting period are awful and will ultimately hurt the sport. CBS’s Gary Parrish wrote about it here. NBC’s Rob Dauster did the same here. I encourage you to check out both articles.

Now before we get into the meat of this article, let’s first explain what the rules changes are for those of you who might not have been paying attention.

Under the current model, coaches have a handful of select weekends (mostly in April and July) when they can be out on the road recruiting, mostly by attending AAU tournaments. However, after the FBI probe last fall, the NCAA became worried about the influence of sneaker companies (mainly Nike, Adidas and Under Armour) on the recruiting scene and decided that they’d like to alter the July recruiting period. They’d do away with the sneaker-organized events (like Peach Jam, the Under Armour event in Atlanta etc.) and instead host regional camps run by the NCAA. The best players at each camp would then advance to a national, All-Star type camp later on in the summer.

Again, the ultimate goal would be to reduce (though not completely eliminate) the role that sneaker companies play in recruiting. In theory, fewer sneaker-run AAU events mean less control of players by AAU coaches and handlers, which in theory means less shady business in recruiting. Putting aside the dumb stereotype that all AAU guys are bad people (something that couldn’t be furthest from the truth) let’s simply look at the idea of running All-Star camps instead of summer tournaments. Because the simple truth is – that as Parrish and Dauster explained in their articles – it’s an awful idea, one that not only does little to actually help even the best players, but instead will actively hurt hundreds and hundreds each and every year.

To explain why, it starts with the simple premise of understanding what “AAU basketball” is, a simple concept that Condoleezza Rice and the people put in charge of “changing college basketball” never really understood.

For starters, “AAU basketball” is much more than just a few events run by Nike, Adidas and Under Armour, where the best players play in front of college basketball’s biggest name coaches. Sure, that’s part of it, which is why you saw John Calipari and Bill Self and Sean Miller hopping from event to event this week. However, that’s only part of it.

First off, “AAU basketball” often starts at ages as young as six or seven-years-old. Secondly, even at the highest levels (for 17 and 18-year-olds) it’s not as though it’s only the best players playing for the biggest name coaches while wearing Nike or Adidas. Instead, for every one Peach Jam, there are dozens of tournaments played by mostly low and mid-major recruits, for low and mid-major coaches.

As a matter of fact, while so many other college basketball writers were at Peach Jam this week, your favorite writer (me!) was actually at one of those events. It was called the “Pangos Premiere 80 Event” in Los Angeles, and I can tell you this: There were no John Calipari’s or Sean Miller’s sitting in chairs on the baseline, nor were there any James Wiseman’s or Cole Anthony’s on the court. Instead, there were a few Pac-12 assistants and mostly coaches from schools that you never hear or unless they make the NCAA Tournament out of one-bid leagues. I didn’t see any “Kentucky” or “Michigan State” polo shirts, but did see plenty of “Northern Colorado’s” and “San Francisco’s.”

And on the court, there were, frankly, a bunch of players who you’ll probably never hear of unless they get their “One Shining Moment” in a March down the road. There was Gabe Toombs, a powerful wing player from Utah who – after an extensive Google search – doesn’t even have a 247 Sports recruiting page. There was Andrew Graves, a 6’10 forward who told me that his only offer was Utah State – at least until the Utah State coaching staff got fired this spring. Now he’s not quite sure who is recruiting him. There was a kid named Demetrius Calip who threw down a monster dunk that left the whole gym shook (including me, who can be seen in the freeze frame with my right hand in the air)… but has seemingly no big offers.

And really, the Pangos Premiere 80 is what AAU basketball is about. It’s not about the 8-10 kids every year who we know will be lottery picks. It’s about the hundreds who are fighting for a single scholarship offer in hopes they might be able to continue their careers and get a free education. That’s what the Rice Commission didn’t understand and why their proposed change would be a disaster. Fewer events mean fewer opportunities for kids to be seen. Many of the kids at the Pangos Premiere 80 might not have even been invited to the proposed regional camps, and many others certainly wouldn’t have advanced to the second and third stages where more college coaches can see them.

To use an example more close to home, how much has the July evaluation period helped someone like Dontaie Allen, who is seemingly picking up a couple new offers every hour? You think it’s hurt him by going to Atlanta for the Under Armour event? On the flip side, even as good as he is, you think agents and shoe reps are surrounding him like vultures trying to funnel money to him? Don’t be ridiculous.

As a matter fact, most kids are a lot like the Gabe Toombs and Andrew Graves and Dontaie Allen’s of the world, guys just hoping for a chance to impress college coaches and earn a scholarship.

It’s something that the Rice Commission and the NCAA don’t fully understand.

It’s also who will be most impacted if these proposed rule changes go into place.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at ATorres00@gmail.com. He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

12 responses to “Changing AAU Basketball Will Hurt, Not Help College Basketball”

  1. A_Blue_Wildcat

    AAU is great for exposure for the players, but it’s terrible in every other aspect. Whether it be the money going under the table, horrible coaching and teaching of the game, lack of actual practice replaced by large amounts of rushed games packed into a weekend, or the team jumping that many players do.

  2. oruacat2

    I’m perfectly fine with the NBA paying for their own “minor league” system, getting the AAU clowns And the shoe companies) out of college hoops, and returning to an era where “student athlete” actually means something. If KSR wants so desperately for the NCAA to officially become just a farm system for the NBA then have the sack to admit it. I personally want tougher rules for jumping early, not more lax rules.

  3. Rabbi Li

    Aaron Torres said, “Fewer events mean fewer opportunities for kids to be seen. Many of the kids at the Pangos Premiere 80 might not have even been invited to the proposed regional camps”

    • There are 351 Mens Division 1 Basketball Programs at Colleges & Universities in the US.
    • Each program has 13 scholarships to hand out.

    That equals: 4,563 scholarships each year that will continue to be handed out with or without AAU

    The end result will not be less kids having opportunities (as your statement above alludes). The same number of kids will have opportunities with or without AAU.

    1. JoeMoney333

      Idk who you’re arguing with bc your conclusion wasn’t related to Torres’ statement.

  4. sjjones

    Or the college coaches could just go back to watching high school games.

  5. W1ldCats4Life

    Hard to watch high school games that are being played during the same time your college games are.

    That’s why travel ball/AAU is helpful to kids looking to make it to the next level.

    The overall gist of this piece I think is trying to state what eliminating AAU would do for the group of players who are not one & dones. It would greatly hurt their chances of being seen to get s shot at College. Not at one of the blue blood programs, but consider the Florida Gulf Coast level teams, the Murray’s & Morehead States across the country. They are not at the Peach Jam or EYBL recruiting, they know they have no shot at any of those kids….so they go to other AAU tourneys to recruit.

    If those are eliminated you hurt those kids….which is probably around 95% of the Players who play AAU vs the 5% that are at the Peach Jam.

    It’s just more mindless crap from NCAA folks who truly know nothing about what’s going on. The flip side, of the NCAA host these tourneys as outlined, they’re not going to do it for free, it’s a money maker for them. That’s their real interest….make more money off these kids.

  6. ScoggDog

    Not buying all the concern about the “student-athlete” … because there ain’t that much interest NOW in watching Student-Athlete programs.

    The Ivy League – Division II – NAIA – all teams full of kids that “will go pro in something else”. How’s the ratings for them ? Spoiler Alert … not so good.

    Sounds to me – always has – that this “student-athlete” argument is just a euphemism for requiring ball-players to skip two-four years of NBA money, at seven figures a year, to play college basketball for significantly less. No sane person would skip that opportunity. I would never tell my kids to take a pass on that kind of money.

    1. runningunnin.454

      I’ve always enjoyed watching the small Ivy League, Div II, and NAIA teams play. Your point is valid; but, I remember watching NAIA Kentucky State play in the early ’70’s. This was a team that could play with any team in the country.
      They featured Travis Grant who still holds the collegiate career scoring record, scoring nearly 400 points more that Pete Maravich. Also, 7’0″ Elmore Smith who still holds the NBA single game block record. ( 17 )
      Although NAIA, they were invited to the NCAA tournament, and their first game was to be against Michigan. Michigan informed the NCAA that if the Thoroughbreds were allowed to compete…they would not. Yep, the Wolverine knew damn well that they couldn’t beat them. NCAA rescinded the invitation.

    2. Fitz

      I think the story about Michigan not wanting to play Ky St in the NCAA is a myth to underscore how good the Througjbreds were in the early 70’s. I can’t imagine the NCAA diviating from script and inviting s non D-1 team to play in the tournament. In addition of it was the 70-72 season, Ky St best, Michigan was not even in the tournament.

  7. CKTermy23

    To be honest,The fact of the matter is that’s its not that NCAA doesn’t fully understand,its that the NCAA simply doesn’t care expected for protecting their image and legal status as well as there assets regardless who they damage in the process they see it as necessary collateral damage.

  8. CKTermy23

    ScoggDog I completely agree. Especially in this current NBA Market.

  9. Luether

    Another good post, Aaron…