Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Laker superstar who is a lock for the NBA Hall of Fame, recently shocked a lot of people with his remarks regarding AAU, the current model for much of youth basketball in America. Bryant’s frustration was the result of watching talented American players arriving in the NBA based on their athletic talent and size but lacking the fundamental skills of the game.
“I think European basketball players are way more skillful than American players,” Kobe claimed. The culprit in this development? According to Bryant, it’s because our players are coming out of the AAU system and it is not preparing them properly.
“AAU basketball is horrible, terrible,” claims Bryant. “We wind up with players that are big and they can bring the ball up the court and do all this fancy crap but they don’t know how to post up. They don’t know the fundamentals of the game. It’s stupid. Teach them to play the game at an early age and quit treating them like they’re cash cows,” Bryant implored.
Charles Barkley, the colorful NBA analyst who enjoyed a Hall of Fame career, agrees with Bryant. Barkley believes AAU focuses on too many games and not enough on skill development. As a result, players are unable improve their fundamentals and forced to rely solely on their athleticism. “These kids aren’t getting good coaching. They’re playing way too many games and not working their game enough,” claims Barkley.
Rick Pitino, the head basketball coach at the University of Louisville, agrees with Bryant, but only to a point. “I’ve got guys who come here who can’t make a layup off their right foot,” says Pitino. But he adds, “You think AAU coaches who have them for a week and are getting ready to go to Vegas are teaching them fundamentals? They don’t have time. You expect their high school coach to teach that.”
It has been in the last couple of decades AAU has become the most popular method of player development in this country. It’s not surprising that the generation of players preceding today’s athletes have taken issue with the current model. And they are joined by many high school coaches who view AAU as a major threat to their turf. And who can blame them?
High school basketball players can expect to play 22 games during the regular season and perhaps another handful if they are on a superior team that can advance in the tournament. Many AAU teams, some with lucrative sponsorship from major shoe companies, can play as many as 90 games in April, May and July, the normal AAU months of competition. In addition, college coaches reduced their evaluation periods during the interscholastic season and opened up more time during the AAU playing season. You rarely see college coaches doing leg work at high school games anymore, but for top AAU games it is not unusual to see the court ringed with college coaches.