Travel Teams

TRAVEL TEAMS: Let’s take a look at AAU Basketball

Over the years, AAU basketball has quietly built itself into THE showcase for all aspiring hoopsters. It’s rare to find any town in America where there isn’t an AAU program.

Of course, AAU is just like any travel team, and with it, it has lots of pros and cons ingrained in it. Over the years, I have heard (and have seen) coaches in AAU who aren’t well trained, tryouts that aren’t well organized, and playing time doled out according to cronyism (e.g. friends of the head coach). If you want your son or daughter try out, you  have to pay a fee. And then if they do make a team, there’s a major fee for that. And don’t forget, you pay for the travel, not the team.

Now, to be sure, these troubling incidents are not just confined to AAU ball. They happen in just about every travel team you can find. But for some reason – perhaps because it carries the prestigious label of the American Athletic Union – AAU ball seems to escape a lot of the scrutiny.

I read the other day where Kobe Bryant, who grew up playing basketball in Italy until he was 14, said that he was grateful that he didn’t become entrapped by AAU ball here in the US. Why? Because he felt that playing in Europe, he was more exposed to the fundamentals of the game, learning how to play defense, how to pass, how to play position, and so on. His sense is that American kids in AAU are much more focused on individual stats and accomplishments in order to attract the attention of college coaches.

Even Charles Barkley has issues with AAU. He commented that people tell me this kid is a rising star, that he can really run and jump. I tell them that sounds like a deer. Lots of deer can run and jump, but that doesn’t mean I’d put them in the starting line-up.

All these points are well-taken. And when I interviewed Rob Weingard this AM, who is the creative force behind a new movie called THREE TEAMS which focuses on three youth basketball teams from Long Island, Rob pointed out that the odds of any kid playing AAU ball to get a college scholarship are indeed staggering. In 2012, Weingard pointed out, that out of the thousands of highly talented boy basketball players in Nassau and Suffolk County, most of whom played AAU ball, only one youngster received a scholarship for basketball. And that was to Longwood College.

Bottom line? As with any travel program, always try to maintain a healthy perspective on what you and your child are signing up for.



  • Glenn Stanis

    In his book, Bobby Knight said that he used to hate when he heard that one of his prospects played AAU ball. To him, it simply meant that he was going to have to break alot of bad habits and teach the kid the fundamentals of the game.

    Locally, I know of some AAU teams that were formed by parents simply because their kid didn’t make an already established team. What is that telling you?