So this isn’t actually my first AAU experience. I went to an event in 2009 to watch one of my players. AAU is not a world where I have much interest. Avoiding it keeps me sane. When parents ask me what AAU team their kid should play on, I say I have no idea. Staying out of it is a personal choice of mine. If you want to read an excellent book on the subject, read The AAU Wasteland by Coach Dave Taylor. Dave, who goes by DT, was my coach on the jv team at Air Force. He is the best coach I have ever had the privilege to be around. He has coached and run AAU events for over twenty years. He knows what he is talking about and presents solutions to the AAU problems. He also presents alternatives to AAU. The book is a great read if you want an insider’s view on how the sausage is made.
DT invited me to Anaheim this past weekend to see how everything works at these tournaments. Since he was running the event I got a pass for coaches row. This is the area where only college coaches can be. No parents, players, AAU coaches, or trainers can be back here. Any issues with this could mean a potential NCAA violation for the college coach. There were four courts all next to each other where most of the high profile games took place. I saw head coaches from major programs from around the country. Mostly though it was assistants doing their due diligence on players.
The biggest commotion happened when Shaquille O’Neal entered the building. His son is 6’8’’ and plays for a SoCal AAU team. Standing next to Shaq is humbling. I am 6’7’’ and grew up with a seven foot tall father, but Shaq’s mass is what enhances his presence. Once the game ended people started streaming into the coaches area to get pics and autographs. It was a mob scene. But Shaq was friendly and obliged for to most of the requests.
I took a few things away from the experience. The first is that many of these AAU coaches should not be coaching. There were some good ones in action, but they were in the minority. One current NBA player (who shall not be named) was coaching a 15U team and told the ref he was going to “f him up.” This was because his 15U team lost. Put that in perspective for a minute. DT kindly escorted him out and told him to never come back. If this player had laid one finger on this ref it would have resulted in an arrest and streamed over the media wire. Over a 15U game? Wow! Other coaches harassed the refs nonstop. While this is more accepted in high school and college, it is out of place here. It is supposed to be a physical game. This is how the physicality is at the college level. Coaches and players aren’t at this event to shoot free throws all game. Coaches want to see how players handle adversity. How about instead of giving it to the refs all game, you take that energy to teach you kids because guess what coach, they need it.
I mentioned the four main courts, but there were also twelve more at this facility where games were played. The talent wasn’t as good and you wouldn’t see many college coaches at these games, if any. I did talk to an PAC 12 assistant coach friend of mine who liked not having other coaches watch games. His theory is that there are plenty of players out there under the radar and his job as an assistant was to find them. This takes work though and this coach is in the minority.
Lastly I want to compare playing at these tournaments, camps and open gyms during live periods to a job interview. Coaches approach these events with a list of players they were told to see and to also find new talent. When you are a player at these venues you are trying out for these staffs. Are you good enough for the level recruiting you? If you are billed a shooter are you hitting your shots? Do you hustle? How do you handle things not going your way? Coaches have their own requirements for giving you an offer. Each time they see you play they are making notes on whether you will fit into their culture and help them win. One player at the tourney was billed a shooter. A lot of coaches were watching him. He made about 33% of his three point attempts. This is fine for D2 or D3, but at his size if you want D1 interest you need to raise that number to 50%. So players have a chance in AAU to get seen, but unless you do something with that platform, you might not see results. My advice would be to continue working daily on your skills. Do your due diligence on your AAU programs and find one with a good coach. Go to skills development camps during live periods. Should you play AAU at all? That if for you and your family to decide. Read The AAU Wasteland and make your own decision.