Monday, April 30, 2012

AAU Basketball

Basketball is traditionally a Winter sport.  The game Naismith invented was designed as a Winter activity for his physical eduction classes.   Accordingly, as the game evolved, it remained primarily a Winter activity and college and high school seasons generally start in November and end by the end of March.  Hence the March Madness that envelopes the country.  

Generally, I don't post on this blog from about March to November, but just like how basketball used to not be played in these months, I am writing about it during one of these months. 

The AAU was founded in 1888 by William Buckingham Curtis to establish standards and uniformity in amateur sport.  Here is a link to the AAU Website:

Over the past 20 years though, the AAU has become a second or rather the main season for high school players in those states and cities that offer it.  My native state and current home state, Wyoming doesn't offer AAU basketball.   Growing up and even through college I never understood what the AAU was.  Only when I left Wyoming and spent time in basketball centers like Vancouver, Washington and Salt Lake City, Utah did I realize the influence that AAU basketball was having on the game.  More than summer basketball camps, more than postseason tournaments and more than virtually any other single factor AAU basketball is basketball.  The players are the same kids that play at the high school level, they start playing as early as fifth grade.  There are no school sanctioned leagues at that level and although a state I have become familiar with - Utah - offers Junior Jazz, it's influence on the game pales in comparison to the AAU games which take place virtually year round.   AAU teams sometimes feature the same kids as the local high school teams and sometimes they are All Star teams comprised of a mix of talented players from different areas. 

Often now, fans will hear of it's influence in recruiting with phrases from analysts such as, "his AAU coach" or "he played on the same AAU team as" some player from an entirely different region or area.  This only shows the impact that AAU basketball is having on the game.  Sometimes, the AAU coaches will end up with college coaching jobs because of the connections they have made in the AAU world. 

In Salt Lake City -- Dan Cowan runs the AAU program.  Here is a link to the Utah AAU website:

The "season" if it has one starts in October, actually before the high school season!   There is a Halloween tournament, a  Thanksgiving Tournament, a Christmas Tournament, basically any time there is a Holiday and kids are out of school there's a tournament.  The main "league" runs from April 18th to May 18th complete with a season ending tournament.  There is also a summer week long tournament. 

For me, when I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, the games provided an excellent activity and second source of income, additionally, the frequency and volume of games allowed my officiating career to blossom as I was able to connect with more officials and work better games.  In 2010, Lone Peak High School with TJ Haws and Nick Emery took on Tyrone Corbin's son -- Tyrell Corbin in a semifinal game I had the privelge of officiating -- as good of high school players as you will find anywhere in the country.  That year I got to officiate the large school Utah AAU final -- still the pinnacle of my officiating career. 

The same thing is true on the girls side where the high school teams run their same AAU seasons at often the same time as the Boys AAU programs. 

Even now, living away from Salt Lake City occasionally, I will take an assignment for a handful of games on an empty Saturday, visit friends and do some officiating for the AAU games.  This year, Evanston, Wyoming and Bridger Valley, Wyoming are fielding teams in the Salt Lake league.  The competition must be helping as last year, Evanston capture the Wyoming High School 4A State Championship while Lyman made the state semifinals at the 3A level.
Generally, the games are less formal than a high school game, but not any less competitive.  In Utah, there is a running clock, although when the game is tight or a big matchup you can bet it will slow down with timeouts and general discussion on the affect of various rules and issues.  Teams are often coached by the local high school coach or an assistant.  I don't believe these coaches receive any additional money for these services, but it's expected as part of the job.  Former Jazzman Alex Austin coaches an entire fleet of teams ranging from 5th grade all the way through the varsity level.  Corbin's son played on one of these teams and Austin maintains his connection to the NBA team he once played on through his relationship with Tyrone Corbin.

I don't have any comment on if AAU basketball is right or wrong, but it's here and rapidly it is becoming basketball   more than the high school and junior high season's it was designed to supplement.