July 4, 2009

American Kids Flunk Basketball 101 – Bunk !

Filed under: Mike Flynn — mikeflynn @ 6:15 pm

About a week ago a story ran in the Wall Street Journal that is a part of the continual controversy that is being played out in the media against youth basketball.  This time it was before the NBA Draft and its purpose was to showcase perception of out of control youth basketball.   I saw this story and went balistic as the public has no clue what is really behind the assault.  The amount of money, power and influence in basketball is beyond a simple blog, book or court case.  What I wrote about at the end of the story from the WSJ below is the history of how we got here which everyone either doesn’t know or understand.  A few night ago Boo Williams called me to tell me his best boys basketball player separated his shoulder playing for the USA Team in New Zealand (I think that’s what he said).  The point he made – quite clear and convincing – was this player was hurt play for the USA Team, nothing was written or said about it.  Boo mentioned that if this same player got hurt playing summer basketball the hue and cry from people would have been ballistic blaming summer basketball for this unfortunate injury.   And if you’re reading about that injury for the first time including what is written below and after you now have more information to question what is being projected by the “controlled media” and the “power stakeholders” who they cling to for the subjective information. (This was what I emailed out to a select group of people when I first saw it.)

 

As AAU Leagues Dominate, Basic Skills Decline; Mr. Beasley Decides to Speak Out

By Kevin Clark
June 25, 2009

At Thursday’s NBA draft, some of America’s budding basketball superstars will learn where they will launch their careers. Four months later, when the season begins, many will learn something else: They don’t know how to play basketball.

One system that prepares young American players for the pros, the Amateur Athletic Union, is, by most accounts, broken. Without a rigid minor-league system like baseball’s or the extra seasoning football players get in college, America’s basketball gems increasingly get their training from teams affiliated with the Amateur Athletic Union, a vast national youth-basketball circuit that has groomed many of the sport’s top stars.

For some time, coaches have grumbled that the AAU’s emphasis on building stars and playing games over practicing produces a lot of talented prospects who have great physical skills but limited knowledge of the fundamentals. Now some players are speaking out.

By the middle of the last NBA season, as concerns build about his dwindling playing time and rough transition to the NBA, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Michael Beasley of the Miami Heat, finally conceded a fundamental flaw: No one, at any level in his basketball career, had asked him to play defense. And especially not in AAU. “If you’re playing defense in AAU, you don’t need to be playing,” he says. “I’ve honestly never seen anyone play defense in AAU.”

An AAU official declined to comment for this article.

The chorus of critics ranges from AAU player Alex Oriakhi, a McDonald’s All-American center who plans to play for the University of Connecticut, who says shooting guards he’s seen in AAU are in for a “rude awakening” to USA Basketball officials and NBA coaches.

Founded in 1888, the AAU’s first goal was to represent American sports internationally. AAU teams blossomed in many sports, and the organization became a driving force in preparing Olympic athletes. In 1978, the Amateur Sports Act established a governing body for American Olympic sports, usurping the AAU’s role as an Olympic launching pad. Its most notable sport today is basketball, where it counts Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James among its alumni.

In recent years the circuit has gone from a high school diversion—a way to supplement school teams—to a highly organized and often well-funded operation. The non-profit AAU moved its headquarters in 1996 from Indianapolis to Orlando, where it hosts national championships at a palatial Disney World complex.

Shoe companies have sponsored AAU teams as a way to develop early relationships with future superstars. Agents and college coaches have flocked to AAU games, where they can get to know players outside the watchful high-school system. The opportunity to travel across the country and play in front of these kingmakers—often on teams with other top prospects—is something high schools can’t deliver.

The result is a mixture of unrestrained offense and Harlem Globetrotter defense: Even with 32-minute games, far shorter than the NBA’s 48 or NCAA’s 40, top AAU teams often score more than 70 points and sometimes more than 80.

“It’s a bad system for developing players,” says Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “They aren’t learning to handle the ball, they aren’t learning to make plays against pressure. The emphasis with our high-school players is to get exposure and play as many games as you can and show everybody how great you are. If I can win the 11-and-12 year old league and tell all my friends about it, that is a whole lot more important than if my kids actually get any better or learn anything about the game.”

In Europe, Mr. Van Gundy says, “those guys are doing five or six practices for every game. They are spending a lot of time in the gym working on individual skills. It’s reversed here.”

New Orleans Hornets forward Peja Stojakovic, who is Serbian, remembers spending four hours a day dribbling through chairs and working on defense and other fundamentals in practices. Mr. Beasley, on the other hand, says he can’t remember any specific defensive drills his AAU teams ran. “If you put structure into AAU,” he says, “no one would play.”

No prospect in this year’s draft knows this better than point guard Brandon Jennings. Last year, Mr. Jennings was one of America’s best high-school point guards and the quintessential product of AAU. Rather than doing a one-year minimum stint in college before entering the NBA draft, he played a season in Italy where, he says, things were different.

His time in Europe began with a rare stretch for an AAU product: He went weeks without touching a basketball. His team spent the preseason running across Roman parks and soccer fields.

In September, they retreated to an Italian mountain hideaway for two weeks and ran there, too. They practiced fundamentals and rarely scrimmaged. Coming from the AAU, this was new for Mr. Jennings, who averaged 5.5 points per game in limited minutes during the in Italy.

It was, he says, the most intense two weeks of his basketball life. If he’d never gone to Europe, he says, “I wouldn’t know the pick-and-roll game. I wouldn’t know how to guard, wouldn’t know how to fight through screens. I’m stronger now.”

Mr. Jennings, who will almost certainly be a first-round pick Thursday, says the experience will give him an edge over other players in the draft.

In a bid to make sure players are more seasoned before they go pro, the NBA, in 2006, began requiring players to be 19 and a year out of high school to enter the draft. While college’s best players often leave after one or two years, four years of college can sometimes help a career: take fundamentally sound North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough, who could be a first-round pick Thursday, despite widespread knocks on his athleticism. The league has also built a minor league system, the NBA Development League, though it is only used for high draft picks in extreme cases.

In 2008, the NBA and NCAA also announced a youth initiative, called iHoops, to improve the American structure.

While the U.S. national basketball team redeemed itself with a gold medal in Beijing after a string of embarrassments in international play, Jerry Colangelo, the national director of USA Basketball who is in charge of the Olympic team, says the system is still deeply flawed. He suggests giving high school coaches more access to their players, especially in the summer.

The AAU system has its defenders. New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul says that thanks to the AAU, he learned to play the style of the Utah Jazz’s offense when he was 11-years old and credits AAU for starting his development into one of the top point guards in the NBA. He now runs his own AAU team, the CP3 All-Stars in North Carolina.

“Some coaches teach fundamentals, some coaches run and show athleticism. It’s not necessarily a problem because it’s up to you to watch and concentrate,” he says.

Anthony Lewis, an AAU coach from Baltimore who helped develop Rudy Gay of the Memphis Grizzlies, who was the No. 8 draft pick in 2006, says AAU helped teach the skinny 13-year-old not to settle for easy shots.

“We taught him to work away from the bucket,” Mr. Lewis says. “Working on mid-range at a young age, putting the ball on the floor, making him aggressive.”

 

This is a bold face lie – the college coaches demanded this “play” model when they decided to quit the skills and drills camp circuit back in the late 80s to “watch kids play instead of camp drills.” They should not get a free pass on this as they told parents and coaches this is what they wanted, thinking they could focus on only the kids who played in a “real game.”  Hence, the desire to win, play your best, and travel coaches (not AAU only) went out and started to get the best players to win on a summer circuit the college coaches wanted.  Once those travel coaches won, and went out and recruited earlier for talent, those individuals became the key influencers in that young athlete’s life.  The next domino in that was the ability of college coaches and agents to create “relationships” with said travel coaches of influence.  Once the focus to win is primary and the time commitment for drills is secondary as demanded by the college coaches, you can not ask American basketball to all of a sudden adopt the Euro model which is set for a smaller basketball population of talent that has NO academic pressure to “go to college.”  Now, everyone wants that model but without explaining what the real challenges to adoption are. They want to paint the AAU and the shoe companies in the same brush without an analysis of how we got here.  The AAU had events and the teams played and practiced between Summer Camps and Local Summer Leagues. When the “summer model” changed from camps to all-out play, the AAU was a system that was developed to go play in so they get smashed for being a vehicle to give the college coaches what they wanted.  Those same college coaches who were “working with shoe companies” and had influence to get the American summer model changed to play knew those new travel coaches had the connections and energy to recruit early and build relationships. Why not ”help them out” in their work by getting sponsorship for them.  While that may seem ”horrible” to some, it enabled a growth of basketball talent as you can never walk away from the 10,000 hour rule in this sport either.  You can complain about how those relationships between shoe companies, travel coaches and college coaches may have developed into but this is what that first domino to change the old American summer model of basketball developed now to. Do we need change, heck yes, but all I hear are issues and no one wants to offer solutions except for a web site to make money.  People can complain all they want but American Youth Basketball didn’t lose in Athens nor Beijing – but that’s another tangent.  Mr. Van Gundy talks about six hours in the gym.  Where can you do that in America and not have to pay for it?  And, who’s working with you? ghosts?  In Europe those coaches are paid to work out with the talent.  The only paid coaches are those few high school coaches who want to work with their kids (if the HS rules permit) or college coaches. If a Travel Coach works kids out he’s a shark. Mr. Beasley is now rewarded by a flawed system that helped him become rich without the Euro model.  It’s stories like this that’s easy to read like a People Magazine cover.  Real solutions are out there but will the real powers of basketball want to upset the apple cart of relationships developed these past 20 years? — Mik

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