Tensions are high right now among the high school and AAU basketball coaches in NH. Over the last few months I have spoken with a number of coaches on both sides of this fence. There are two high school coaches and one AAU coach in particular who I've had recent conversations with. These discussions are what inspired me to write this article.
This whole thing has gotten personal. Grudges are being held. What's unfortunate is that all the kids want to do is play basketball. Yet they have their high school coach in their ear telling them one thing, and their AAU coach is in their ear telling them something completely different. So no matter what they do one of their coaches is going to be disappointed.
And for some of these players there's quite a bit at stake (for example the chance to play basketball in college or better yet earn a basketball scholarship). For these players in particular the choices they make as far as when to play for their AAU team vs. when to play for their high school team could prove to be VERY important.
Let the Debate Begin
"I keep hearing about how great those kids do in AAU, how many points they score in AAU" remarked Portsmouth High boys coach Jim Mulvey after a game this past season. "But they don't play any defense in AAU. This is high school basketball. We play defense here. The kid that scores all of those points in AAU didn't do anything tonight against us" Mulvey went on.
Now that sounds a little harsh. But this wasn't the first time I've heard someone make the argument about a lack of defensive focus by AAU clubs. What I hear a lot of is that AAU is all 1-on-1, no defense, no fundamentals. Just a bunch of all-star teams for ego-driven players and coaches who trick the players into thinking that it's worth it to spend thousands of dollars for the chance at getting a scholarship when in reality it won't happen is what people tell me.
Two sides to every story though...
Of course the argument for AAU is exposure. "There's so many good players out there and so few scholarships to go around" explained one local AAU coach. "That you have to go the extra mile in order to get noticed. College coaches aren't going to drive all the way out to the middle of nowhere in NH to see some kid play in a high school game. He'll go to a high level AAU tournament, where in just one game he can see 5-10, maybe more scholarship players play instead of seeing just one at a NH high school game."
But on the other side of the coin...
"Let me tell you something about exposure" one Division I (Class L) coach explained to me recently. "I've been out there on the AAU circuit, I know what goes on" the coach (who will remain nameless) went on. Out there at those big AAU tournaments, the college coaches out there aren't evaluating players. You never seem them actually taking notes during the games. The only reason they're there is to be seen. So guys like Will Barton and Andre Drummond see them sitting there at all of their games. These NH kids aren't getting anything from that. The AAU coaches promise them the world, that they'll get a scholarship. But it never happens."
Back to the other side of the coin...
"To get better, you play against better competition" the AAU coach continued. "My team recently played against a team with 7 scholarship players on it, including 3 D-I players. THAT'S how you get better. High school basketball, especially in NH, is a waste of time. You have kids that only play because their friends on the team, or because their parents made them, etc. Plus the talent is so spread out across the state that you could go all winter and not play against one other scholarship player" the AAU coach went on. "I saw one NH high school game last winter where the level of play was so bad, the pace of the game was so slow I just got up and left halfway through. If there were any college coaches in the gym I'm sure they did the same. The kids that play for me get bored during their high school season, they can't wait till AAU starts up again so they can play against some real competition."
The other side of the coin one more time...
The Division I (Class L) coach I spoke with even went so far as saying that there is one AAU program in particular that he will now forbid his players from playing for (sorry, I won't say who the program is to protect them).
"I'm trying to schedule practices and games for the summer" the coach explained. "But I've got some players that are out there playing AAU ball instead. I've had enough of it. "We went to a tournament this summer where some of my players weren't there because of AAU" he went on. "But there was a team there with a kid who played AAU for BABC. He was playing in this high school tournament, so why couldn't my kids? BABC lets their kids play for the high school teams during the summer, the other programs should do the same."
Tensions were again high at a recent girls high school tournament over at SNHU. The tournament had about 12 teams. All were local girls high school varsity squads getting ready for the season. Except one of the teams was an AAU team. The AAU team had 5 prep school players, and won their games in landslides. The coach for one of the high school teams in the tournament was furious that the AAU team was there. As if it wasn't hot enough in that gym already, the tension which was building by the second made it feel even hotter. After much complaining by the high school coaches, the AAU coach removed his team from the tournament.
But Wait, There's More!
It's not even just a battle of HS vs. AAU. You also have different AAU programs around the state bad mouthing each other, fighting each other for players, talking trash, etc. I can't count the number of comments on this site alone that I've had to delete from people trying to attack various AAU programs. It's sickening.
What I Propose is This
C'mon, folks. Let's be adults here. Honestly. Whether you're a high school coach, an AAU coach, a player, a parent, a fan or whoever. We all want the same thing...or at least we SHOULD all want the same thing - to raise the level of basketball in NH. If this happens, more NH kids will get a chance to play college ball, our state would gain credibility within the basketball community, and granite staters of all ages would enjoy playing the game more. These are things that we SHOULD all want.
So if we all have the same goal and want the same things, why then is there this constant struggle between high school and AAU? (And AAU vs. AAU for that matter) Why can't the coaches just get together and come to sort sort of understanding? Why can't the two entities (AAU and HS) coexist? Let's get on the game page, forget about all of the petty stuff and figure this out!
Maybe you set aside certain days or weeks during the summer when AAU clubs can't have practice or games. And this is when the high school teams schedule their practices / games. Whatever it is, something should be done soon before even more bad blood is formed and even more innocent kids get caught in the middle of it. Something's gotta give here, folks. There has to be a way to solve this problem where EVERYONE wins.
Again I say, can't we all just get along?
Let Me Also Add (edit: 8/23/10 at 2:30 PM)
I just spoke with Coach Mulvey. He has nothing against AAU. He used to coach AAU, his son played AAU. He told me that his comments to me were more a complaint about my rankings and how I had players who performed well in AAU games ranked higher than players who performed well in high school games. This was a simple misunderstanding between the two of us which has now been resolved. He also added that he would have no problem with any of his players playing for the Jayhawks or Mark Dunham.