"AAU basketball – horrible, terrible AAU basketball," Kobe Bryant said in a now infamous interview. "It’s stupid.’’
This was around the same time that Kevin Garnett said that “AAU has killed (the NBA).’’ Still waiting for confirmation of the NBA’s death from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Those quotes are from 2015-16. The gap between AAU and high school basketball has shrunk and been bridged, not by celebrity opinion-shapers but by the sport’s foot soldiers.
“The high school vs. AAU thing has been ironed out,’’ Elizabethtown High School coach Rocky Parise said last week.
Before we examine that, let’s define terms. AAU, which is formally an acronym for Amateur Athletic Union, has become an umbrella term for non-school affiliated basketball aimed toward college exposure.
As Doug Kraft, who coaches the Lancaster-based Cats team, once put it, “It’s like Frisbee or Kleenex.’’
We’ll use AAU in the umbrella sense here.
Kraft, a widely respected former Division One college assistant coach, used to get the cream of the Lancaster County crop for his Cats. That’s no longer as true, mostly because so many high school coaches now coach AAU or even run AAU programs.
A Google search for “Is AAU ruining basketball?’’ draws over 13,000 hits.
There’s now the Central Pa. Elite and the Spooky Nook Raiders and the Lancaster Elite. AAU programs are run and/or coached by Parise, Columbia head coach Kerry Glover, and a slew of Lancaster-Lebanon League assistant coaches.
The local high school summer leagues, at Spooky Nook and Hempfield, have simply gotten better.
“I think of this as an experience thing for our kids,’’ said Parise after his team lost an overtime game to Cedar Crest at Spooky Nook.
“(Dress rehearsal) is a good term for it. This is like a regular game. There’s real people here, real officials. Normally there’s college coaches here.’’
Which brings us to another change in summer hoops, this one mandated by the NCAA.
This year’s recruiting calendar includes two new evaluation periods for “scholastic events approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations,’’ in June. The summer evaluation period for “non-scholastic events certified by the NCAA,’’ meaning AAU, has shrunk from three weekends in July to just one, July 11-14.
“It’s become a thing where (AAU) goes hard with the kids for a while, and then they kind of turn them back over to us,’’ Parise said.
Recruiting showcases for high school teams popped up in the June period. McCaskey and Lancaster Catholic played in the Cedar Beach Showcase near Allentown.
Philly 1 and 2, a giant event at Jefferson University that spanned both June evaluation weekends, drew some of the best high school teams and players in the country. Jay Wright, Roy Williams and John Calipari were there.
This weekend’s Summer Jam Fest at Spooky Nook should be even bigger than usual, given the shrunken July evaluation period.
“They (AAU and high school) can enhance each other,’’ said Kraft. “It’s good for a kid to hear one voice, but a different voice with the same agenda can really work.’’