Blake’s Take: Most coaches agree, AAU is a must for up-and-coming stars

COMMENTARY – With the AAU season coming to an end over the weekend, many people are asking me what all the buzz is about concerning summer basketball.

Being a coach, I thought that this would be all positive until I got word from home that a couple of high school coaches question whether the boys should play or not.

That absolutely got me going.

How do you question playing and practicing all off season, getting to play against the best competition in the country and getting to play in front of hundreds of college coaches?

The two things I keep hearing are that the kids can get hurt and that the kids can get burned out.

What?! Burned out from playing too much? So there are people out there that truly believe that playing in the off-season can burn you out? Well let’s put in a call to Coach K and have him put a stop to the Olympics so the NBA players don’t get burned out.

Over a four-day span in Las Vegas, more than 1,000 teams played in the four biggest tournaments in the country, all running at the same time, including the Adidas Super 64, the Las Vegas Classic and the Fab 48. The tournaments are so big that the finals are shown on national television. At about eight kids a team, that means over 8,000 prospects are playing at these tournaments. That’s a lot of players who aren’t getting burned out, but instead getting a chance to do something they love on a national stage.

The other con I heard was about injuries. Sorry to tell you this people, but injuries happen. They do. They are freak accidents that sadly happen. But let’s not all live in fear. The injuries that happen could have happened during another sport, a rec league, church ball, the high school season or even during the one summer month that coaches are allowed to work with their kids.

Let’s not forget about Walker Swenson, who missed more then half of his high school season, but came back and played in the April live period to show college coaches he could still play at a high level. Walker signed to play at Dixie State College after the April live period. Walker said, “Playing AAU ball was the only reason I received a scholarship.” Again, that’s from a kid who missed half of his senior season.

After getting numerous calls from players, parents and a few coaches about the matter, I went on a quest in Vegas to get quotes about the summer viewing period from some of the best college coaches in the country, coaches such as former national champion and current Florida head coach Billy Donovan, Arizona head coach Sean Milller, former Kansas coach and current Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith, former UNLV assistant and current Oklahoma assistant Lew Hill, and a few junior college coaches.

“Without the summer live periods, 90% of the kids that deserve to go to college wouldn’t be able to because we wouldn’t be able to see them all,” Miller said. “We don’t have the time or money to go to high school games across the country to scout out one kid at a time. Here, I can see thousands at a time.”

Martin from South Carolina said, “Who would say that? This is where kids try and make their dreams come true and earn a college scholarship.”

Smith agreed, saying the injuries should be a non-factor in AAU.

“More injuries happen during team camps then anywhere else,” he said. “Team camps are all about making money and playing a bunch of games in a day. That’s where injuries happen, when kids have to play four or five times a day and their bodies don’t have time to recover.”

Martin jokingly ended by saying, “Where is St. George?” At least I think he was joking.

Donovan had the best quote of all saying, “Whoever said summer ball is bad and not needed is foolish and probably a parent of a young man who is not ready for this level of play.”

When I told coach Donovan that it was a high school coach that said that, he said, “Please get those kids out of there. It’s pretty easy to see if the kids are playing and practicing in the off-season, playing against better competition. That means they are getting better.”

Hill wasn’t as nice about the matter saying, “The live period is where schollies (scholarships) are earned, not during high school. The only (high school) games we go to is if there is a top 150 local kid playing or if we are on the road and there is a kid we see in the summer live period in the city or town where we’re playing, we will try and go watch him.”

After talking with major Division 1 coaches, I thought the perspective might be different with some junior college coaches, so I called my good friend Steve Smiley from Sheridan College in Wyoming. But he said much of the same as the other coaches.

“To be honest, high school ball means nothing unless you’re the team that won state,” Smiley said. “Can you tell me who won state five years ago, and who they beat in the state championship game? Who was on the team? If you can, you probably only remember the big name kids who played summer ball. My guess for a small town like St. George is there is probably more college coaches at one game for these kids in the summer than their whole high school career. I don’t know about Utah, but one thing I don’t like about Wyoming is you have to be a teacher to coach high school ball. When that happens, you have adults that are teachers that love basketball, so they try and live through the kids, and sadly they don’t know how to teach the kids the right way.”

Coach Smiley is so right. Look at this year’s final four in the state tournament. The Hurricane Tigers won state and they had four of their five starters playing AAU basketball. The Desert Hills Thunder were the runners up and they were led by two super stars that played AAU basketball. Cedar beat out Dixie in the third and fourth place game and both were loaded with kids that play AAU basketball. Cedar had three or four while Dixie had three.

Coach Jon Judkins agrees with some of the coaches, but also adds his own take.

“The way I look at summer for us recruiting is my individual camp,” he said. “I like to be able to work with the kids up close and get a good look at them. After that, our Dixie State team camp. I tell high school coaches that if I’m looking at two kids and they are pretty close in ability then I will usually go after the kid that came to our team camp. After the team camp, I hit the tournaments in California and Las Vegas. I like to see how the kids play against the better competition.”

In southern Utah we have some great coaches that care about their kids like no other. You have amazing people and coaches like Ryan Cuff from Dixie High School and Brian Vaifanua from Hurricane High School who put in endless time in the gym with their kids in the summer-time to help them get to the next level and to try and win a state championship.

I’m not saying to not play high school basketball at all. I’m saying that young men should play as much as possible. Playing for a state championship is amazing, just like playing in front of great college coaches. The more you play, the better you get.

If your kids want to play ball because it gives them something to do during the school year or maybe they love football or baseball but play basketball to stay in shape, then AAU ball is not a must. But if your son or daughter wants to play college ball and compete at a high level during their high school seasons they should look into AAU ball.

Patrick Blake is a sports commentator. The views expressed are  his alone and do not represent those of St. George News.

For more SPORTS TALK, tune into Blake’s Take weekdays from 5-6 p.m. on KZNU Sports Radio – 93.1 FM 1450 AM – or online streaming live on the brand new KZNU Sports website:

[email protected]

Twitter:  @BlakesTake


Copyright St. George News, Inc., 2012, all rights reserved.

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