Some NBA players pushing a reform of AAU basketball

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Virtually every American-born player in the NBA has come through the AAU program.

It is the “club teams” of high school basketball. The off-season traveling teams that are designed to let the best push themselves, and face the other best young players. It was envisioned as a way to boost the Olympic program, a way to improve American players.

It’s also the home to the ugly sides of recruiting, paid players, perks and everything that is seedy about youth basketball. Runners are befriending players they will later try to steer to specific agents or marketing firms. Some AAU coaches end up with undo influence over younger players, and ride their coattails. It has become a place where exploitation can thrive in the shadows.

There are plenty of cries for reform, but little happens.

Enter a number of NBA players, who are forming their own teams on their own terms, as Associated Press reports.

Terry is now among dozens, perhaps hundreds, of current and former NBA players with their own clubs, guys like LeBron James, Lamar Odom, Devin Harris and Mike Bibby…

“We don’t want the kids to be exploited at such a young age,” Harris said. “We want … to do it the right way.”

Harris and James are among those who’ve taken over the program they came through. James — whose AAU career was documented in the movie “More Than A Game” — sponsors fifth-graders to 16-and-under.

“I wanted kids to have that same experience that me and my friends had,” he said. “If you don’t have the right support system, the right guidance running the program, then it can get really bad.”

The needed changes to AAU could fill a book, not just a blog post. But this is a start. The key is players giving more than just their name, but taking an active role and following through.