Add Kobe Bryant to list of smart people slamming AAU player development system

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You can go ahead and point out the irony of Kobe Bryant complaining about a system that encourages a start mentality and players to play in isolation sets, ignoring teammates.

But the fact is Kobe is one of the most fundamentally sound players in the game, a guy with impeccable footwork honed over long hours in the gym. He plays a high IQ game. And when he trusts his teammates (as he has the past few games) is a very smart passer that is a couple of steps ahead of the defense.

Kobe sees the young players coming out of Europe with those fundamental skills. The ones coming into the NBA out of America’s AAU system… not so much, he told Arash Markazi of ESPN.

“I just think European players are just way more skillful,” Bryant said Friday night after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 109-106 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. “They are just taught the game the right way at an early age. … They’re more skillful. It’s something we really have to fix. We really have to address that. We have to teach our kids to play the right way….

“AAU basketball,” Bryant said. “Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. Its stupid. It doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game at all so you wind up having players that are big and they bring it up and they do all this fancy crap and they don’t know how to post. They don’t know the fundamentals of the game. Its stupid.”

Kobe and his Lakers had just lost a game to the Marc Gasol led Grizzlies (and of course Kobe played with Marc’s brother for a couple of rings). Kobe and the rest of us saw a heavily European roster of Spurs play the beautiful game on their way to the title last June. He’s frustrated.

And he’s right.

Kobe joins a long list of NBA people who despise the AAU system, both because of the style of play it produces and because it’s a dirty business (there are few things more fueled by under the table money like AAU/college recruiting). Even at the NBA level talent tends to win out but with the talent disparities seen in high school age kids if you can get two or three potential NBA-level guys on one team you can dominate — now Kings’ coach Ty Corbin once said the “big three” in Miami was the product of the AAU system. Worse yet, those AAU coaches with stacked teams don’t really have to coach the players and get them to improve. There is little defense, little teamwork and off-the-ball movement in a half-court set. We could go on and on, but you get the point.

Of course, pointing out the system is broken is easy, fixing an entreated system designed to create stars that can be lucrative for certain people and businesses is another. People are protective of their fiefdoms. And any dramatic overhaul of a system is messy and complicated.

Kobe hopes the fix can be simpler than that.

“Teach players the game at an early age and stop treating them like cash cows for everyone to profit off of,” he said. “That’s how you do that. You have to teach them the game. Give them instruction.”