COURTSIDE WITH COACH EDMONDS: The necessary evil of AAU basketball

Keith Edmonds is a 32-year veteran of teaching and school administration from Fort Wayne. He coached boys high school basketball as an assistant at Snider High School, North Side High School and was the head boys basketball coach at Elmhurst High School for 12 years, advancing to the Class 3A State championship in 2003.

High school basketball has grown from something that we used to play for the shear enjoyment of the game. True in its purest form and unmistakably my, and many that I grew up withs, favorite pastime simply because we didn’t know anything better to do as we were having so much fun playing this game.

You could always find us at a local court playing outdoors and we would go from park to park looking for the best game in town for that particular day. We wanted a challenge, have our turn as king of the courts and bragging rights at least for that day.

We never worried about who would see us play or what shoes we wore (sometimes we shared shoes) we didn’t care if a college scout saw us, or corporate sponsors (what?) or if the games were inside on wood or outside on asphalt. We just played the game.

My, oh my have times changed the simplicity of this game.

AAU (or the Amateur Athletic Union) is a powerful organization that has changed how we look at basketball (especially at the high school level) in such a way that we can never really view it the way we once did. They have changed the landscape of how we view players, coaches and teams and have redefined high school basketball at a level of unprecedented heights.

Being a former high school head coach – as I refer to often in these articles – I was never a huge proponent of AAU basketball because I thought that it took players away from the most crucial part of their development, which was in the summer. In my very humble opinion, I thought that it was during the months of May, June and July that I wanted to build my team and spend as much time with them as I could. This way, I could actually see what they were doing to get better, and not always trusting in the process and allowing players to work individually on their own agendas to get better.

I had a firm grip on what we did daily to get better as a team and unity was being formed within the ranks of my program. Now that AAU basketball has come in, players are more apt to be gone during those months playing with a traveling team that can give them exposure to hundreds of coaches and put them in venues playing on college campuses, arenas and cities that as a young player is almost unimaginable. Coaches now have placed their better players talents and abilities in the hands of someone they may not know and trust that this person will do what’s best for their growth and improvement as players.

That is very tough to accept, but how do coaches compete with this rising phenomenon?

AAU basketball has exploded into an entity that stands alone as the single most influential movement in the country today with youth sports. As a coach, there are very few instances where you can put your most talented players on display in from of the nation’s best college coaches. If you can’t accept that these instances are often out of your own hands, then you’ll fight many battles that you’ll eventually lose.

It’s tough, but again, how can you compete with players being given shoes, uniforms and having travel expenses being taken care of with unlimited exposure? The results of getting your players seen on a higher level that is something that you may not have the time or resources’ to pursue.

The times have changed coaches. AAU is here to stay and though you may not always agree with some who may want to exploit your player’s talents, you must build that 3-4 month window of their summer development in the overall philosophy of your program if you want to remain competitive in your conference or on the state level. AAU has become a necessary evil on a national level and we either have to step-up and accept it, or step out of the way of its path because it’s coming right at us and our high school programs with no brakes to stop its descent.

I’m starting to understand it more and more as I become more involved with it. The opportunity to meet some of the nation’s finest coaches and be introduced to their programs is something that I enjoy and makes me gain more respect for the process. I, as a coach, just need to continue to adjust my thinking about the entire scope of what AAU basketball is. As it becomes more viable in my mind, then I can accept what it has to offer young people in their desire to get to the next level.

Courtside with Coach Edmonds will appear every Monday during the prep basketball season at Outside the Huddle. These opinions represent those of the writer. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. 

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