May 28-30 2011: EYBL tournament at Hanger Athletics in California

A college basketball fan’s guide to the current grassroots basketball scene

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In the modern 24-hour sports news cycle, nearly every aspect of the four major sports of are covered. Extensively.

Free agency is broken down like crazy and draft coverage is at an all-time high, complete with a movie starring Kevin Costner and talk of potential one-and-done players dominating college basketball until February.

But one of the great unknowns left to the casual sports fan is grassroots basketball, which is often mistakenly referred to by people as AAU.

The Amateur Athletic Union is an organization within the current structure of spring and summer high school travel basketball for American players, but is hardly the only — or preferred — way that athletes play basketball.

Most elite players opt to play in shoe company leagues and never actually play in an AAU game. The term — AAU — has just overtaken the name of the scene — grassroots basketball — like Kleenex has for tissues.

Having covered grassroots basketball for the last seven years, I get asked a lot of questions about the overall scene and what it is. College basketball fans will commonly see people tweeting at events on most spring weekends, but they don’t understand some of what is actually going on.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the common questions and misconceptions I hear about the grassroots basketball scene from college basketball fans.

What is grassroots basketball?

Like almost every sport in America now, basketball is a year-round endeavor complete with spring and summer travel basketball and fall leagues and camps between high school seasons.

In the spring and summer, teams of high school players form with other players in their area — or sometimes from a state or two away for bigger and more prominent programs — and travel a schedule of weekend tournaments or play in a league.

Teams are broken down into three levels for high school:

17U – Seniors to be
16U – Juniors to be
15U – Sophomores to be

Many tournaments will also devote time for 14U and younger age divisions in off-site locations as well, but we’re focusing on high school for now.

Why is grassroots basketball so popular among basketball’s elite prospects?

Kids want to play basketball and grassroots basketball gives them the opportunity to play with and against the best players nearly every weekend. While high school basketball can have limitations in scheduling or playing time or style of play for certain players, players can often pick-and-choose what they’re looking for in a grassroots program. Want to play in a shoe company league? Want to play for a coach that will play you extended minutes? Players can find any situation ideal if they look for the right fit.

How are grassroots teams formed?

Teams are often recruited together by programs that try to maintain strong play throughout multiple age groups. Many of these programs are usually apart of the three shoe company leagues that will be on display this spring. The adidas Gauntlet, the Under Armour Association and the current standard of the leagues, the Nike EYBL. These teams offer a lot of exclusive apparel and travel to places around the country to play in league games.

For teams that don’t fall under these leagues, many will play an independent schedule or opt to play in AAU events.

AAU events are held at the state level and teams that win a local qualifier will advance to nationals in July. Many teams form for the sake of playing for some kind of overall title in a league or the AAU events.

Where are grassroots events held?

Events are held locally, regionally and nationally and tend to be held in bigger cities and places with multi-court facilities.

What is the basketball actually like?

The basketball is usually very up-and-down. There’s a lot of fast tempo play and with some tournaments making kids play up to three games in a few hours time, they can get exhausted quickly and play can get very sloppy.

With the changes in structure to shoe company leagues, however, less stress is being put on kids on weekends by scheduling out full league schedules with adequate time off and a cap on games per weekend. The coaching is also much, much better than people think. I’ve seen players like Julius Randle and Jabari Parker have to adjust to multiple zone looks and double-teams on the offensive end while more teams are running complete sets thanks to the integration of a shot clock in the EYBL.

Are grassroots basketball events fan friendly?

Yes and no. Fans can sit very close to the action at a grassroots event and see a lot of basketball during a Saturday session, but there commonly aren’t programs or scorecards and names aren’t listed on jerseys so it can be hard to identify players for common fans. Some camps are also exclusive to media and family and don’t allow fans to attend at all. But if the coaches are out in July and you can hit a big-time grassroots game attended by a lot of coaches, it can be fun to watch. Two highly-ranked kids battling on a national stage can be a great experience as a basketball fan.

Why is grassroots basketball so influential in modern basketball?

Since the talent comes together in the form of leagues and elite teams, it is much easier for scouts and media members to see a big collection of top players in just a single weekend. When you also include games being played for multiple sessions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and there is a lot of time to get games in.

Grassroots basketball is the major influencer of national rankings because the top players have more of a chance to matchup throughout the course of the spring and summer. Camps in June and August also allow top players to come together nationally in exclusive events that put them all together for practices and games. This makes it even easier for people to make rankings because the best are playing each other. Kids want to be ranked and travel to big events, so they continue to play with or without coaches being allowed out.

When are college coaches allowed at grassroots events?

The open period for grassroots events is only one weekend in April from the 25th through the 27th and then 15 days in July:

July 9-13
July 16-20
July 23-27

The limited face time for college coaches — given how much the players play — is not good in helping them identify players outside of the high school season in which they’re coaching themselves.

College coaches cannot have off campus in-person contact with players or their legal guardians during the evaluation period. Coaches can still make telephone calls to players or legal guardians, and players can still make campus visits.

Is grassroots basketball a necessity to be a big-time college basketball player?

It helps, but definitely not. And plenty of players play on great local teams that play local events and continue to work and get better as basketball players. Does it do you better to sit on the bench of a high exposure team in a shoe company league or does it pay to play for the smaller local team and gain more experience? That’s the question some kids have to ask themselves.

Kawhi Leonard to be inducted into SDSU Hall of Fame

Kawhi Leonard (Getty Images)
Kawhi Leonard (Getty Images)
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Kawhi Leonard is, and probably always will be, the greatest player to ever come through the San Diego State ranks.

And this week, the Aztecs announced that they will be honoring the all-NBA wing due to his accomplishments in Viejas Arena: Leonard will be enshrined in the SDSU Hall of Fame this October.

Leonard is a terrific story, one that most people probably already know. A former Mr. Basketball in California, Leonard was somewhat under-recruited, winding up at SDSU where he proceeded to post monster numbers for an Aztec team that climbed into the top five in the country his sophomore season. He went pro after just two years with the program, getting picked 15th by the Spurs due to concerns about his ability to adjust to the perimeter full-time.

And we all know how that worked out.

VIDEO: South Dakota walk-on Logan Power get surprised with a scholarship

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Logan Power, a 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore from Nebraska, landed a scholarship at the end of South Dakota’s trip to Spain.

You can see the video of it above. Power played in 14 games last season, averaging 2.5 points as he played a real role for the Coyotes down the stretch of the season.

Sometimes moments like this can feel like artificial, like a production designed to boost a coach’s Q rating as much as it is to award the player that scholarship. This doesn’t feel like that at all, as head coach Craig Smith barely can even offer a speech about the player as he fights to hold back tears.

It’s a touching moment.

Well done, USD.

Why did Trevon Duval list Seton Hall, St. John’s and not Duke, Kentucky?

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Trevon Duval is the reason that mixtapes were created.

A top five player and the top point guard in the Class of 2017, Duval is 6-foot-3 and super-athletic, boasting the kind of handle that would make Uncle Drew blush. It’s not possible to do any kind of scouting off of a mixtape; judging what a player can and can’t do based off of a highlight package doesn’t happen.

But given what Duval is capable of doing, it makes him the perfect player to have game film cut and edited so that his highlights fit seamlessly within the beat of an instrumental.

That’s why this mixtape is so good.

But unlike a lot of mixtape phenoms, Duval’s game goes beyond the tricks that look good in slow motion.

His ranking isn’t a fluke. He’s far and away the best point guard in 2017, but you wouldn’t know that based on his offer list.

On Monday, “trimmed” his list to ten schools: He’s not following a typical path for the top point guard in the class. Much has been written in the last six months about how Duke and Kentucky, the two preeminent programs on the recruiting trail, have been targeting second tier point guards in the Class of 2017, the likes of Trae Young and Quade Green and Tremont Waters.

Young and Green and Waters are all terrific players, top 30 recruits with a shot at becoming McDonalds All-Americans, but Duval is in a tier all by himself. He’s the only surefire one-and-done point guard in the class.

And he listed Seton Hall and St. John’s in his final ten.

He didn’t list Duke and Kentucky.

What do Seton Hall, St. John’s and Trevon Duval all have in common?

Under Armour.

Duval plays for We-R-1 on the travel circuit, a program that is sponsored by UA. He played his junior season at API, a high school program in Texas that was sponsored by Under Armour. Emmanuel Mudiay and Terrence Ferguson, the last two elite prospects to forego college to head directly to the professional ranks overseas, both came from API and reportedly signed sponsorship deals with UA. If UA has a reputation at the grassroots level, it’s that they’re as loyal as any of the three major shoe companies. They do everything they can to keep it all in the family.

The best example of this?

Diamond Stone, a product of the Under Armour Association circuit and Wisconsin native that bucked in-state powers Wisconsin and Marquette to play for Maryland, the program that is to UA and Oregon is to Nike.

It doesn’t always work that way — see: Josh Jackson — and of the final 10 schools on Duval’s list, only four are programs sponsored by Under Armour.

But it’s not an accident that Seton Hall and St. John’s made the cut, and it’s not a coincidence that UCLA — who just this summer signed a massive sponsorship deal with the apparel company — is now considered to be the favorite to land Duval.

The idea that shoe companies control where elite prospects go to school is a bit overblown in this day and age. If it wasn’t, Kansas, an adidas school, wouldn’t have landed Andrew Wiggins or Josh Jackson, two of the last four No. 1 players in the country, neither of whom played with an adidas sponsored team before college.

But it does happen.

And when it does, it’s not all that hard to identify.

Trevon Duval (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)
Trevon Duval (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

Report: CBE Hall of Fame Classic headliners set

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The headliners for the 2017 CBE Hall of Fame Classic have been set.

UCLA, Baylor, Wisconsin and Creighton will highlight the bill for the annual event in Kansas City, according to a report from CBS Sports.

The CBE Hall of Fame Classic historically has included on-campus games and a flagship four-team championship round at the Sprint Center. This year’s headliners include Kansas, Georgia, George Washington and UAB.

Certainly securing four high-majors is a significant get for the event, which will also likely coincide with the induction of the 2017 class of the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. The 2016 class is highlighted by Mark Aguirre, Doug Collins, Dominique Wilson, Jamal Wilkes and Mike Montgomery.

Coach Cal softball game raises $300K for La. flood relief

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John Calipari is known for his ability to amass talent. Over the weekend, that quality helped raise $300,000 for Louisiana flood relief.

The Coach Cal Celebrity Softball Classic brought Kentucky stars like Keith Bogans, Andrew Harrison and Karl-Anthony Towns and the likes of former UK quarterback Tim Couch and NFL Hall of Famer Chris Carter to Lexington to help aid Louisiana in conjunction with the Red Cross after the area suffered major flooding earlier this month.

“I didn’t want to really do a softball game,” Calipari said according to his website, “but then we decided to do it and then Louisiana happens and now you have a cause. … It’s kind of neat. You have a cause, you have a why.”

Towns’ team was the 18-12 victor over Team Calipari on the day.

“This is amazing,” Towns said on CoachCal.com. “This is something that we get a chance to rarely do. We get to help the community out but at the same time have fun. There’s nothing better than doing something that we would do for free but for charity. This is something we’re going to have a lot of fun doing today.”

The softball game was played the same weekend as the John Calipari Basketball Fantasy Experience which generated $1 million that will be shared with 14 charities.