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

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(Editor’s noteFirst published on April 25th)

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.

MOREWhat is the July live period, and why is it important?

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.

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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.

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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 was only one weekend in April, but it will be for 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.

Oklahoma sophomore Doolittle to miss first semester

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Oklahoma’s non-conference schedule just got a little more challenging.

Sooner sophomore Kristian Doolittle has been suspended for the first semester of this upcoming season due to academic reasons, the school announced Wednesday.

“I didn’t meet the academic standards and I apologize to my teammates, coaches, fans and the university,” Doolittle said in a statement released by the school. “I take full responsibility for my actions and will use this time away from the team to learn from my mistakes. I am committed to bettering myself throughout this process and look forward to earning a chance to compete with my teammates after the fall semester.”

The 6-foot-7 forward should be back in time for Oklahoma’s most important part of the season – Big 12 play – but the Sooners have a rather challenging non-conference slate for which he’ll be sidelined. Oklahoma is in the loaded field of the PK80 tournament in Oregon with Arkansas its first-round opponent and then North Carolina potentially waiting in the second round. The Sooners also play USC in Los Angeles and at Wichita State before welcoming Northwestern into Norman.

“We’re disappointed for Kristian,” OU coach Lon Kruger said in a statement. “He made some poor decisions that resulted in his suspension from the university. We will provide support and encouragement as he works to earn the opportunity to rejoin the team at the conclusion of the fall semester.”

Doolittle averaged 9.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season, starting 25 games in Oklahoma’s 20-13 campaign.

SMU hires father of five-star recruit

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SMU just seemingly positioned itself to land one of the top recruits of the Class of 2019.

The Mustangs have hired Tyrone Maxey, the father of top-25 2019 forward Tyrese Maxey, as their new director of scouting, according to Scout.com.

It’s a move that’s sure to raise eyebrows given that Maxey is the father of a five-star recruit that SMU would likely otherwise not be in play for on the recruiting trail, but the elder Maxey does have nearly 20 years experience coaching at the high school level and played at Washington State in the 1990s, so it’s not as though his resume is completely barren. Also, and this probably should be taken with some skepticism, Maxey said his employment wouldn’t change his son’s recruitment.

“It doesn’t affect him at all,” Maxey told Rivals. “I tell people this is an opportunity for me. This is not going to affect him one way or another. In my household, we support him and this is all about him in this recruiting process. Wherever he wants to go, that is what we support wholeheartedly. It is not one of those kind of deals.”

Even if you take that statement at its word, it’s hard to believe that employing a high-level recruit’s father isn’t going to bolster a program’s chances to land a game-changing recruit. There doesn’t even have to be a wink-wink, handshake deal. The implicit pressure of making a decision that can alter the course of your father’s career and employment is probably plenty significant for a teenager.

And it’s certainly not a move without precedent. Michael Porter, Sr. has gotten hired twice, first at Washington and then at Missouri, largely on the strength of having a potential No. 1 draft pick as a son. And would Keelon Lawson have been brought on to Josh Pastner’s staff at Memphis if his sons weren’t all high level recruits? There’s a long history of this practice in college hoops.

The NCAA did try to curb this move not too long ago by forcing programs to hire those close to prospects to coveted full-time coaching positions, as if they’re hired to support staff jobs – such as Maxey’s director of recruiting position – there’s a two-year moratorium on bringing on the related recruit. Given that Tyrese Maxey, who has offers from the likes of Michigan State, UCLA and Oregon, is still two years away from joining a college program, the Mustangs probably wouldn’t have an issue there.

That is, should the Garland, Texas native choose to follow his father a few miles down the road to Dallas.

“I love my son,” Tyrone Maxey told Rivals, “and am going to support him wherever he wants to go and that it what it is. He has worked hard and whatever he deserves and wherever he wants to go with the recruiting process is on him.”

Report: Elite prospect Mitchell Robinson not expected to play in college in 2018

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It now appears as if college is off the table for Mitchell Robinson, a top ten recruit in the Class of 2017 and a potential lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, as Yahoo! Sports is reporting that he has passed on the idea of playing for his hometown university, New Orleans.

Robinson was initially a Western Kentucky-signee, and he spent two weeks over the summer practicing and attending classes as a Hilltopper. But he left school earlier this summer, which puts him in a bind: He’s a one-and-done player, but if he spends that year in college, he’ll do so as a transfer that must sit-out as a redshirt.

There were three schools that Robinson was eventually considering: LSU, Kansas and UNO. LSU stopped recruiting him two weeks ago. Bill Self told reporters last week that Kansas would not be adding anymore players this season. And now, according to Yahoo!, he will not be attending UNO.

As we wrote on Monday, the options for Robinson are now simple: He can either sit out for a year, working out on his own to train for the 2018 NBA Draft, or he can head overseas, where there is a market for his services; Australia, where Terrence Ferguson played last season before getting selected in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, has been a place where Robinson has been linked.

Ball State forward Zach Hollywood found dead in off-campus apartment

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Zach Hollywood, a redshirt freshman on the Ball State basketball team, has died, the university confirmed to multiple local news outlets Tuesday.

Muncie police are investigating the death at Hollywood’s off-campus apartment, according to WTHR-TV. Multiple outlets are reporting that the death has been ruled a suicide.

Hollywood was 19 years old.

This is his final tweet, from 5:39 a.m. Tuesday morning:

Hollywood redshirted last season at Ball State after averaging 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a senior at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in Bradley, Ill.

“On behalf of Ball State University, it is with profound sadness that we learned today of the passing of Zachary “Zach” Hollywood, a student from Bradley, Illinois,” the school said in a statement. “Zach has been a part of our family for the past year. During his time on campus, he was a member of men’s basketball team and made many positive impressions throughout campus.”

“This is a tragedy. Our heartfelt condolences are with his family, friends and teammates.”

Hollywood’s teammates reacted on social media:

Hollywood’s death is a tragic turn in an already devastating story for his family, which lost Zach’s mother, Susan, suddenly just over one year ago.

3-on-3 at the Final Four for $100,000? It’s happening

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The Final Four just got more exciting.

On Tuesday, Intersport announced a 3-on-3 tournament that they will be hosting at the Final Four with a $100,000 payout for the winners. The participants must be seniors that have exhausted their collegiate eligibility, the teams will be created based on conference and the rules will be standard, international 3-on-3 rules: one-point for a bucket inside the arc, two points for a bucket outside the arc, 12-second shot clocks and games played to 21 points, or whoever has the highest score after 10 minutes. Each all-star team will feature four players, including one sub.

And, well, this is awesome.

I cannot express enough how much I love this idea.

One potential pothole here is that teams that are playing in the Final Four will, quite clearly, not have players eligible to participate.

It also should be noted that since “three-pointers” are now worth two points and “two-pointers” are now worth one, the value of long-range shooting is increased even more.

With all that in mind, why don’t we make a quick power ranking of the teams that can be created from the nine biggest conferences in college hoops:

  1. ACC: Grayson Allen (Duke), Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame), Joel Berry II (North Carolina), Ben Lammers (Georgia Tech)
  2. Big East: Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington (Seton Hall), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier), Marcus Foster (Creighton)
  3. Big 12: Devonte’ Graham (Kansas), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Jeffery Carroll (Oklahoma State), Zach Smith (Texas Tech)
  4. AAC: Rob Gray (Houston), B.J. Taylor (UCF), Gary Clark (Cincinnati), Obi Enechionya (Temple)
  5. Pac-12: Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart (USC), George King (Colorado), Thomas Welsh (UCLA)
  6. Big Ten: Nate Mason (Minnesota), Scottie Lindsay (Northwestern), Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas (Purdue)
  7. Atlantic 10: E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell (Rhode Island), Peyton Aldridge (Davidson), Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure)
  8. SEC: Yante Maten (Georgia), Deandre Burnett (Ole Miss), Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford (Arkansas)
  9. WCC: Jock Landale and Emmett Naar (Saint Mary’s), Jonathan Williams III (Gonzaga), Silas Melson (Gonzaga)

I had way too much fun putting this together.

What did I miss?