Jon Lopez/Nike Basketball

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

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source:
Hoop Group

(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.

source:
Jon Lopez/Nike Basketball

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.

POSTERIZED: Dennis Smith Jr. takes flight

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While Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz and the Kentucky stars are the freshmen getting all the publicity, Dennis Smith Jr. of N.C. State is quietly sitting as a potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

Why?

Because’s he’s a point guard that can do things like this:

Manu Lecomte’s 24 points leads No. 9 Baylor past No. 7 Xavier

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 10:  Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears shoots a free throw against the Texas Longhorns during the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 10, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Manu Lecomte finished with 24 points, hitting six threes and dishing out five assists as No. 9 Baylor added to what is unquestionably the best résumé in college basketball on Saturday with a 73-58 win over No. 7 Xavier in Waco.

The Bears have already beaten Louisville, VCU, Michigan State and Oregon this season, so it’s not like we needed anymore confirmation that the Bears were good this year.

But we got it.

Johnathon Motley finished with 17 points and eight boards and Jo Lual-Acuil chipped in with 12 points and six blocks, but it was Lecomte that was the star here. Entering the season, the question everyone had with this Baylor team was whether or not they had enough outside shooting and enough point guard, and it just so happens that Lecomte checks both those boxes.

And frankly, I don’t think anyone knew just how good Lecomte was going to be this season.

The Baylor coaching staff did. Word out of Waco during the preseason was that Lecomte looked great, that his redshirt season did wonders for him as a player, but then again, you hear that about every kid that’s ever sat out a season. With Lecomte, it turned out to be true. And on Saturday, we saw him at his best.

It’s also worth noting here just how important these non-conference wins will be not just for the Bears, but for the Big 12 as a whole. If Baylor can somehow find a way to win the Big 12 regular season title – or maybe even if they finish second in the league and win the Big 12 tournament – they’ll be in a great spot to earn a top four seed in the NCAA tournament. A No. 1 seed isn’t out of the question.

That’s great for the conference as a whole. These wins will significantly help the computer numbers for the league, and it also means that there are going to be more quality wins available for the other teams in the conference during league play.

Put another way, bubble teams won’t have to simply rely on trying to steal a win against Kansas at home if they need to inject some life into their at-large profile in February.

The most impressive part?

Baylor has done all of this despite not getting a single vote in the Preseason AP top 25 poll.

Jaysom Tatum to play tonight for Duke

Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)
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Duke announced on Saturday afternoon that Jayson Tatum will return to action against Maine.

Tatum is a top five prospect and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. He has been out since late October with a foot injury.

Grayson Allen and Frank Jackson are not expected to play. Allen has been battling a toe injury that has limited his explosiveness this season.

Marques Bolden is expected to return to the lineup soon, and on the pregame show, head coach Mike Krzyzewski said there’s a chance he could play tonight. He’s been out with a lower leg injury.

No. 15 Purdue uses 3-pointers to beat Morehead State 90-56

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - NOVEMBER 14: Caleb Swanigan #50 of the Purdue Boilermakers celebrates during the game against the Villanova Wildcats at Mackey Arena on November 14, 2016 in West Lafayette, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) Freshman guard Carsen Edwards scored 16 points, and No. 15 Purdue made 11 3-pointers in the first half Saturday on the way to a 90-56 victory over Morehead State.

The Boilermakers (6-2), coming off a Wednesday loss at No. 14 Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, used a 15-0 first-half run to stretch a 10-9 lead to 25-9, and Purdue continued to pull away.

Dakota Mathias added 14 points, and Caleb Swanigan and P.J. Thompson had 13 each for Purdue.

Miguel Dicent had 11 points for Morehead State (2-5), which played without coach Sean Woods, who has been suspended with pay since Nov. 22, when the university launched an official investigation into Woods’ treatment of players.

Purdue made 11 of 20 from 3-point range during the first half when it built a 47-25 lead. Carsen Edwards, who made his first start in place of slumping Vince Edwards, and Mathias made four 3-pointers each in the first half.

The Boilermakers played without fifth-year graduate student transfer point guard Spike Albrecht, who suffered a back injury this week.

BIG PICTURE

Morehead State: With Woods suspended indefinitely, the Eagles are a distracted basketball team, and it shows as their losing streak reached five on Saturday, including 0-3 for acting coach Preston Spradlin.

Purdue: It’s a byproduct of opposing defenses centering their attention on Boilermaker big men Swanigan and Isaac Haas, but Purdue entered this game leading the Big Ten in 3-point field goal shooting percentage at 41.8 and made 55 percent from beyond the arc during the opening half on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Morehead State: The Eagles do not play until going to Lipscomb on Dec. 10.

Purdue: The Boilermakers travel to New York City for a Tuesday night game against Arizona State in the Jimmy V. Classic.

 

SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Big road wins for UCLA, West Virginia

MADISON, WI - DECEMBER 03:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is defended by Kristian Doolittle #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners during the first half of a game at the Kohl Center on December 3, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 11 UCLA 97, No. 1 Kentucky 92

This one was a ton of fun to watch as UCLA shook off a sluggish start to run past Kentucky at Rupp Arena. CBT’s Rob Dauster has the story on this one and why it was important for both teams.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 25 West Virginia 66, No. 6 Virginia 57: Bob Huggins’ group has a potential signature victory as West Virginia won a big one on the road. I have more about why this one is particularly important for West Virginia here.

No. 9 Baylor 76, No. 7 Xavier 61: The Bears added to what is the best résumé in college basketball with an impressive win over a very good Xavier team. Manu Lecomte was the star of the show, finishing with 24 points and five assists. We went in depth on this game here.

STARRED

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: After just missing a triple-double in a big win over Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge earlier this week, Hayes dominated in a 90-70 win over Oklahoma with 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting. Hayes made both of his three-point attempts and also added six assists and two rebounds. Hayes is playing like an All-American lately.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Speaking of All-American caliber play, the senior guard put up a triple-double in the Wildcats’ 88-57 win over Saint Joseph’s as he finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Hart was 6-for-10 from the field and 3-for-6 from three-point territory as he had a tremendous outing.

Sebastian Saez, Ole Miss: Underrated nationally, the senior forward had his fourth double-double of the year with 20 points and 16 rebounds in a win over Memphis. Saez also added three blocks as he now has 12 or more rebounds in five games this season.

Anthony Livingston, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders needed three free throws from Livingston with under three seconds left for a one-point win over Rice as Livingston finished with 33 points and seven rebounds.

Collin Smith, George Washington: Also knocking in a huge go-ahead bucket was Smith as his three-pointer with three seconds left gave the Colonials a win over USF. Smith ended up with 22 points and eight rebounds.

STRUGGLED

E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: Matthews finished 3-for-13 from the floor with just nine points as No. 21 Rhode Island lost their second straight game, this time falling to Providence, 63-60, on the road.

JeQuan Lewis, VCU: Lewis had 23 points and 11 assists in a come-from-behind win over Princeton during the week, but he had just three points and one assists – and turned an ankle – in a 64-46 loss to Illinois in Miami on Saturday.

San Diego State: The Aztecs took a 65-59 loss to Loyola (IL) on Saturday, a loss that puts SDSU is an all-too-familiar hole: Bad losses on their résumé that they won’t be able to make up for in league play.

TOP 25

  • Using a balanced scoring effort, No. 15 Purdue picked up an easy home win over Morehead State. Freshman guard Carsen Edwards knocked down four triples to finish with a team-high 16 points while Caleb Swanigan and P.J. Thompson both finished with 13 points and six assists.
  • Kelan Martin went for 30 points as No. 18 Butler knocked off Central Arkansas, 82-58.
  • Andrew White hit seven threes and finished with 26 points while Franklin Howard chipped in with 13 assists for No. 22 Syracuse as they held on to beat North Florida, 77-71, in the Carrier Dome.

NOTABLE

  • Solid win for Wake Forest on the road at Richmond as John Collins had 16 points, 13 rebounds.