grassroots basketball

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Kobe Bryant rips AAU basketball

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Much has been made over the past few years about the American model of youth basketball, and specifically, AAU. We’ve already heard from retired NBA players like Charles Barkley and Robert Horry on the matter, but one of the game’s greatest players spoke up against it on Friday night.

After a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant opened up about his disdain for the AAU model and how basketball players are developed in the United States. Bryant has an interesting background to speak on the subject since he was raised in Italy for part of his youth and honed some of his basketball skills overseas before becoming a high school prodigy and going straight to the NBA out of Lower Merion High School.

ESPN.com‘s Arash Markazi had plenty of Kobe’s takes on how European players and American players are trained.

“I just think European players are just way more skillful,” Bryant said Friday night. “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.”

The main culprit, Bryant believes, is AAU basketball:

“AAU basketball,” Bryant said. “Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. It’s 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. It’s stupid.”

But Bryant went even further. He knows that the American youth basketball model isn’t going to change overnight, so he lamented on how the players are often treated as “cash cows” and how everyone is trying to profit off of them. He has some ideas on how to change the model:

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

“That’s a deep well because then you start cutting into people’s pockets,” Bryant continued. “People get really upset when you start cutting into their pockets because all they do is try to profit off these poor kids. There’s no quick answer.”

This is one of the more fascinating bits I’ve seen in regards to a NBA player speaking on the youth basketball model, mostly because Kobe Bryant is indirectly criticizing one of his employers: Nike.

Instead of playing AAU, top American basketball prospects often play in shoe company leagues like the Nike EYBL, the adidas Gauntlet and the Under Armour Association. The shoe companies are the ones who gobble up all of the elite talent at the high school level and put them in leagues and camps all spring and summer to cultivate a potential future client while also honing basketball skill development.

Nike, in particular, set the agenda for how the current American youth basketball dynamic works with the creation of its Elite Youth Basketball League in 2010. Under Armour and adidas have since followed suit with leagues of their own and it’s where 95 percent of the high-major talent in America plays before they move on to play college basketball.

Bryant’s take on the American basketball model isn’t incorrect, though. Youth basketball players in the United States spend way too many weekends playing in meaningless weekend tournaments to showcase their abilities in front of national scouts and college coaches. Wins and losses don’t matter as much when there is another game to play in a few hours. If a player gets disenfranchised with a coach or a lack of playing time, they can simply hop to another team or another league with no consequences. Instead, these players could be working on skill development and trying to focus on weaknesses in individual or group workouts.

But playing in games and playing on an elite travel team has plenty of perks, as well. Besides all of the cool shoe company gear that kids get if they play for one of those shoe company teams, they’re playing in organized leagues that feature the best talent in the country. All three leagues are working to integrate a shot clock, something that many states still don’t have in high school basketball.

In some shoe-company games it’s not out of the realm of possibility that all 10 players on the floor are high-major talents, with even more high-major talent coming off of the bench. The overall talent on these teams often far exceeds what these players see game-in and game-out during the normal high school season. And there are plenty of really good grassroots coaches as well who focus on skill development and actually making players better.

While peers like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry specifically work with elite high school players every summer, Kobe has been absent from this scene for many years. Bryant still holds a youth camp every summer, but it’s for kids ages 8-to-18 and you have to pay (or receive a scholarship from a charitable organization) to participate. I’m not blaming Kobe Bryant for not working with the elite high school basketball players in America. He’s still chasing rings and Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list. But he’s pointing fingers at a model he could help fix with more direct involvement.

If Kobe Bryant wants to help fix American youth basketball, he’d be best served talking to Nike and figuring out the most effective way for the organization as a whole to develop the skills of American basketball players. Bryant carries an incredible amount of clout because of his legendary credentials and jaw-dropping work ethic and he’s seen how things work in both Europe and the United States. It would be really interesting to hear Kobe’s ideas on how to change things and how he would implement those changes.

But until then, we just have another NBA player groaning about the youth while doing little to actually help out.

Assigned Reading: The rise and fall of Curtis Malone

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For those who follow college basketball recruiting the name Curtis Malone is certain to register. As one of the founders of the D.C. Assault grassroots program, Malone’s sent many players to Division I schools, with some products even reaching the NBA, and he’s also had an impact on the hiring of multiple assistant coaches. But there were also issues, most notably a second drug-related conviction that resulted in his being sentenced to 100 months in federal prison in late-May.

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated penned a solid piece on Malone and the two lives he led: as one of the most powerful men in grassroots basketball and as a man making some $80,000 per month from the sale of cocaine and heroin. There won’t be too many stunning moments in the story for those who are familiar with Malone’s story, but it is an interesting read.

And despite the fact that Malone’s transgressions have landed him back in prison, there are those who hold onto the fact that Malone was able to help some who would have fallen through the cracks if not for his assistance.

Those around Malone say his benevolence extended beyond coaches and stars. Former Assault backup Devin Sweetney, who played at St. Francis (Pa.) from 2006 through 2010, says that Malone paid his mother’s $1,500 rent one month when she came up short and he also pushed him to improve his grades. “You’re not going to hear me say a bad thing about him,” says DeMatha Catholic High coach Mike Jones. “I know a lot of kids whom he’s really, really helped. Which makes the story that much sadder.”

The full feature on Malone can be read here.

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

Jon Lopez/Nike Basketball
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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.

RELATED15 players you’ll hear a lot about this July

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.

Former NBA champion Robert Horry: ‘I hate AAU basketball’ (VIDEO)

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Former Alabama star and seven-time NBA champion Robert Horry took some shots at grassroots basketball during a recent speaking engagement for the Thuzio Executive Club in New York.

Horry was on a panel with other former NBA champions Robert Parish and Bill Cartwright when he went on a rant about his hatred of AAU basketball.

ThePostGame has the video of the anti-AAU rant:

The man known as “Big Shot Rob” makes some valid points about the culture of grassroots basketball. Certain players will participate in too many games during the spring and summer and some coaches are only looking out for themselves.

But Horry is also misguided in some of his rant.

For one, there are plenty of high school basketball coaches that are also in it for themselves as they try to climb up the coaching ladder in a very cut-throat profession. This isn’t just an issue that is limited to grassroots basketball coaches. People will always try to exploit others to get ahead and high school coaching is no different. That’s just the way the world works.

Another issue I have with Horry’s rant is his personal experience with his son. If Horry is upset that his son is playing for a team that isn’t properly coached, then why was his son playing on that team in the first place? And if something becomes an issue after joining a program, why not switch teams and find a better situation for your kid’s development?

Youth basketball players aren’t forced to play grassroots basketball and nobody is forced to play for a specific program. There are plenty of options available for players to find what they’re looking for in grassroots basketball. There are programs that can get a player exposure, aid in development or allow for more playing time. It’s all about taking the time to find the correct fit.

(H/T: ThePostGame)

Seven takeaways from the Pangos All-American Camp

(Scott Phillips/NBCSports.com)
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LONG BEACH, Ca – The Pangos All-American Camp is one of the premier camps in the camp-loaded slate of June. The 12th annual camp, held at Cabrillo High School in Long Beach, offered another look at some top national prospects as well as some good West Coast players.

1. Stephen Zimmerman is a well-rounded big man: There have been questions surrounding Zimmerman all spring about his speed decreasing as he added weight to his 7-foot frame, but the lefty big man from Las Vegas is still the No. 4 player in the 2015 class according to Rivals.com and Zimmerman has a tremendous skillset.

Zimmerman’s added muscle allowed him to make plays more frequently in the post and he’s also confident as a ball-handler in the open floor. He runs really well end-to-end and can knock in jumpers from the short corner or elbow while also dropping in hooks.

Zimmerman entered the Pangos All-American Camp as the highest ranked prospect and played up to that lofty status with a good weekend.

RELATED: Pangos All-American Saturday

2. Isaiah Briscoe is an effective point guard: Isaiah Briscoe has never seen a shot he didn’t like, but the 2015 guard from Roselle, New Jersey isn’t credited as often as he should be for his passing. Rivals.com national analyst Eric Bossi threw out a Kyle Lowry comparison and I can see why. Briscoe is a big-bodied guard with a quick crossover that likes to get in the lane and make plays.

Although at 6-foot-3 he’s played more of a scoring guard role in the past when I’ve seen him, at Pangos he made numerous plays as a passer and got in the lane at will using a variety of good moves around the hoop. Briscoe is the No. 19 overall prospect in Rivals.com‘s rankings and he looks like a probable All-American in this class.

3. The Pac-12 has some strong incoming prospects: The Pangos All-American Camp had great national prospects like Briscoe and some standouts from Texas and Georgia, but the strength of the camp came in the abundance of top-flight west coast players in attendance and many of them are already committed to Pac-12 programs.

Arizona commit Tyler Dorsey is having a good spring as a scoring guard and the 6-foot-4 class of 2015 standout had plenty of good moments at Pangos this weekend, including two spirited battles with Briscoe. Dorsey was good enough to earn Camp Most Outstanding Player honors along with Briscoe and Zimmerman.

Washington commit Marquese Chriss had a really positive weekend in the open-floor setting. With all of the games being uptempo, Chriss’ run-and-jump game showed off favorably as he ran the wing for alley-oops and played above the rim with ease. He still has to develop a mid-range game and improve his defense, but Chriss has a lot of great athletic attributes heading into the Pac-12.

Chimezie Metu recently pledged to USC as a 6-foot-9 skilled class of 2015 forward and Metu also benefitted from the up-and-down games of the camp. Metu’s handle and passing ability was on display and he’s tough to stop going to the rim if he has a full head of steam. Metu’s high-flying style should fit in well in Andy Enfield’s offense at USC.

UCLA commit Lonzo Ball shows a tremendous IQ and plays with a lot of savvy for a 2016 guard. The 6-foot-5 tall point guard was great at times at Pangos and the five-star was one of the better prospects in attendance.

RELATED: Pangos All-American Camp Friday

4. San Diego State and Gonzaga closed some decent guards: Jeremy Hemsley also came off-the-board in the last few weeks as the recent San Diego State commit showed well at Pangos. Hemsley does a lot of things well as a 6-foot-4 guard. A strong athlete who can defend and make plays, Hemsley also hit some shots and looks like a strong 2015 grab for the Aztecs.

Gonzaga landed another tough and high-IQ guard in Utah native Jesse Wade. A class of 2015 prospect, Wade had some good moments playing alongside Kevin Dorsey and knocked down shots, made plays as a passer and also defended pretty well on the perimeter. At 5-foot-11, Wade is small but he plays hard and is skilled.

These two West Coast powers might not play in the Pac-12 but they are perennially in the top 25 thanks to solid prospects like these. Hemsley and Wade are two guards that start a solid foundation with a class.

5. There are still some under-recruited guards to track this summer: The Pangos All-American Camp is often a launching pad for some players nationally and this year was no exception. Although I won’t overvalue a camp setting before viewing these players more in a real halfcourt tactical basketball setting, the Pangos camp still gives a glimpse at skills and tools that players have at their disposal.

Three 2015 guards played really well at Pangos and will be watched closely in July by college programs.

Point guard Paris Austin was one of the biggest stories of the weekend as the 5-foot-11 guard from Oakland continued a strong uptick to the end of his spring. Austin knocked down shots, set up teammates and also defended on the perimeter.

Austin told NBCSports.com that he has scholarship offers from Florida State, Tulsa, Utah State, San Jose State, Boise State, Loyola Marymount and Pacific, and Creighton, Wake Forest, Texas and Cal have recently been involved and showing interest.

Kevin Dorsey is another 5-foot-11 guard that will be tracked closely in July by college coaches. The native of Fairfax, Virginia scored off of screens, changed paces well and knocked in some jumpers from the perimeter.

Dorsey told NBCSports.com that Creighton, Florida Gulf Coast, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ole Miss, VCU and Virginia Tech have offered but he’s been solid with Team Takeover in the Nike EYBL and is poised for a potential breakout July.

Sammy Barnes-Thompkins had a tough and productive Pangos Camp. His coaches in camp liked Barnes-Thompkins’ play and he had a toughness about him while playing a bit of both guard spots. The 6-foot-2 native of Phoenix only has a scholarship offer from San Jose State while Arizona State, Gonzaga, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wichita State show interest.

6. Some national-level wings to monitor in July: This was my first time viewing Baton Rouge, Louisiana native Brandon Sampson, but he was very impressive knocking down tough perimeter shots while getting to the rim a little bit as well. The 6-foot-5 Sampson is currently regarded as the No. 73 prospect in Rivals.com‘s national rankings.

Also showing well on the wing was Alpharetta, Georgia native Malik Beasley. The 6-foot-4 Beasley has a quick first step and shows quickness getting to the basket and scoring. He gets a little shot happy, but he’s a talented scorer that is itching to play in front of college coaches in July.

After showing up on Saturday, Las Vegas native Ray Smith continued his solid spring by earning co-MVP honors in the camp’s Top 30 Cream of the Crop Game and at 6-foot-7, he’s a problem on the wing because of his length, athleticism and ability to knock in shots. Smith is becoming more well-rounded on the wing and will be one to watch in July.

RELATED: Ray Smith throws down a nasty dunk in Pangos highlight reel (VIDEO)

7. Big man Steve Enoch breaks out: Memphis is one of the only schools on Norwalk, Connecticut native Steve Enoch, but that should change after a good performance a Pangos this weekend.

Enoch played well throughout the camp and could stake a claim as the camp’s second best big man behind Zimmerman. Enoch will have to show more against national competition, but at 6-foot-9, many big-time programs will be interested in him this July.

Five-star 2016 recruit Harry Giles: ‘I’m playing this weekend’ in Nike EYBL

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The Nike EYBL is gearing up for its third session of the spring this weekend in Hampton, Virginia. Wesleyan Christian (North Carolina) rising junior Harry Giles, a five-star recruit, had an important announcement Friday morning in regards to this weekend’s grassroots tournament.

Giles will be suiting up with Team CP3 (North Carolina), making his debut after being sidelined the past 11 months with a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus. The injury occurred in June while the 6-foot-10 forward was playing with USA Basketball. He is the No. 2 overall player in the Class of 2016, according to Rivals, trailing versatile wing Josh Jackson of Consortium College Prep (Michigan).

Jackson and Giles were two of the 25 recruits to follow this summer with Giles’ recovery noted as something to track throughout the grassroots season.

Team CP3 is 1-6 through the first two sessions of the Nike EYBL. This weekend in Hampton, the team is slated to face California Supreme, Texas Titans, Team Takeover (D.C.) and Wings Elite (Arkansas).