4 Tips to Increase your Basketball Exposure by Choosing the Right AAU Team
Let’s face it, local high school basketball is pure mediocrity, even if you are on Varsity. The competition is light-years away from being remotely close to the collegiate level, unless you play for a premier high school basketball program where your opponents can rarely keep up.
Players at the high school level are NOT putting the necessary time in to skill development or competing at a level that is synonymous to college basketball.
I have seen it! I coach a lot of AAU basketball and a lot of players think going in to the gym shooting a few shots, making a couple of moves, and then playing one-on-one for the rest of the day is skill development.
First, you need an experienced coach or mentor to get you in the gym and work you out hard. If you don’t feel like throwing up, if you are not dripping sweat, and you are not dying for a water break, then you are not working harder than the next player who wants to be drafted to the NBA.
Because of the huge gap between college-bound athletes and normal varsity basketball players, college coaches are not attending high school games like they used to.
Everything has been funneled through the AAU Travel Ball Circuit and without choosing or being selected to play with the right AAU team, the chances of you reaching your goals becomes that much harder.
#1 Travel Basketball History
Travel ball, also known as AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Basketball, has been around for many years and every modern day great player you can think of has been a part of it; that includes: Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, Demar Derozen and Carmelo Anthony to name a few.
Back in the day, the league was very selective, and in order to represent your region, you had to be recognized as one of the elite prospects in your area. These “Super Teams” would band together and compete in tournaments all across the country throughout the entire summer.
College coaches had the ability to see all of the best high school prospects at these tournaments, in one location, not only minimizing costs for the University, but also allowing coaches to compare players as they went head-to-head.
As the games grew more competitive and the biggest shoe companies began to dive head first into college basketball, these youth AAU teams began to acquire sponsorships as well.
Nike, Adidas and Reebok were some of the original participants who began to fund youth basketball teams offering free gear, travel fair and hotel stays in order to attract the best talent. With the new involvement of these shoe companies, Travel Ball became a lucrative market.
Today, there are thousands of youth basketball teams across the country that compete almost every weekend outside of the high school basketball season.
In order to limit the amount of contact between high school prospects and college coaches, the NCAA has implemented a wide range of rules and regulations that every coach must abide by during the recruitment period, or they will risk sanctions.
There are only a few dates left on the calendar that the NCAA has allotted for recruitment, making the choice of which AAU travel team you play for is a vital one.
I will say this, making that choice is key! If you are working on your game and your game speaks for itself, then as a young talent you will be able to make that choice because the top AAU teams will seek you out!
#2 Finding Your Niche
First and foremost you need to find your specialty!
If you are a Shooting Guard or a Small Forward, are you a 3-Point Specialist or a Slasher who has the ability to finish at will and/or elevate over the defense?
If you are a Power Forward or Center, are you a pick and pop finesse guy with height or a big body bruiser that likes to be next to the rim?
These are the kind of things that you need to evaluate before even looking at an AAU team to play for.
Self-evaluation is important as well, especially as you get older. No one should making decisions for you at that point.
Having support is great and has many benefits, but knowing yourself and your skill sets in-conjunction to how you and an travel team can compliment each other is important!
The reason finding your niche is so important is because your skill set must be able to fit the culture of the team beforehand, otherwise your talents will not be on display as well as they could be compared to if you were playing for the right team.
Remember, you have very few opportunities to showcase your skills, so do not take this decision lightly, it is crucial to your success!
When you find your niche you want to use that to the best of your abilities because that strength is going to make you stand out amongst your peers.
If you are a lights out shooter, become the designated shooter for your team and show the country you have the best stroke in the building. Klay Thompson is a prime example of this when he first played in the NBA.
If you are an athlete, be on a run and gun team so you can get an ample amount of opportunity to rise above the rim and bring the crowd to their feet. If you are a big man who loves to post up, get with a great point guard, find your Steve Nash or Penny Hardaway that can make you look like the next Amare Stoudemire or Shaquille O’Neal.
#3 Importance of Sponsorships
Once you have found your niche and you know what talent you bring to the table it is time to evaluate the program.
Most young athletes are impressed by the sponsorship, gear and uniforms some AAU teams are able to have.
Now these material things are an amazing benefit and one everyone who loves basketball will enjoy, but sponsorships are more beneficial for a few more important reasons.
The AAU teams with the best sponsorships typically play in the best AAU tournaments!
Athletic apparel companies want to see the teams they sponsor on the main stage, at the best tournaments in front of all the college coaches every weekend possible. For you as a youth basketball player, being on the main stage is incredibly important.
You can play in the same tournament with a weaker team and not receive any looks from a college coach, but be on the best Nike-sponsored team from your area and every college coach will be sure to see you.
Some of the biggest tournaments to participate in today are the Adidas 64, Peach Jam, Boo Williams Invitational and the entire EYBL as a whole. Without playing for an elite sponsored team it is nearly impossible to play in any of these showcases.
#4 The Coach
What did Iverson say at the podium again? “Practice? We talking about practice? Not a game, not a game… We talking about practice.” Yes, contrary to popular belief amongst the travel ball community you want to be a part of a program with a coach who values PRACTICE.
However, let’s face it, the travel ball experience is based around showcasing your individual talent in a team setting, which can be tricky sometimes, especially when you’re playing with athletes whom you have never played with before.
What you want to look for is a coach who values individual skill development in order to prepare you for the games and the next level.
With such a short amount of time it is common to not practice as a team very much before playing in games, therefore most elite teams do not run many set offenses and defenses.
You still want a coach that will help develop your “niche” , to a level that will impress the college coaches and make sure you are noticed. This can be through one-on-one coaching, skill development workouts as a team or referring you to a basketball skills specialist in the area that will train you.
Whatever the option, your travel basketball coach should help elevate your game in order for you to succeed and reach your goals.
You now have a basic understanding and knowledge of the way Travel AAU Basketball works at the high school level, and you have a keen sense of what to look for when trying to find your match.
However, the most important takeaway from this article is making sure you are the best basketball player you can be. I hate to break it to you, but elite teams only take elite players.
If you want to showcase your skills on the biggest stage, wear the best gear, have coaches that develop your skills, play alongside the best players and let every college coach in America see you play…then you better get in the gym.
How bad do you want to play at the collegiate level? Bad or Kinda Bad? If you play for a TOP AAU program, how did you choose that team?