Kevin Garnett Says That AAU Basketball Is Killing The NBA, But It’s Killing College Basketball As Well
AAU basketball has endured its share of locker room wedgies in recent seasons -- perhaps no other youth sports organization is more criticized by college and professional coaches and players. Steve Kerr hates it, Charles Barkley attacks it on a regular basis, and now Kevin Garnett is taking his shots.
Speaking with Kevin McHale in an interview on NBA.TV, Garnett talked of the "AAU mentality" with young NBA players. That would be a sense of entitlement, lack of fundamentals, and style points over actual points. Garnett:
“Our league now is at a point where you have to teach more than anything. AAU has killed our league. Seriously, I hate to even say this, but it’s real. From the perspective that these kids are not being taught anything. They have intentions and they want things, but the way they see it is not how our league works. You earn everything in this league. You’re not entitled to anything.”
In a sense the NBA isn't even real basketball -- the athletes are so good, and play so far above the rim and allowed so much leeway by officials (traveling is practically extinct, for instance) that many regular fundamentals are ineffective. You can block out, but have your opponent just jump over you and make a great athletic play to get a rebound. You can lock down a guy defensively, only to have him pull up and make a 25-foot 3-pointer.
But the game can still be infuriating to watch. Multiple possessions where shots just clank off the rim. No one running an offense, even with a 24-second clock. Bushels of turnovers. And the hero ball attitudes. That's what Garnett is talking about.
AAU fosters this. Every kid 12-17 dreams of being the next Kyrie Irving, and you can see it in their play at this level. At this age kids need practice, not four games in one day, as many AAU tournaments require. Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson, who loves AAU and has his own club team, says that it's not meant to take the place hof high school basketball, but to "supplement it."
But as someone who has coached high school and youth basketball, and watched as my players went back and forth between my school teams and their AAU squads, I can tell you that AAU can be poison to any coach trying to instill fundamentals. One summer of run-and-gun, no-D AAU tourneys can undo and entire fall and winter of fundamental high school basketball.
Cutting off the baseline and taking the charge and blocking out have to be instinctive -- inserted in the DNA. It can't be like playing speed chess in the park on the weekends and tournament chess on weekdays -- you can't go back and forth and be proficient at both.
There are too many, as Barkley puts it "AAU babies" in the NBA today. Players come in thinking that they're already superstars, not realizing that players like Garnett and Kobe Bryant, who came to the league right from high school, spent years learning fundamentals and working their asses off to be great.
And we've been seeing this sense of entitlement at the college level as well, where games in Div. I are now resembling a junior version of the NBA -- NFR (no fundamentals required).
It's tough, however, to get yourself noticed as a teenager without these AAU tournaments. An alternative is needed -- we need to develop a summer league in which teams actually have more practices than games, where fundamentals are prized, and players are more complete when they get to high school and college. Get rid of coaches who are there for wins, and hire those who stress footwork, passing and good attitudes.
The rest will sort itself out.
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