The Truth About AAU Basketball

There's a certain term for youth basketball played between April and August. The general public calls it all "AAU basketball."

But what if that was inaccurate?

Any more, AAU basketball only makes up a small percentage of summer basketball events that go on, yet the media and public label all of it "AAU basketball" anyway.

How did this come to be? Let's take a history lesson.

The 1970s is when the AAU started to really establish itself in youth basketball circles. AAU became almost exclusive to summer basketball in the '70s and '80s because it was the only organization in the country that held multi-level age group championships. People referred to summer hoops as "AAU basketball" at this point and weren't totally wrong due to AAU's reach.

But by the time the 1990s rolled around, many summer basketball players started caring less about winning AAU championships and more on getting recruited--especially with the NCAA recruiting calendar putting so much stock in the July evaluation period.

Around this time, shoe companies started making an influence in grassroots basketball. Nike and adidas in particular started sponsoring traveling teams, setting up summer showcase events and organizing invitation-only elite camps.

All of the sudden, money was a big factor in summer basketball, and the consequences of greed and opportunism among summer coaches and players started to surface.

That gave summer basketball a negative reputation that still exists today. But "summer basketball" isn't the term most frequently thrown around when the media and public point out these problems. "AAU basketball" is.

In 2000, AAU President and CEO Bobby Dodd launched an aggressive campaign to try and correct the misconception of AAU basketball being attached to everything going on in the summer months. It was not considered a success, however, as the negative stereotype of AAU basketball still remains.

Here are some truths about AAU basketball:

  • While AAU has unparalleled name recognition, its involvement in high-level summer basketball isn't as widespread as it's generally believed to be.
  • Some of the more well-known summer basketball events, like the adidas Super 64 or the Nike Skills Academy, have nothing to do with the AAU.
  • Many summer events--usually put on by Nike, adidas or other independent grassroots event organizers--are actually competitors of AAU on the circuit. AAU-sanctioned events typically have "AAU" in the official name.
  • Of all the summer basketball events certified by the NCAA--generally the events that are considered high-profile, prime recruiting grounds--only about 1 percent are actually put on by the AAU.

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