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Has AAU Destroyed Youth Basketball Culture?

Over the past few years different NBA legends and coaches have blasted AAU culture and blamed it for the demise of certain key aspects of basketball in this country.

Over the past few years different NBA legends and coaches have blasted AAU culture and blamed it for the demise of certain key aspects of basketball in this country.   

During a February 2017 NBA TV interview with Kevin Garnett, the future hall-of-famer reflected on his passion for the game, which he feels has been killed by AAU basketball.

Jimmy Knutson on Twitter

Kevin Garnett on how AAU has ruined the NBA because it’s created entitled kids https://t.co/M9kDuJCHsn

Our league now is at a point where you have to teach more than anything, said KG, who played on a standout Michigan AAU team with the late Robert Tractor Traylor and Albert White. AAU has killed our league. Seriously. I hate to even say this, but its 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. Youre not entitled to anything. And its more entitlement than anything.

The word entitlement comes up often when discussing the young kids of this generation, whether we are talking pee wee soccer, Pop Warner football or travel baseball. Parents seeking fame, fortune and affirmation through their kids accomplishments have also contributed to this twisted culture of big business amateurism


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The passion for the game, which was once driven by a streetball culture, has been replaced by emotionless machines, attending prep schools and playing multiple games a day, unconcerned with the outcome, just furthering personal goals. The end game has taken priority and the process is being ignored. 

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In the ’90s, the explosion of AAU basketball and the incorporation of major sneaker companies changed the face of youth hoops forever, turning an innocent game and the most crucial stages of development for a young athlete into a billion dollar business, where skill development, fundamentals, the concept of teamwork and character-building has given way to the exploitation of a few at the cost of most. 

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Talk to basketball coaches and trainers in New York and they’ll tell you that AAU has slowly killed basketball in the city. Just look at how the talent level has diminished in what was once the Mecca of hoops. You can find a ton of  knowledgeable basketball minds that despise AAU but accept that it is a necessary evil in todays sports landscape. 


Under the table deals with coaches and agents, the exploitation of kids of color and the ruthlessness of using whatever tactic is necessary to recruit players to a team, school or tournament is rampant in todays current AAU culture. This madness ties directly into NCAA recruiting wars and has led to widespread corruption, which often begins at the AAU level, with middle men who could be anything from a high school coach looking for better opportunities, a dad or mom looking for some financial leverage or an assistant coach at the college level looking for an edge in recruiting.  

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The complaints are endless. Even the originators and pioneers of AAU ball and its youth takeover like Sonny Vaccaro acknowledge it. 

Bob Ley on Twitter

It’s a soulless, mindless operation…none of these people will stand up & call it what it is” Sonny Vaccaro doesn’t mince words about NCAA https://t.co/aCnBVtKGzg

Garnetts not the first former AAU star to see the monster they have contributed to creating. Kobe Bryant played on one of the greatest AAU squads in history, but hes steady knocking the hustle. 

Via ESPN,


 Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. Its stupid. It doesnt 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 dont know how to post. They dont know the fundamentals of the game. Its stupid.

When you have limitations and you understand your limitations and you stay within yourself, you can be great, Kobe Bryant said. You know what you can do and what you cant do. In America, its a big problem for us because were not teaching players how to play all-around basketball. Thats why you have Pau and Marc [Gasol], and thats the reason why 90 percent of the Spurs roster is European players, because they have more skill.

Teach players the game at an early age and stop treating them like cash cows for everyone to profit off of. Thats how you do that. You have to teach them the game. Give them instruction.

Thats a deep well because then you start cutting into peoples pockets, Bryant said about a solution People get really upset when you start cutting into their pockets because all they do is try to profit off these poor kids. Theres no quick answer.

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Those who have benefitted from the AAU takeover in national hoops see Garnett and Kobe’s comments as laughable, considering they both benefited from playing AAU. 

Mike Duncan, CEO of the Ohio Basketball Club and a former coach of Philadelphia 76ers guard T.J. McConnell, told Bleacher report back in 2017, that pro players who criticize AAU basketball are forgetting their roots. AAU hoops, he reasons,  is what got these guys the notoriety boost to become stars. 

“You cant make it to the top and forget what part of life got you there,” Duncan said. “I know for a fact AAU had a part to do with [Garnetts] life. They didnt know you in Chicago until you played AAU. Come on! Youd still be stuck in lil’ South Carolina.”

The world of basketball on a whole is becoming more and more disenchanted with AAU ball. While you are seeing a few more D-1 and NBA players such as Washington’s Otto Porter who didn’t participate on AAU circuits, the majority of kids with an NBA pipe dream will fall in line and deal with the pros and cons of high visibility AAU hoops.  

The saga continues.