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The Philadelphia Daily News
By Bob Cooney; Daily News Staff Writer

These three letters seem to have NBA coaches cringing. Is the way of AAU youth basketball part of the reason why professional talent seems a bit thin right now? Could the AAU game be doing more harm than good in the development of players?

More and more, when coaches and NBA executives talk about the lack of fundamentals in players entering the college and pro ranks, the first three letters they usually utter are AAU.

This is not a dig against AAU. It really is the true major highway to travel in order to get noticed during high school and thus land a college scholarship. There are many great AAU coaches out there, some wildly successful not just in terms of wins and losses but also in sending their players to terrific college programs. The tournaments throughout the country provide college coaches with a chance to make one stop and see multiple players who may be able to help their programs. That is a huge plus, as it isn't as rigorous as traveling all over the country to different high school gyms to evaluate talent (though college coaches do that, also).

So as far as recruiting and showcasing talent, there is no question that AAU is the leader in helping coaches do their jobs.

The one drawback may be this: Are the kids learning how to play the game properly? Are they understanding the meaning of winning and losing? Is it simply a way to audition individual talent with no concept of team play?

But you can't say it's all good or it's all bad. There are no definitives here. But it's worth talking about.

Former Sixers coach Doug Collins often broached the subject of AAU basketball during his three seasons at the helm, saying he had to "break his players of their AAU mindset."

"The problem is that kids are just going out and playing games, playing games and playing games," Collins said. "A lot of times it's tough for them to really grab the concept of how to win a game. When should they foul towards the end of the game? What is a good shot at the end of the game and what is a bad shot? Those are the things that worry you.

"Plus, with so many games being played, the players learn to pace themselves. They won't go hard in some games because they are saving it up for a 'bigger' game later that day. That's not good. When you get to the college and pro level there is no time to play easy. You have to play hard every minute of every game."

This current group of Sixers is struggling beyond imagination at the defensive end of the court. They are giving up a league-worst 110.9 a game and have allowed more than 100 in their past 12 games, not coincidentally losing them all.

It has caused obvious concern for coach Brett Brown, and he directly linked his team's defensive woes to AAU basketball.

"I think it's a byproduct of [AAU]," Brown said of many players playing poor defense in the NBA. "I see it with my 9-year-old son [Sam]. You play three games in a weekend, you lose and you just go play another game. And then you lose and you just go play another game. I see some of my guys [who are like that]. I told Tony Wroten, 'You've been AAU'd, and that's not a good thing.' You look at the players that are young that just come in and don't have that [fight]. With all the great college coaches out there, the background of just fundamental defense [isn't there when the players get to college]. So you discount losing and dismiss losing too easy because you've played, at 16 years old, 70 games and you play games and just move on. Or you really haven't had the teaching behind playing defense [before college].

"At the end of the day I feel like the team is an extension of the coach's personality, and to date, this team is no reflection of how I want to tick and feel how I do tick. We have to keep on persevering and demanding and asking. I think the youth coming through does reflect that [poor defense]."

Collins thinks the grind of the summer AAU season also has made European players more prominent in the United States.

"Kids who play AAU are so exhausted come July from playing so many games," he said. "European players work on their skills during the day. It is a huge point of emphasis. They practice for hours a day on their individual skills and then they are ready to play a team game. I'm not sure that AAU ball allows for players to work so much on their skills. It's a showcase. It's more about showing themselves than having anything to do with team basketball.

"Sometimes I feel sorry for high school coaches who get these kids back for their season and then have to reteach them how to play a team game."

There are pros and cons, obviously, but there is no doubt that AAU speak has been creeping into a lot of talk around the NBA lately. DribblesUPCOMING GAMES

Washington Wizards at Sixers

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Wells Fargo Center

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet, NBA TV / ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: The matchup on the floor doesn't mean anything; this is Allen Iverson's night, when the organization will retire his No. 3 jersey. With so little to cheer about during this season, get there or tune in. It most likely will be pretty special.

Sixers at Orlando Magic

When: Sunday, 6 p.m.

Where: Wells Fargo Center

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet / ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: The Magic, another of the many lowly teams in the NBA, took it to the Sixers on Wednesday behind Saint Joseph's and Chester product Jameer Nelson, who posted his fifth double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 assists, and former Sixer Nikola Vucevic, who collected 21 points and 13 rebounds, his 26th double-double of the season.

Sixers at Oklahoma City Thunder

When: Tuesday, 8 p.m.

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet / ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: When the Sixers arrive, the Thunder will be finishing up a six-game homestand. They lost the first two games, so they will no doubt still be stinging a bit when the Sixers visit. Russell Westbrook, back after missing 27 games with a right knee injury, should be more in the flow by the time this game rolls around, which isn't good for the Sixers, obviously. BY THE NUMBERS

15.5 and 15.8: That is the average points and rebounds posted by former Sixer and current Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic in five games against the Sixers.

12: That's how many consecutive games in which the Sixers have given up at least 100 points, the longest such streak in a season since 14 straight times in 1989.

4: That's how many consecutive games the Sixers have been outrebounded by in double digits.

On Twitter: @BobCooney76

Blog: ph.ly/Sixerville

 

Photograph by: STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

 

February 28, 2014

 

 
 

 

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