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A Google search for "Is AAU ruining basketball?'' draws over 13,000 hits.

Most of the answers, including weigh-ins from Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett and Steve Kerr, are essentially yes.

Kobe and Kevin and Steve are referring to AAU not as an acronym (Amateur Athletic Union) but an umbrella term for all teenage basketball that isn't high school basketball.

That means it's a term too broad to be meaningful.

"It's like 'frisbee,' or, 'Kleenex,' '' Doug Kraft, who coaches the local Cats team stocked by Lancaster-Lebanon League players, said Sunday.

"When used properly, AAU(-type-basketball) can help kids get better. When used improperly, it can kind of hurt high school basketball.''

There is an Amateur Athletic Union, and it does conduct annual state, regional and national basketball championships.

But Kraft's team won't play in any AAU events this year, if that makes sense.

The Hoop Group Jam Fest, that brought over 300 teams to Lancaster County for a wild cacophony of hoops at Spooky Nook Friday, Saturday and Sunday, wasn't an AAU event.

It was an NCAA-sanctioned event, and was scheduled during the NCAA-mandated live period for recruiting evaluations, which means that were almost as many ring-binder-toting, logo-wearing college coaches at Spooky Nook as there were teams.

Kraft insisted that in earning a college scholarship, "How you perform for your high school team is more important than anything.''

But Ryan Moffatt, the Hempfield star who will play at Colgate University after a year prepping at The Hill School in Pottstown, disagreed.

"As far as college exposure, AAU is the way to go,'' he said. "You go to these tournaments, and you see college coaches just lined up with their clipboards.''

The live period is two weeks in April and three in July, which means another mega event is coming to Spooky Nook - where games can be played simultaneously on 30 courts - in 12 weeks.

That doesn't mean there isn't basketball going on during the dead period.

Moffatt and Ryan Smith, the Lampeter-Strasburg star headed for East Stroudsburg, played in the Donofrio Classic, an eccentric pure-Philly hoops event played at the tiny Fellowship House gym in Conshohocken March 26-April 18.

That tournament has never been AAU or "AAU,'' yet has drawn the best players from a broad region including New Jersey, New York and the eastern half of Pennsylvania for nearly 60 years.

Kobe played in the Donofrio. So did Kyrie Irving and Earl "The Pearl,'' Monroe.

Ten years ago, you'd see Rick Pitino or Jim Boeheim sitting in the stands at Conshohocken. Now coaches aren't allowed.

Kids want to be there anyway.

"It's pretty eye-opening,'' said Smith. "There's a lot of really great players you don't even know about.''

Smith and Moffatt's team, LVBR, got to the championship game, where it lost to the Raw Sports All-Stars, led by Mikeal Jones, a 6-8 sophomore who already has an offer from Villanova.

Raw Sports is coached by Harrisburg High assistant Joe Proctor. It nearly won the Donofrio in 2015 and '16 with an all-District Three group that included Reading's Lonnie Walker, McCaskey's Kobe Gantz and Manheim Central's Taylor Funk.

Cats have also performed well, reaching the championship game of their division in a tournament in Pittsburgh two weekends back.

So are the local kids catching up to big-city basketball?

Not quite, according to Kraft.

"There's a bit of a comfort zone around here,'' he said. "I think it's a natural mindset. The city is always hungrier than the suburbs.''

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April 30, 2018


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