It was recently announced that the number one overall pick in the latest NBA Draft, 6-10 high school star Dwight
Howard, had signed a contract for big money with Adidas, a fact that surprised absolutely no one within grassroots
basketball. Howard had played his summer ball with the Atlanta Celtics, an Adidas traveling team, and everyone expected
Howard to ink with Adidas when he turned pro. More and more large traveling teams want to procure players into their
programs and then immediately academically re-classify these same kids. That seems to be the flavor of the month with
some AAU programs. Some kids do need academic work, and holding them back a year will better position them for entrance
into college, and ultimately academic success, which should be the focal point of interest for all parties concerned.
Reclassifying kids has become another avenue that some AAU programs are using to keep players in their fold longer,
hoping to insure better summer success at the national events, which might attract a greater percentage of funds from
the shoe companies, and perhaps the player will have another year to work on his game and develop his skills. There are
even some AAU programs who will state very clearly that they are looking for a similar situation to that of NBA star
Tracey McGrady. McGrady re-classified and attended Mt. Zion Christian Academy in Durham NC. He has also been a very
generous contributor to his former school, Mt.Zion, thanking them with monetary assistance for the help he attained
there in preparing him for the success he has achieved at the professional level. There are more than a few AAU teams
and coaches that are hoping for a situation like McGradyís, hoping to strike lightning again.
When fans and followers look at college players and complain about certain attitude issues and behavioral issues that
they see, everyone has to know that the skids are greased very early for this, due to the extreme pressure that some AAU
programs place upon certain prospects to join their AAU program. This is especially true with those AAU programs that
are looking to either become full-fledged traveling teams under a certain shoe company banner, or at least garner
partial monetary support. One of the best and quickest ways to attract funds from a shoe company for an AAU program, is
to be able to "deliver" certain prospects to that shoe companyís summer camp. These AAU coaches will put
themselves in positions where they promise certain things, such as playing time, what position they play, a number of
things designed to "showcase" that prospectís attributes. Their future standing within a shoe companyís
family might be predicated on ensuring a certain player attends the camp during July, when coaches are in attendance.
This puts some AAU coaches in positions where the player dictates things to the team, and keeping one certain player
happy becomes the focus of the coach and program, who need to make sure that player doesnít become unhappy and switch
AAU teams, for possible funding will go the same way the player goes, should he decide to find another AAU team.
For too many AAU teams, it is not about the entire roster of players and teaching the game or fundamentals, which are
greatly lagging in so many of the contemporary high school and college players, but rather about maximizing power,
gaining shoe funding - which helps gather power - and working your way up the hierarchy. Some shoe companies have been
known to fly in the parents of certain high-level prospects to their July camps, where no one is allowed, other than
college coaches, parents and media members. These enticements help keep the parents and the players happy and content
within the shoe company family.
These enticements also constitute a conflict of interest, in the minds of many college coaches, frustrated by a
pattern of seeing shoe companies and AAU programs constantly handing out gifts, apparel, inducements and such, gaining
influence in the process, while they must stand by helplessly and watch the events unfold from afar. This happens long
before college coaches are allowed to even manufacture relationships with the kids or parents, and well after the shoe
companies and AAU programs have built a loyal relationship.
The relationship between coaches and players is the worst it has ever been, according to many college head coaches.
Coaches have decided that they need to fight back to gain some leverage with high school prospects and parents. If
coaches are going to be held accountable for graduation rates, off-court behavior issues and such, they want to be able
to more fully know the players they are enticing to their university and more fully develop a relationship with the
players and parents, prior to the decision of the prospect to attend that university. As current rules are written now,
college coaches have to enter into relationships with some that they would rather not have to at an early stage - the
AAU coaches - and are restricted from developing relationships with the people that they should be getting to know
better - the high school prospect and his parents.
Coaches might be rightfully feeling they are taking too much of the heat for the transgressions of players who they
havenít gotten to know well enough before they decided to recruit them, based on the limited contact that the NCAA
mandates between players, parents and college coaches. Coaches are not allowed to make their first phone call or have
contact with a high school prospect or his family until March of that prospectís junior season. The next phone call is
not allowed to the prospect or his family until June 21, the summer between the prospectís junior and senior seasons.
The first face-to-face meeting between the prospect and coaching staff cannot occur until April of the prospectís
junior season, and that must occur at the high school of the prospect. As we see more and more high school prospects
make a college decision in the spring or summer of their junior year, that is right after colleges have just made their
first contact, placing them well behind the relationships that the AAU programs, coaches and shoe companies have
This is the large area of concern with many college coaches and an area that was addressed in the recent proposal,
unanimously passed by the 195 coaches in attendance at the National Association of Basketball Coaches annual meeting in
Indianapolis IN, which coincidentally just happened to be the venue for the Nike All-America camp. College coaches want
an earlier start on getting to know and develop relationships with the players that they ultimately will be held
accountable for graduating and polishing into a fine prospect on the court, and solid citizen off the court.
In the third and final part of this installment, we will look at the various ways that shoe companies and AAU
programs are further frustrating college programs, as they manipulate the summer scene and maximize profits, which come
from the coffers of the athletics departments at the universities. We will also look at some of the measures that the
NCAA might look at to rein in the shoe company and AAU influence, while bringing high school coaches back into the