Sparty Winner: Sports Writing

Sparty Winner for Sports Writing: John Grasty

Getting a college scholarship is a dream for many athletes. However, the NCAA reports
only 3 percent of the hundreds of thousands of high school basketball players get a scholarship to play college ball. To put themselves into this miniscule minority, a growing number have resorted to Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball.

“AAU is the reason why I got my scholarship,” said Michigan State University (MSU)
sophomore guard Klarissa Bell.

Bell started playing AAU ball in-between her eighth and ninth grade years. She said she
quickly caught on to the way college coaches scout AAU tournaments.

“We indentify probably 99 percent (of recruits) at AAU games,” said NcKell Copeland,
Michigan State womens’ basketball director of recruiting and assistant coach.

Besides helping with recruiting, Bell also noticed the focus on individuality and the lack of
importance to win.

“College coaches aren’t going to remember if you won or lost,” she said. “They’re here to
watch you, so if you played good, that’s all that matters. If I had a good game and we lost, I was happy.”

Even the faculty doing the recruiting noticed this trend. David De La Pena, MSU womens’
basketball coordinator of basketball operations, said there is a greater focus on the individual over the team.

“One of my really good friends that’s a coach calls AAU ‘All About You,’” said De La Pena.

MSU Mens’ Assistant Basketball Coach Dwayne Stephens said there are reasons that these
players take this “All About You” mentality.

“Now there’s a bigger emphasis placed on (being individually good in AAU) by kids,” said
Stephens. “They feel like they get their rankings from it. But there’s not an emphasis put on
winning.”

Besides the lack of the will to win, there is also a major gap between practicing time of AAU
versus college ball.

“You’re not practicing six days a week for AAU like you’re going to for (Michigan State),”
said MSU womens’ basketball associate head coach Shane Clipfell.

“You get these (high school) All-Americans and they come in and they can’t shoot, can’t

Despite this, De La Pena still acknowledges the fact that AAU is far bigger than high school
for recruiting.

Even a player that benefitted from this system of heavy AAU recruiting admits AAU is far
from perfect.

Byrd said he would play up to 85 games in one AAU season all across the country, on top
of his regular high school season, all for free because of team sponsorship.

“I loved golf more than I loved basketball, but then I got scholarship offers,” said Byrd. “Golf was my life up until my freshman year of high school. But I think if you want to be
really, really good (at a sport) you need to focus on one sport.”

“My parents would drop me off at the course at eight in the morning and pick me up at eight at night,” said Byrd. “My work ethic comes from golf.”

One of the other perks of AAU ball, said Bell, is the level of competition faced, often far
exceeding what would normally be seen at a high school game.

Coaches, too, love the prowess of athletes at AAU tournaments as well as the ease of seeing
so many in such a small area.

“AAU allows us to see a bulk of kids in a certain amount of time,” said Copeland. “You
have so many prospects in one area at one time. It’s easy to identify (recruits at an AAU
tournament).”

Fife said this ease is often attributed to the differences in when the games are played, with
the AAU often playing in the off-season whilst high school plays during the college season itself.
NCAA rules, as well, limit coaches to just July 6th through the fifthteenth and the twenty-second through the thirty-first for seeing recruits play.

Because of this, the AAU caters to college coach’s schedules and places tournaments, such
as the recent 11th Grade Super Showcase which took place from July twenty-third through the
twenty-seventh, during these available periods.

The practice of pressuring players to participate in as many AAU tournaments as possible is
flawed said Fife.

“(Our vision is) to offer amateur athletes and volunteers opportunities to develop to their
highest level through a national and local network of sporting events.”

The mission of the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), however, is aimed at a different type of scholarship. MHSAA executive director Jack Roberts said that high school sports are aimed at being a tool for academic encouragement.

“We try to make the school more effective in motivating kids [with sports] to do better in school then they otherwise would have,” said Roberts.

Although he is admittedly not its biggest fan, Fife sees no impending change for the flawed
system of AAU.

“(AAU) is not perfect in anybody’s eyes, but it’s here to stay and we have to be able to use
AAU to our advantage,” he said.

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