Basketball is an industry. Goods are bought and sold, players are reduced to commodities, and there is money to be made on every conceivable level of the operation. Some of those (professional athletes hiring agents) are more palatable than others (college athletes receiving an envelope under the table), but regardless of varying perceptions of the ‘student athlete,’ there seems to be a general distaste for the exploitation of minors.
That’s pretty much the modus operandi of the old world AAU, the world guys like our own Jason Terry are trying to eradicate. JET, among a number of other players including Jason Kidd and ex-Mavs Devin Harris and Brandon Bass, have begun to repave the roads that have become so treacherous since their basketball upbringing. Controlling the perils of the AAU system is a great way to start cleaning out the muck resting in the game’s lining, the shadows behind the game that allow for all sorts of unseemly profiteering.
There will always be a never-ending stream of “professionals” waiting to siphon money whenever and wherever they can, but limiting their access points to athletes (especially at a young age) is important, and not just to JET. As long as we can appreciate these efforts for their intent, commitment to change, and progress (even if it is minor) toward a cleaner basketball system, their value is not lost on us. Obviously there are no absolutes here; some players could just as well use the AAU system for their own personal gains, be they monetary or otherwise. Still, guys like JET ooze a genuine enthusiasm for the nobler aspects of running a program, and that should be celebrated.
From the Associated Press:
Jason Terry has all sorts of fond memories from his AAU basketball days, like finishing fourth in the national tournament as an eighth grader and taking his first plane ride to get to other games. So when his oldest daughter was ready to play organized basketball, he wanted her to have a great experience, too. He just wasn’t sure AAU could provide it.
…Its most high-profile efforts are in boys’ basketball, sanctioning teams, tournaments and camps that give top players a chance to show off their skills outside of their school programs — and, according to critics, also provide a fertile feeding ground for shadowy middle men to steer top young players to a particular agent, college program or athletic equipment company. AAU basketball has changed since Terry’s days in the early 1990s. With NBA salaries skyrocketing from around $1 million then to more than $5 million, the organization is much more of a juicy target for people who want to latch onto kids in hopes of getting a piece of the action.
Terry knew about those problems and more — players jumping squads during a tournament, kids lying about their age, parents who encourage such things — because besides playing for the Dallas Mavericks, he helped train four players who recently came through the AAU system. So of course he was leery about signing up his daughter. Then he had another idea. Why not start his own AAU program? Terry is now among dozens, perhaps hundreds, of current and former NBA players with their own clubs, guys like LeBron James, Lamar Odom, Devin Harris and Mike Bibby.
Their motivation is simple: Giving back to the program that helped turn them into multimillionaires, while trying to improve things for the next generation — which, for guys like Terry and Bibby, includes their own children…”Once it gets to high school, it starts to get tainted — kids are trying to get scholarships and you’ve got agents and stuff involved,” Terry said. “By the time they get to ninth grade, we’ve already alerted them of what to expect.”
…Kidd became hooked by talking to Terry and Robert Hackett, the Mavericks’ strength and conditioning coach and a dad-coach in Terry’s program. Instead of starting a program, Kidd came up with a concept: Gathering every eighth-grade-and-under AAU team run by current and former NBA players for a weekend packed with tournaments for kids, seminars for parents and brainstorming sessions for the NBA guys. With Hackett’s help, Kidd secured a Dallas-area facility in July, a few weeks after the national AAU tournament. During pregame warmups, Kidd, Terry and Hackett sidled up to friends on opposing teams and asked if they had an AAU team or knew who did.
Bibby, Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin and Brandon Bass were among the verbal commitments. Even if only a handful of local teams show up, it’s a start. “As the years go on,” Kidd said, “we’ll get it bigger and bigger.”
…The fifth-graders became the first tournament winners. Although Terry missed it, a picture of the kids and their trophy hangs in his Mavs locker. He was there a few weeks later when the sixth-graders won their first title, rallying from 18 points down against a team they’d lost to by 40. “Jason sprinted around the court like he’d just won an NBA championship, he was just so proud of the girls,” said Christie Foy, whose oldest daughter has been involved from the start. “I get goose bumps thinking about it. To have a coach — whether he’s an NBA player or not — have that much faith in you and support for you and enthusiasm in what you’re doing, it’s gone a long way with them.”