JENKINS: The AAU Effect is damaging college basketball

Rob Jenkins

Rob Jenkins

As a fan, I thoroughly enjoyed this year's NCAA tournament and indeed the entire college basketball season. There were plenty of exciting games, and I watched nearly all of them. Just ask my wife.

But there were a lot of really bad games, too. (Which I also watched.) And speaking objectively, as a former player and coach, I have to admit that the quality of play has declined considerably in recent years.

I'm not the only one who thinks so. A number of TV talking heads have wondered aloud just why the game has gotten so bad, especially on the offensive end.

I have a few ideas about that.

For one thing, I believe coaches these days tend to over-coach, to micromanage every pass, every shot. My experience suggests that players can't function effectively or play with any confidence under those circumstances -- and shooting is all about confidence.

I also think the current reliance on high ball screens -- the old pick-and-roll --is a major factor. College defensive rules, unlike NBA rules, make the pick-and-roll fairly easy to guard, unless the players executing it are extremely skilled -- and there just aren't that many great point guards or big men in the college game anymore.

Plus, during a pick-and-roll, the other three players tend to just stand around. Offenses like Indiana's, that emphasize transition and player movement (known as "motion"), tend to be more efficient in terms of putting the ball in the hole (which may be why Indiana led major colleges in scoring).

But the biggest culprit, I believe -- the main reason college basketball is so poorly played these days -- is what I refer to as the AAU Effect.

Most basketball fans know that the Amateur Athletic Union sponsors off-season basketball tournaments for various age groups around the country. And there's nothing wrong with that.

The problem arises when promising high school players devote the entire summer -- and maybe part of the spring and fall -- to their AAU team instead of practicing with their high school squad or just working out on their own.

Summer is a time for developing skills, like shooting and dribbling. Great shooters spend literally hours in the gym during the off-season, hoisting thousands of shots. But guys involved in AAU rarely have time for that. They're too busy playing essentially meaningless games.

The results are apparent whenever we watch "Big Monday" on ESPN. This past season featured some of worst shooting, percentage-wise, in almost two decades.

In addition, AAU coaches usually aren't professional educators, like high school coaches, and therefore may not be as adept at teaching the fundamentals of the game -- something that's absolutely vital in the development of young players.

So next time you're watching a college basketball game, and supposedly "big-time" players are clanking the ball off the rim over and over again, remember that we mainly have the AAU culture to thank.

Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and a former college basketball coach. His 1992-93 Gulf Coast Community College squad averaged 105.6 ppg, and his 1998-99 Alabama Southern team was ranked 2nd in the nation. Email Rob at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.