AAU Basketball: Did You Hear What Charles Barkley Said?


AAU Basketball in New Jersey Charles Barkley

Looking For An AAU Basketball Team?

Many families begin to look for a New Jersey AAU basketball team in January.  It reminds me of the day  I was driving up to my team’s high school golf match, I was listening to the Mike Lupica show on ESPN radio.  I really enjoy Lupica’s show as it offers some interesting perspectives on all that is going on in the sports world.  Not to mention, his voice, which sounds a little like Krusty the Clown, is semi-amusing to me.  Nonetheless, it being Monday, the NCAA Championship game between Kentucky and Kansas was what was going on so Lupica had some extra special guests on his show.  One of those guests was Charles Barkley, who, love him or hate him, at the very least will give you an honest and most of the time comical perspective on whatever subject he is talking about.  In short, Charles says what is on his mind, and I like that…a lot. Obviously, with the NCAA Championship that evening the majority of the talk was about the game and the players in it.  At one point Lupica was asking Barkley about all of these top notch players coming to Kentucky and playing so well together.  He was making the point that many of today’s players now know each other so well no matter where they are from in the country because they play with and against each other the majority of the year on the AAU circuit.

Barkley”s  response:

“AAU is the worst thing that ever happened to basketball.” 

This quote is verbatim, not a misprint, and a point that I have alluded to on my site over the years, most recently in my article, “I’m Looking For a Team.”  However, Charles Barkley saying this on a national radio show is a pretty big deal, and it brought smile to my face when he did.  Why? It’s simple, it is very difficult for basketball players to improve when their constant focus is not on getting better, but on developing the business of AAU basketball.

AAU Basketball As A Business First

AAU basketball first and foremost is a business.  It’s primary focus is on making money, not on getting players better.  For this reason, there are roughly a million and five AAU teams in the country (this might be a slightly exagerated estimation, but you get my point).  When I was in high school, and before that, there was about one AAU team per county, if that.  Now, when players do not make an AAU team they either try to find another one or just create their own so they can play.  This kind of subscribes to the, “Everybody gets a trophy mentality,” as everyone needs to belong on a team so they do not get left out.  What ever happened to getting cut from a team (something I experienced on multiple occasions) and going out and working hard on your skills and athleticism in an attempt to make the team the next time tryouts rolled around?  Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first) but isn’t this how players get better? Isn’t this how they learn?  Players ask the coach about their weaknesses, learn why they did not make the team, and then work on those skills in order to become better basketball players.

Start Your Own AAU Basketball Team?

The ability to create your own AAU team has actually watered down the AAU circuit.  There just are not enough good basketball players out there to fill the roster spots on these teams.  Consequently, when these teams go to tournaments blow outs seem to be the norm.  Unless they are playing against another team who is equally as bad, in which case the game is competitive but the level of play is very low.  It just does not make sense.  Why not take the off season and work on your basketball skills, develop athletically, and become a better basketball player?  It’s okay to say that you are NOT on an AAU team, especially when you are out working on your game daily and improving.  And, if you must create your own team, try making skill and athletic development your focus and tournament/game play supplemental.  In the end, you will find your players will be much better for it.

AAU Basketball Recruiting & Reality

Furthermore, from a business perspective, AAU is about being able to say that you have the next big thing on your team.  It is about being able to say that this kid got a scholarship for Kentucky and that kid got a scholarship at Michigan and they both played on my team.  They lead parents to believe that they actually had something to do with the development of this player and why they were so good.  When in actuality, the player was good in the first place before they even started playing on that team.  The top level teams are in constant competition for these high profile players, not because they care about developing the player but so that they can say they have them on their team, even if it is just for one tournament.  Yes, one tournament.  Often times these top notch players play with one team one weekend and then jump ship to another team for another weekend because the new team promised them more.  As that happens, these teams can say that the next big thing played for them and ultimately use them as a selling point to get more of the upper echelon players.  Yes, ultimately the kids are being used for the benefit of the AAU program.  Granted, they aren’t paying to play on the team but there is still something wrong with a kid being used to essentially sell your program.  Not to mention that there is also something wrong with a couple kids not paying for anything while the bill is funded by the other players or one rich parent.  It is totally bazaar and not right for the players, which I thought was supposed to be the primary focus.

AAU basketball has taken the focus away from developing basketball players and turned basketball at the high school and middle school level into a business.  Players at the lower levels are getting cut from one team and going out and creating their own team just so they can have a team to play for and say they play AAU.  This waters down the market and limits the overall development of these players.  The problem at the higher levels is even worse.  Players are essentially being pimped out from tournament to tournament for the good of the program they are in.  And, why not? Doing so aids in the true focus of AAU, building a business around naive teenage basketball players who see the promise of bright lights and a new pair of Nikes.  The focus of basketball should be about the player, it should be about developing that player, and helping them improve not on laying claim to a the skills of a player which you had no responsibilty for creating.  So did it surprise me that Charles Barkley referred to AAU as, “the worst thing that ever happened to basketball?” Not at all, because quite frankly I agree.

This winter and summer you may want to consider an alternative to spending thousands of dollars and countless hours on hotels, bad concession stands, and travel all over for “AAU or Select” basketball.  Rather than spending 15 hours in the gym this weekend at an AAU tournament while shooting only 10 times, consider what 1 hour of training on shot form with expert feedback while getting up 250 shots might do.  Imagine what might happen if you were working on basketball specific strength exercises under the guidance of a tried and proven basketball trainer.  Silly back rim dunk attempts at AAU basketball tournament warmups might actually become converted baskets if you did the leg work NBA players do.  We welcome you to come and join us at Elite Basketball Training here in New Jersey,  If you are outside of New Jersey and are looking for a great basketball trainer, check out

If you want to devote time to working on your basketball speed and agility consider taking our acclaimed course:  

Basketball Speed and Agility Basketball Agility Training Videos



Committed to taking your game to the NEXT level.

Rich Stoner

Elite Basketball Training, LLC

Ps. If you are coaching AAU please take the blue tooth out of your ear while you are coaching the game.  It is not a piece of jewelry and I cannot imagine what is so important that you need to have that blue tooth in your ear for during a game.  Just in case someone decides to call you it is okay if you miss that call, you can return it after the game.

12 responses to “AAU Basketball: Did You Hear What Charles Barkley Said?”

  1. Rich,

    Great piece! I couldn’t agree more. I have been preaching the same thing to kids and parents for 16 years. I hope the cycle rolls back around and some get it…that they need to work at the game. I tell kids that do play to use it as a measuring stick against other competition and from there they can then have an idea of what they need to continue to work when they get back home. Play, measure your abilities and then go back to work to develop your skills. Don’t play in tournaments that you know you are going to win for the sake of a t-shirt or a $10 trophy. Challenge yourself so you can evaluate yourself and then train yourself to prepare for the next level.

    Again, a great article. I totally agree!

  2. David Stutzman says:

    I could not agree with this more. I am a coach and I see it all the time. I am not AAU for this very reason. I have a son who plays the game at a high level. I have always been about the training and taking average kids who dont make teams and improving their skills. I have made players and parents sign an agreement that fundraisers were manditory and the only acceptable way for the team. Last year for example we did 7 K in fundraising and at the end of the season every parent recieved 360$ that was left over. There are no club fees in any way. My hotel and expences were not paid for by the team. All money was used for the team players. 100% I simply love the game. I am NCAA certified, NFHC accredited, with first aid and CPR trained.My payment is the smile on the players face when he is being asked to join another team. I have been doing this for 20+ years in Arizona and am moving to Connecticut and I will be doing it there as well.

  3. Rich says:

    I love your concept of fundraising and the fact that you do not use any of it for yourself and even gave some back to the parents is astounding. That is very selfless of you and typically not the norm. You should be commended. When you get to Connecticut let me know, NJ is not too far away and maybe we can do some stuff together.

  4. Rich says:

    I like the concept of using AAU as a measuring stick. AAU has become a necessary evil and at some point most players will end up playing AAU. With that in mind, it is important that they choose a program that is a good fit for them. One that does not have a “roll the balls out and play” mentality but rather one that focuses on player development. From there, these players need to understand that they can then use their tournament play as a way to improve their game. Learn from their mistakes, adjust and work on them daily in order to imrove for the next tournament.

  5. Rich says:

    Coach, I agree with you on what you have said. There are programs out there that work on developing their players, and I do not think this is who Barkley’s comment was directed to. I know that my post was not meant to imply that players are born with advantages. Player development is my business because as a former player I had to work my butt off to enjoy the success that I had on the court. Consequently, player development give me the satisfaction of seeing players work for what they accomplish and have their confidence improve right along with their skills and athleticism.

  6. Craig says:

    Why are you so ridiculously bitter towards AAU Basketball. You have written an article so one sided it losses all validity. You have a problem with a parent putting a team together to enable his son to play basketball? So you say if a kid gets cut they should practice until he makes an elite team…if not quit the game? What is wrong with a low B team playing other low B teams for the sake of playing a GAME? It’s only a game. They have tournaments set up so you can play against comparable teams. What’s wrong with that? Does AAU get manipulated at times? Of course it does, every single entity in the history of society will have that unfortunate certainty, but that does not make the idea of or the overall entity horrible. Like anything else, if you are in it for the right reasons it can be a positive experience. Also, what are elite kids doing when basketball season is over? Shooting hoops in their driveway waiting for the school season to start. You get better playing against elite players. By watching elite players play so you can see what it takes to be the best. If you cannot contradict those last two comments than how can you say AAU is not advantageous to the players? At the end of the day, AAU would not have exploded the was it has if it was horrible, it would have crumbled. AAU is not going anywhere, so instead of crying about it everyone would be more productive to embrace it and correct some of whats wrong with it instead of simply saying it’s horrible. Wake up and stop being unrealistic. It’s kids playing basketball, it’s not that big a deal.

  7. Andre says:

    As a former AAU coach who has also coached at the High School level, I would have to say I only partially agree with you and Charles’ view on AAU basketball. In addition, I have also read about Kobe Bryant’s disdain for AAU basketball and I’m somewhat disappointed that neither Sir Charles or the Black Mamba have no solutions or alternatives to the problem. First off, there is a huge disconnect between the High School and AAU Coaches. Both have their own agendas and never seem to intersect to the level where it helps the player. HS Basketball Coaches usually in most cases teach classes and coach other sports, and their main objective is to get a “system” setup for offense and defense and have the players play within this system irregardless of the talent level. In AAU, the Coaches seem to have more connection with the college coaches on what the need is at that level, and they create an environment for a player to thrive, which comes at a cost of course. When you mix in the money that is being funded by the major shoe programs, it quickly becomes a business, and cut throat one at that. Who can fix the broken relationships between the High School and AAU Coaches? How can the NCAA be more involved to regulate AAU? Why can’t the NCAA, AAU, and High School officials have a Summit meeting to discuss how they can all work together for the betterment of the student-athlete? These questions needs to be addressed, and guys like Charles Barkley and Kobe Bryant have the influence and clout to get the ball rolling if they really were interested in improving grass roots basketball.

  8. Ben says:

    Highschools need to form a summer league federation…nationally and regionally and have competitive summer leagues and showcase tournaments during the summer..get NCAA sanctioning and the college coaches would be there

  9. Rich says:

    Correction…I’m not against AAU, I’m against AAU in its current form which is a money making machine that takes advantage of kids trying to become good basketball players which cannot be done through game play alone. Games are great but only a small piece of the puzzle of basketball development which requires repetitions and you cannot get the reps needed to develop into a good player by playing AAU basketball every weekend. However, these kids are promised that they will improve because of Aau and more often than not, they don’t. There are some great AAU programs out there and you should do your research to find one and play on it. However, if you can’t make a team then go out and work on your game to improve and make it next time around. Don’t go make your own team and fill the roster with other players that also need to work on their skills and improve. To me that only supports our “everybody gets a trophy society.” Finally, last time I checked Charles Barkley and Kobe Bryant, both of whom have spoken out against AAU were/are pretty darn good players in their own right and have played and watched enough basketball to know what they are talking about.

  10. Rich says:

    Coach, you are correct and I know that you and your program is not who Barkley is directing his comments at. You guys work on developing players and should be a model for those who don’t.

  11. Rich says:

    Thanks. I would love to work with you. Connecticut isn’t too far. Hit me up and see if we can do something.

  12. Rich says:

    Really great to see Coach. I love watching players improve and it brings a smile to my face when they get it. Keep up the good work.

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