WARSAW – As a college basketball coach for 35 years, Duke University's Mike Krzyzewski has witnessed an inordinate number of changes in the sport and profession – some of it good and some of it bad. In the instance of AAU basketball, it is more of a case of being in between rather than being evaluated as simply good or simply bad.
“It's a big change,” Krzyzewski said. “There are positives about it and there are negatives about it.”
Perhaps no place in America is the rise and impact of AAU basketball more profound than Fort Wayne. With the construction of Spiece Fieldhouse and the development of the Gym Rats Basketball organization, this city has reaped millions upon millions of dollars in tourism-related revenue over the years as it hosts youth basketball tournaments and leagues throughout the year.
From an athletic standpoint, Spiece Fieldhouse has been host to virtually every dominant youth basketball player in the country since its inception.
“A positive is that the kids get to play basketball instead of whatever else that they might be doing,” Krzyzewski said. “In saying that, they sometimes play too much basketball and don't work on their fundamentals.”
The AAU season for most high school-age players begins as soon as they are done playing for their school in March. The season then culminates in late summer or early fall. The amount of time spent with their AAU team and coaches ends up being far greater in length than under the structured environment of a high school program led by – in most cases – a trained educator.
“A youngster in AAU can actually play three times as many games in the spring, summer, and fall than they would for their high school,” Krzyzewski said. “So the impact on a high school coach on a youngster and his family is not usually as profound as it used to be.”
Back in the day, so to speak, Krzyzewski and his assistants would frequently visit with a recruit and speak with the parents and high school coach about the merits of playing within the Blue Devil program. That is far from the case in today's basketball world.
“Hardly ever do we now go on a home visit in recruiting and the high school coach is there,” Krzyzewski said. “Hardly ever. A good percentage of the time you are not even dealing with the high school coach. It's the parents and the AAU program.”
Krzyzewski was quick to note that some of the AAU programs are “top-notch.” However, his concern with the influence of the AAU programs on young players is that there is no structure to guide the coaches in developing leadership skills.
“They don't answer to anybody,” Krzyzewski said. “Who is funding them (and) what are their goals? What race are they running? You know what race a high school coach is running for his or her school.”
To aid in the development of coaches and provide guidelines within the sport the NCAA and NBA have partnered to form a program called iHoops. Krzyzewski sits on the board of the program and believes that this “movement” will serve as a resource for inexperienced and/or young coaches to tap into and strengthen their ability to develop young athletes on and off of the basketball court.
“It is specifically to help people learn how to coach, the value structure, (and) the X and Os,” Krzyzewski explained. “To set some type of standards in a world that doesn't have consistent high standards. That doesn't have a good model yet.”