Summer Basketball Observations

I had the chance to attend an a non scholastic summer event in Chicago to meet up with a couple of basketball friends last week. The tournament had some of Chicago’s top club teams as well as a slew of college coaches. It was a chance for me to catch up and talk hoops with two guys that I have a lot of respect for.

These are two basketball guys that can give me very good insight to the game as they saw in the past, present, and future. We spoke of how the summer circuit has changed, some for the good and some not so much. It is such a different animal in many aspects. Mostly the change is in the financial side of things.

The product has changed and not for the good. There are always the elite teams that will always have talent. I think in every era from 1990-2090 you’ll always have great summer teams that are great to watch from many perspectives. The basketball middle class has taken a hit as skill development continues to fall and the amount of games high school players play in the off season increases. With the dramatic increase of the amount of teams there are tens of thousands of players playing club basketball in the summer. This causes a watering down of a lot of summer events impacting events across the country.

Here are some of the observations that I’ve made from attending many of these events throughout the off season.

No Governing Body For Summer Basketball

The United States may be the only country in the world that doesn’t have one governing body that oversees club basketball. If you noticed I haven’t used the word AAU in this column, because AAU gets misused a lot when talking about summer basketball. The AAU is an organization that has membership and by laws. Not every summer team participates in AAU events. When people mention summer basketball they make the mistake in mentioning that it is an AAU team or AAU Basketball.

The good thing about being a part of AAU is that they have their own rules that teams and participants need to follow or they can’t participate in their events. There are grade and age requirements in each age group that players and coaches need to fall under. I like the fact that they are so diligent in following the rules as well as holding violators accountable.

Almost every other country has a governing body which is FIBA that they have to adhere to. International teams play by one set of rules that are created by FIBA and everything goes through them. Everyone from teams, players, and event organizers are all held accountable by FIBA. Everyone involved in international basketball is open to sanctions, fines, and suspensions if they do not play by the rules that are made.

In the United States, besides for AAU teams, and some shoe company sponsored clubs many do not have to answer to anyone. They play with no age requirements as it is normal for many teams in non AAU or selected shoe company sponsored events to have 6th-7th year players playing on their teams. They list them as attending prep schools that they will never attend just to enter an event.

Too Many Teams

The amount of teams that are participating in summer basketball is out of control. This is killing the middle/lower class of high school basketball. Back when I started in club basketball in 1994 there were only a fraction of the number of teams as there are today. The system in which this created was that club basketball was a privilege.

The top players in the state would play on club teams. The players that weren’t good enough to make a club team would go to camp. Not only would they get great instruction at camps like Five Star, Eastern Invitational, Championship Basketball School, and others but they would get very good exposure as well.

Most club basketball events were very competitive filled with teams with very good to great players on them. There were some teams that didn’t belong, but for the most part every event was very good. Camps were so much better because there were far less players participating in summer club basketball.

Today with the influx of teams most of the events that you attend are filled with mostly bad teams. This makes watching pool play almost impossible as there are just too many games that lead to blow outs. Now a days anyone can start a club team so if a player gets cut their parent or friend’s parent can start a team. This has spread across the country filling it with teams with players that can’t compete. Twenty years ago this class of player would be at camp getting better, instead their off season is filled with playing 75 games against teams that for the most part are out of their league. Club basketball used to be an elite thing were players had to earn the right to play for today if you can’t make a team the next move is start your own.

Players Play Too Many Games

This is something that you hear every day and I definitely agree with it. Many think it impacts player development with the amount of games that they play. I agree that player development is effected, but there are so many other factors in it as well.

There are about 28 weekends available to participate in events. Many players play in anywhere from 60-120 games through the course of an off season. That is a lot of time in gyms and playing games. I think there is plenty of time to play in a good amount of events with your club team if you play in half of those weekends.

The first thing is fatigue and injury. So many players that I ran into during the summer told me that they were a little bit banged up and had little time to rest. Their team was playing in every weekend or attending a camp from April though July. I understand playing every weekend during the live period in front of coaches and scouts, but during the dead period there is no reason to play in every weekend. Players get banged up and small injuries lead into bigger ones as they have no time to rest and recoup.

The second thing is academically. Players that struggle academically trying to get eligible to play college have little time to spend on their academics. With the amount of basketball being played in the fall and spring, they need more time to spend getting their affairs in order. Again, I understand that events played when college coaches are allowed to be in attendance. The problem is during dead times in the spring and fall all of the time spent playing and traveling. The worst thing that happens is players missing classes while traveling to events.

There needs to be something done to limit the amount of events that players can participate in it is something that is pretty easy to implement and could be very beneficial to all parties involved.

Event Organizers

Just like anything else there are some really good event directors and there are not so good ones. It’s a very hard thing to do as there are so many hats to wear. Running a tournament is a thankless job with so mangy things to worry about.

Financially, running club events can be pretty lucrative. I have no problem with people running multiple events and making lots of money. The problems in my opinion is when organizers run events in the live period and take advantage of college coaches. Events sell rosters to college coaches during the live period for anything from $100-$500 per tournament. The packet in which coaches receives “USUALLY” has rosters with contact information on each player like high school, phone number, email, coaching contact information, and other things.

A lot of coaches call me throughout their recruiting trails of events that they attend where they have to buy the coaching packet that has no contact information and wrong information in it. I think when running an event in the live period where you will have coaches attending getting them an organized thorough book is so important. If coaches are going to fork over $200-300 dollars on average the least that they can do is give them a good book.

As someone who ran events for a long time, I understand that sometimes your event is funded by the coaches packets. You also need to understand that sometimes coaches will buy a packet and sometimes they won’t. There are some event organizers that don’t let coaches in if they don’t buy a book. To me that is a very unprofessional way to go about things. It is a gamble that you must take the good with the bad. When coaches don’t buy a packet it can be very frustrating especially when you are counting on that money. Some coaches understand the process and some don’t and as unfair as that sounds that is the game.

Tournament Staff and Being On Time

I’m very serious about being on time. Events that fall behind on time is a eye sore for me. People pay good money to attend events and all they ask is for good games and an event that is actually on time. Sometimes you run into overtime games and it forces the schedule to run late. I just think when you are taking $300-$500 entry fee for teams to enter your event that the least you can do is have your event run on time. If there are teams that are late on a regular basis then don’t have them back, don’t have one or two teams ruin the experience for everyone else.

Last thing is clock and book people. So many tournaments have staff members from other teams work the table. I never understood this thought process. I would think that at least 95% of club events make a pretty sizable profit, especially the ones with 80-100 teams in it. When I see that members of the teams participating having to work the book/clock to me looks unprofessional. I don’t think its worth saving an extra $25-$30 dollars a game to have to ask outsiders to work the table. If you are going to make a profit don’t cheapen the event by not having your own staff work the event.

Too Many Teams In Age Groups

I understand that event organizers are in business to make money that much we know. They have the right to make as much money as they want to as long as it is legal. Back when I started in club basketball the majority of the tournaments that we participated in were 24-36 team events. Clubs played their 3 pool games and if they moved on to the playoffs they would play maybe 3-4 other games after pool play.

With the influx of teams you see some tournaments with 120-150 teams in a single age bracket. This means that teams will have to play 6-8 games in addition to their pool games. Tournaments of this size just leads to too many games and watered down basketball. If I was coaching a team playing in a event of this size unless it was a national tournament that I qualified for wouldn’t be too enticing. Yes there are usually college coaches at these venues , but with the amount of teams that are participating an average team will just play in games with little attention. There are plenty of events out there with college coaches that attend with fewer teams to play giving you a better experience.

I dont understand why teams want to travel to events that have 400-500 teams spread across 25 gyms. These events aren’t necessarily not run properly, but there has to be some type of quality of life in these things. Traveling across Las Vegas for 45 minutes to an hour to play in some junior high gym rubber floor to me is crazy, but again thats me. I get the fact that teams want to play in front of coaches and scouts, but if you have talent they will find you.

I remember when there was one tournament in Las Vegas and only 64 teams were “INVITED”. Now any team with $600 dollars in their pocket can attend, pretty sad.

In closing I want to say that not all club basketball is bad. There are coaches that run clubs the right way. There are very good event organizers that try to give teams and players a great experience in a professional atmosphere. There really is an issue with how club basketball is run. People have been talking for years about how it needs to be changed, yet nothing is done to change.

Club basketball is in need of a change to better the product. The elite players and teams are always going to be good. Like them or hate them they will put out a decent product. The issue is that the basketball middle and lower classes are the ones being impacted the most. Players are playing so much and not getting better. There needs to be something done to keep it competitive for kids in the off season and allow them to have good structure as well as have the time to improve themselves skill wise and academically.

Nike has changed the way that elite summer basketball is conducted. They are out of the large tournament business and has streamlined their sponsored teams and the way that they run their sponsored events. Two years ago they started the EYBL. The EYBL is run very much like the Euroleague Pro league is run. They put all of their 40 sponsored teams in four pools of ten. They play in 4 events throughout the spring where they will play in 20 regular season games. The top 5 teams in each pool including 4 wildcard teams based on record will be invited to play in their national tournament in July. All teams need to follow age/grade requirements as well as need to follow rules of behavior, etiquette, etc. Nike clearly separated itself from their competition with the formulation of this not having teams with 1 player be invited to their premier event in July as they need to qualify. This is something that I like to see in amateur basketball as all teams following the same rules on the court and off.

You will always have shady people in basketball. If they aren’t allowed to coach they will get to the kids off the court. So if there will be nothing done about that there are things that can be done to make the product better. Tomorrow I will write a post on what I think should be done to improve non scholastic basketball.

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