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The Cost of Competition:
Why It Is Important to Think Hard Before Getting Involved with
An Ultra-Competitive AAU Tournament Team


Chances are, if you’ve been a basketball fan in the past decade you’ve heard of Tyson Chandler, but not everyone knows the unique circumstances behind his unlikely rise to basketball stardom. As detailed in the critically acclaimed book Play Their Hearts Out, Chandler was first spotted by an ambitious AAU coach by the name of Joe Keller. Keller took Chandler under his wing, sometimes even giving him a place to stay on weekends so he could travel and compete in some of the major AAU tournaments across the country. It’s an engaging read, and perhaps the most comprehensive investigation into the world of high-stakes national level AAU basketball out there.
Those who have not seen it firsthand will be shocked to read the accounts of countless coaches who make a living off of young athletes. Oftentimes these coaches will find one or two players who display exceptional talent, then spend years attempting to mold them into potential NBA prospects. Once these players “make it,” the AAU coach is often paid a hefty sum for all of his work. Keller is rumored to have received such a payment, and hey, why not? And this is not to say that Keller is a bad guy. After all, he took a young man from nowhere and helped him rise to NBA stardom. Who knows if scouts would have ever seen Chandler had Keller not organized his team?
On the other hand, the reality is that finding a player like Tyson Chandler is about as easy as winning the lottery. The overwhelming majority of AAU coaches will never coach NBA talent. When my own nephew played AAU ball his father used to pay anywhere from $5000-$8000 each year to cover tournament and travel expenses. Luckily, my brother worked hard and had a career where he could afford these costs, but many of the greatest NBA players have come from low-income backgrounds, and AAU coaches often sacrifice significant time away from their families in order to keep their teams afloat. Most of these coaches are great people with the well-being of their players among their top priorities, but there have been reported cases of AAU coaches who recruit players, make a million promises, then leave the player out to dry if he ends up being unable to perform at the level his coach expected him to.
In my personal opinion, I think the AAU is a great organization, and I would encourage anyone who wants their son or daughter to play competitive basketball to consider playing AAU, but I would also say you should proceed with caution and never forget to keep the larger picture in mind. Basketball, like any sport, is a game that can teach life lessons. It’s fun, it can bring people together, and it can ultimately lead to a college scholarship, or even a career. Just make sure you are in it for the right reasons.

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