What is “AAU?”

Before we get to the “Recreation” and The “Pyramid” Model of The “AAU” basketball program business… 

And the questions of:

Should I play? Who should I play for?  Why is 1 program different than others?… 

It is FIRST, REALLY IMPORTANT to understand what “AAU” really is, what “AAU” was and what it is now).

What “REALLY” is AAU?

What “AAU” was (20 years ago).

If you played “AAU” basketball 20 years ago… you were already an exceptional basketball player. NOT “good.” NOT “pretty good.” More like, definitely 1st team All-Conference, and pretty much, ALL-STATE players.

“AAU” was only for the top 1%.  The best of the best. The players that were already being recruited to play in college that were looking to play in front of college coaches to further their opportunities.  There were a small number of programs (6) in the entire state of Connecticut that compiled the best players from the state to play all over against the best players from other states.  And these players were 100% committed basketball players, gym rats, basketball junkies. These were high division 1 players, future slam dunk champions, (even some All-Americans), and some division 2 players, and a few division 3 players that could really play.  Basically, all of the All-Conference players from all of the different conferences.

You would go to an event, and see major division 1 college coaches actively recruiting players.

High level tournaments and programs like this still exist today, but there was no 2nd or 3rd tier of players. No additional tournaments or teams for JV players.  It was just the best of the best recruited to play on teams to compete and showcase their talents.

It wasn’t long before the National “AAU” started putting out pre-season D1 rankings for 4th graders.

Don’t believe me… take a look.

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 12.05.44 PM

Hysterical… 4th grade NATIONAL Power Rankings?!?

What is “AAU” now?

Again, before we get into what “AAU” is now, it is important to understand what “AAU” really is.

The National “AAU” – otherwise known as the Amateur Athletic Union actually really benefited in some interesting ways from the acronym “AAU” – everything concerning club basketball became known as “AAU.”   It isn’t really the National “AAU’s” fault that this happened.  Most people just use the term, “AAU” – even though 99% of all of the showcases, tournaments, programs, have nothing do with the actual “AAU.” 

Interesting aside:  Separately, many high level players play “AAU” primarily for the showcase/recruiting aspect of playing in front of college coaches, as the recruiting dynamics have changed over the past decade, and high school coaches are rarely attending high school games the way that they used to.  They all attend showcase tournaments where the top players play against each other over a weekend.  

So what does The “AAU” really do?

Ironically, the “AAU” is just an insurance provider. When players play basketball in the “off-season,” they have to be insured in case they get injured.  And most program directors register their players for an “AAU” membership for that insurance.  

TWO ways to build out an “AAU Basketball Program

(The Recreation Model and The Pyramid Model).

A lot of fairly smart (some not so smart) business people got involved with “AAU” in the past 10-15 years because they saw that there was a LOT of money to be made.  So they essentially discovered two ways to do build out an “AAU program:

“AAU” Model #1: The Recreation Model – Most “AAU” programs use this “recreation” model:

Here’s how it works…

rec AAU Model

“Fake tryouts, here’s your schedule, here’s your coach, have fun.”

(The only thing that is really different from rec or travel basketball is the logo on the uniform). 

It is an exact replica of the youth/recreation/travel basketball league model, where players are told there is a tryout (in fact, there may be like 10 different “tryouts” all year round!!) where young players are recruited to go to the “tryout,” they are told that there are only so many spots, and then magically, there went from only 4 spots on 1 team, to “every player has made a team and we are going to have 4 teams!!! (because there are so many great players!!),” it’s gonna be $1500-$2500 per player, but the good news is, “you now play “AAU” basketball, and we can now travel all over to play other 5th and 6th graders that are great like you!!”

(guess what… you’re not great.  You’re not even close to “good.”)

“AAU” Model #2: This one is my favorite because it’s an even bigger scam.

Here’s how it works… 

Pyramid Model

  1. You heavily, heavily, “RECRUIT” the TOP players at the highest level – the 16u and 17u level.
  2. (NOT ONLY DO THESE PLAYERS NOT PAY TO PLAY, THEY ARE PAID FOR and SUBSIDIZED BY THE PLAYERS AND PARENTS AT THE YOUNGER LEVELS (or if the program gets big enough, they get sponsored by a shoe company!)
  3. You stack these TOP teams and you put them in tournaments and YOU WIN!!!
  5. YOU design a great website with great search engine optimization (so that when anyone searched “AAU” basketball, YOU COME UP AS THE TOP PROGRAM!!

(Will you ever get to the top of the Pyramid?!?!?!)

Sorry. No.  You won’t.

UNASSUMING, IMPRESSIONABLE young parents are told “YOU WILL BE A WINNER, TOO!!!” (If you play for our program)…. But you won’t be. (HAHA!!! You have been bamboozled!)

But what were you supposed to do? Everybody wants to be a winner, right?  You want to be a winner.  You want your kids to be winners!!!  Well… there are a lot more losers than winners in “AAU” basketball. 

There is another aspect to this, too! They start the programs younger and younger (Kindergarten “AAU!!” (Really? Kindergarten “AAU” basketball?? Why?) Because if they can get you young, they have you for the future, because, they know something very relevant: That changing consumer habits is tough!!! (And they can dangle that plastic carrot out in front of you year after year).

“Stay with us… you will be a winner someday. Our older teams win the championship every year.”

There is a much, MUCH better way, which is the REAL MODEL for Basketball Instruction.



You really should if you are considering off-season player development or playing “AAU.”

TFM Basketballs - TFM LOGO