Behind the Court: A look inside AAU youth ball

imagesThe Amateur Athletic Union aka AAU, is a non-profit youth basketball league that was founded in 1888 by William Buckingham Curtis to establish standards and uniformity in amateur sport.  AAU serves youths, boys and girls, from ages 9-18.  Many parents see the AAU as a stepping stone to their child reaching the NBA.  A nationwide trend is holding kids back to be more competitive.  For full disclosure my son is a current member of AAU.

2UrbanGirls became familiar with AAU travel ball in Summer 2012.  During that time my son played for a local team based out of Inglewood, CA.  As you make the rounds of the numerous tournaments held, parents discuss teams and kids on the teams.  A familiar phrase may follow some children’s names.  They are called “hold backs”.

Holding back is when a child is held back a grade to appear more competitive.  2UrbanGirls spoke with former NBA star Gregory “Bo” Kimble, a first round draft pick of the 1990 NBA draft, and asked if holding back is advantageous.  Kimble said, “…when Hank [Gathers] and I were in college we red shirted, but we both graduated from high school on time.”  He went on to further state, “holding back doesn’t make you more competitive…but who couldn’t use an extra year?”

With students being held back, many times those children can be bigger and more aggressive than others and with many websites starting to rank middle school athletes, the game has become even more competitive.  At times to the ire of other parents on the AAU circuit.

Ranking of players is an additional pressure placed on the youth in AAU.  Message boards cry foul when youth are included/excluded, and at times includes questioning of a participants age.  2UrbanGirls reached out to Dave Keefer who runs California Preps and Julius von Hanzlik from Middle School Elite, who both rank middle school players, and both where asked whether holding back is beneficial to children.  Both declined to comment.

The same question was posed to AAU tournament sponsor West Coast Elite (WCE) who chimed in on the hold back topic:

It’s within the rules. Most parents & kids should instead focus on overall development & ability to compete against high level competition.

West Coast Elite is run by Julio, a USC grad who works for a global marketing firm and spent 13 years as a referee.  West Coast Elite  ranks teams, but will also showcase individual players, on occasion.  WCE added:

 I enjoy youth basketball, I enjoy knowing kids enjoy the site, it bothers me that rankings may influence some teams to cheat for a ranking , but guess what, those people will always find a way to cheat no matter the situation.

Holding back is not detrimental to an athletes career.  It does not guarantee an athletic scholarship or entry into the NBA.  So why the concern from parents?  Two-time NBA champion and current basketball analyst for Inside the NBA on TNT, Kenny “The Jet” Smith told 2UrbanGirls,

“…there are only 327 slots in the NBA.  Each year 60 are drafted and of those 60, 30 remain.  Keep in mind an additional 30 of the original 327 will also be leaving…there are no guarantees in the NBA.”

At any given tournament there is at minimum 500 kids participating.  2UrbanGirls further pressed. If there are no guarantees that holding back will earn your child an athletic scholarship or spot in the NBA, what is the benefit of a parent holding their kid back?  Smith added, “back in my day it was called left back.

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Dave Keefer says:

    It’s not that I “declined” to comment. I couldn’t figure out what your question was in your vaguely worded Direct Message. I was waiting for clarification which never came.

    • 2UrbanGirls says:

      You rank kids for a living. Asking you your thoughts on hold backs was direct. If you have to to be asked specific questions, after 13 years of covering sports, one should question the basis of your website.

About Melissa

I am a lifelong Inglewood resident living in District 4. I serve on PTA and School Site Council as Vice-President, for the last 8 years with Inglewood Unified School District. I volunteer on the Wellness Committee for ICEF Public Schools. I am an alumni of California State University, Dominguez Hills with a degree in Political Science. You can find me on Twitter under @CreoleMommie

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