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A beginner's guide to Georgia AAU basketball

This began as a comment in a thread, and I'll try to expand on it for this, in to a more comprehensive view of Georgia's AAU basketball scene, and how it relates to UGA specifically. I'll likely do so poorly, but I am a Georgia Bulldog men's hoops fan, so doing poorly with Georgia AAU comes with the territory. AAU is a huge, comprehensive sporting entity, and basketball is just a single part of their many, many programs. This focuses on a small part of that entity, and while some rail against the sometimes shady and borderline criminal element of AAU basketball, that's not what this is about. And for the most part, AAU basketball is full of good people trying to help kids improve their lives, as is the case with most Amateur Athletic Union teams.

More after the jump....

In the state of Georgia, AAU has two clear top dogs; the Georgia Stars and Atlanta Celtics. They have a long line of NBA pedigree (Lou Williams, Kwame Brown, among others for the Nike-affiliated Stars and Josh Smith, Dwight Howard, among others for the adidas-wearing Celtics). They are the big boys, and generally have extremely talented groups from top to bottom with several future major college players on their roster.

The World Wide Renegades are another major player, and have some solid players in their history, although not the reputation of the Celtics or Stars. They tend to have a shady reputation, and their players also tend to transfer to particular, more successful high schools in the Atlanta area. The Southern Kings are a growing power, having had some of the Milton kids that were high majors. The aforementioned Louis Williams, a Georgia commit before going straight to the NBA instead, also has a AAU team he sponsors, the Lou Williams Stars. There are several other groups around the state, and some rise and fall quickly, so it’s hard to run through every one.

Shoe companies are big players in the system. Nike and adidas are the two main ones now, as Reebok has trailed off of late and isn’t in the mix as it was 5-10 years ago. But they all sponsor teams, help give them equipment, pay for travel, and run several of the summer tournaments these teams play in. [Note: Just because all of the big 3 shoe companies sponsor teams doesn't mean every team is sponsored by one of those big 3. Many are not, and require generosity of others to help keep things going.] Those tournaments hosted by various teams, shoe companies, and other entities are the main events, as well as the occasional player development camps. They host teams, where kids can play and make their names. The periods where they can do so in front of college coaches has changed with NCAA changes to their rules, and continue to change as the NCAA tweaks their policies. Augusta (specifically North Augusta) hosts the Peach Jam, which is one of the premier events on Nike’s circuit, Atlanta has the Wallace Prather among other events there. Those are two of the many big events held locally and around the country. The AAU summer tournaments culminate in major events at the end of July in Las Vegas, as well as the AAU championships in Orlando.

As for the necessity of AAU in recruiting, it’s where all the talent plays. You very rarely find high schools kids that go to major programs without getting in with an AAU club first for exposure over the summer. Some do, but it’s just rare that they don’t spend time traveling around the country for one (or multiple) AAU teams. Part is because it’s easier to evaluate talent against similar talent, instead of hit or miss, often subpar, opponents at the high school level. As such, these guys have become more influential than high school coaches for kids. They spend a lot of time with them over the summer, often starting in programs at the age of 12 or 13. As alluded to above, they’ll sometimes place kids in high schools, and with high school coaches they like, so AAU has become a major influence at all levels of the system. The long relationships AAU coaches can have with these kids make them much more important for college coaches to develop relationships with them than high school coaches. If they like you, and trust you, getting players becomes much easier. If you piss them off, they don’t trust you, or don’t trust your school, you’re in for a world of hurt.

That's where UGA comes in. They know us, and know how we've historically treated men's basketball as fourth class citizens in our athletics community. They don't trust us, and we've earned that lack of trust honestly over the last several decades. Mark Fox has worked hard attempting to repair those relationships, and he's made some progress, although clearly not enough. And with our history, it's hard to blame people for not coming around immediately. This goes double since Fox didn't have much of a (or any) relationship with them while coaching at Nevada. So he's somewhat of an unknown entity where the guys in Atlanta AAU circles are concerned. His assistants have had some contact in the past, particular Phillip Pearson while at Alabama and Stacey Palmore while with Virginia Tech, but not much. That's part of why we've seen Georgia Tech, in spite of a recent coaching change, and UCLA, among others, beat us for kids recently. UCLA hired Korey McCray, formerly of the Atlanta Celtics, and he's paid immediate dividends in Atlanta recruits Jordan Adams and Tony Parker. Brian Gregory hired Chad Dollar and Amir Abdur-Rahim, who are from Atlanta and have worked with, or been a part of, that scene for years. And it's helped immeasurably in landing widely pursued recruits right away. Those successes are why you'll hear some Dawgs basketball faithful fault Fox for not hiring "one of them" to help sooth old wounds and get the instant relationships we lack. But due to the long history of Georgia men's basketball, he had obstacles to overcome regardless of who he surrounded himself with in filling his staff.

Well, there you go. A beginner's guide to Georgia AAU basketball and how it relates to University of Georgia men's basketball, and our trouble getting some of the highest rated players out of the Atlanta area.