By: Jonathan Tjarks
The San Antonio Spurs set an NBA record for the number of foreign players on their roster last season, with nine coming from outside the United States. According to a revealing article from Seth Wickersham, published during this year’s playoffs, that is no accident. The Spurs have grown weary of the youth basketball scene in this country, preferring players who grew up overseas, untouched by a seedy AAU basketball infrastructure that has “ruined” many American kids.
For Wickersham, NBA franchises are victims, passive observers of “something that has happened, well-document but irrevocable” to the game of basketball. The biggest divide, he tells us, “isn’t structural, but cultural.” In reality, he has it backwards. Because there is no professional structure to youth basketball in the US, a poorly organized and often self-defeating culture has developed in its place. If AAU basketball is bad for business, the NBA has the power to fix it.
Throughout, Wickersham contrasts the way things are done in San Antonio with a summer AAU game between the New Jersey Playaz and the New York City Jayhawks, whom he dubs “the anti-Spurs”. Instead of a team-oriented game built around passing and cutting, the ball sticks in the hands of players who try to score 1-on-5. It’s almost a different sport, as Gregg Popovich tells him. If one of these teenagers ends up in the NBA, Wickersham assures us, he won’t be playing for the Spurs.
The comparison, upon closer inspection, is somewhat bizarre. Are we surprised that an NBA franchise runs a more professional operation than two volunteer organizations competing before non-existent crowds in an AAU tournament? The Spurs are the beneficiaries of massive nine-figure revenue streams in the form of publicly-financed stadiums and national TV deals. AAU teams, if they are lucky, receive free gear and a small stipend from Nike or Adidas.
There’s no question that a lot of the coaching at the AAU level is deficient, if not outright harmful. However, if you look at the way the system is set up, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Shoe companies, not professional basketball organizations, are the ones paying for it. There’s a market for the talents of 15-year-old basketball players, just as there is one for 15-year-old tennis players, singers and actors. Refusing to acknowledge it only pushed things underground, creating a black market.
In contrast, as the article points out, European players like Tiago Splitter turn pro at 15. Splitter thought about coming to the States as a teenager, before realizing our system made little sense: “American coaches recruited him to attend high school in the States. He was intrigued, until the coaches told him that his parents would have to pay for everything. [Emphasis added] So he stayed in Europe, and at 15 signed a 10-year contract to play with Baskonia.”
From Splitter’s perspective, it’s easy to see how the culture of youth basketball in America went off track. Baskonia didn’t need to “pamper” him or “build up his ego” to play on their team. They gave him a substantial sum of cash and signed him to a contract. Since their investment made them committed to his development, they did everything in their power to make him a fundamentally sound player. As a bonus, they tried to keep him away from negative influences.
Curtis Malone is the co-founder of DC Assault, one of the most influential AAU teams in the country. Earlier this summer, a police search of his home found a kilo of cocaine and 100 grams of heroin. This isn’t his first run-in with the law either; he was convicted of distributing crack in 1991. In an alternate universe where the Washington Wizards paid for the development of the best under-18 players in the D.C. area, it’s hard to imagine them employing Malone.
Since D.C. is one of the most talent-rich areas of the country, it wouldn’t be fair for the Wizards to be the only team with access to it. Instead of AAU teams competing to give the best young players from the area thousands of dollars in cash, NBA teams could give those same kids millions of dollars in actual contracts. That, of course, is why a free market system for youth basketball doesn’t exist. The powers that be make too much money from washing their hands of the whole thing.
People point to the failures of 19-year-olds that NBA teams have drafted, ignoring the fact that highly-touted 19-year-olds bust out of college all the time. Jereme Richmond could have been the next Evan Turner; Renardo Sidney’s career started going the wrong way in high school. The upside of letting NBA organizations develop the best 16-year-old players is obvious. Instead of characters like Malone, they would be around guys like Popovich and R.C. Buford.
FC Barcelona has an under-12 team and the world seems to have survived. Over the last generation, we have had a natural experiment as to whether the amateur or free market system produces the best professional basketball players. The Spurs seem to think the Europeans have the right answer. Whether or not they are right, though, is almost besides the point. If NBA teams think the current system isn’t working, they can easily fix it. They are hardly lacking for money.
In 2016, the league is set to get a jaw-dropping TV contract in the billions of dollars. That kind of cash can have a huge effect on youth basketball, which we can see in USA Basketball’s investment in the U-16, U-17 and U19 national teams. At the very least, the NBA can afford to expand those programs substantially. Instead of investing in the youth of our country, we attack their character and import foreign labor. It’s an all too common reality these days.
With deep pockets and endless connections, the NBA can provide quality coaches gear, and pay all the bills. Instead of washing cars to pay for a trip to nationals, the kids can have film sessions to work on their pick-and-roll defense.
"I wanted kids to have that same experience that me and my friends had," LeBron James said. "If you don't have the right support system, the right guidance running the program, then it can get really bad."
By providing everything kids and parents could ask for, troublemakers have nothing to use as bait.
excellent read! thank you for sharing! i have to say i totally agree with how bad aau has turned into hero ball for endorsing that one player with talent at the time of aau play. the europeans may have it right.
Yes, there is a lot to despise regarding AAU ball, but where are the best Kids in the world playing against their peers constantly? Why is the Level of Talent and Play so much higher at Nike EYBL than at the world Junior tournaments? The flawed AAU System is churning out 90 % of outstanding NBA like Talent, year after year. Why is Canada second to only the states producing talented Kids the last years? Maybe because of US high School Basketball, AAU ball? If someone would be following AAU ball for months than watching youth ball in europe for a year, comparing Quality of Training and Play, drawing conclusions but Mr. Tjarks has no clue at all writing about something he doesnt know, pathetic.
nba players and former nba players say the same things tjarks just did. i just watched an open court rerun where steve smith was talking to chris webber about it. he has a clue about what he's writing. yes, the united states produces most the talent, but united states produces many athletes in general. and the united states has basketball legends to look up to and basketball camps that are legit as well. but look how far the rest of the world has gotten since the 92' olympic boom of basketball!
"where are the best Kids in the world playing against their peers constantly? Why is the Level of Talent and Play so much higher at Nike EYBL than at the world Junior tournaments?"
there are several aspects : one simple is demography. Among all the countries with a "basketball history" open to basketball culture (including streetball and organized basketball in franchise), the USA have the largest reservoir. Basketball has always been a major sport in the USA and could have developped well thanks to big money from big media and big companies ... cause the USA is a BIG market.
USA = 315M hab
spain = 47M
france = 66M
greece = 10M
serbia = 7M
lithuania = 3M
australie = 23M
canada = 35M
russia = 143M
But one thing is clear. European way of developping youth is effective : with young players playing in youth teams or being loaned to smaller franchises where they will have PT easier and THEN after able to play with pro as soon as their coach think they are ready.
When you see the gap between european young players and us young players in the 90's and now... you can see the gap is getting smaller everyday. The AAU system is effective to generate buzz and hopes around vey young players... but it doesn't really help them improving their game and overall bball IQ.
I raised this to friends during the last Olympics. Most European countries are the size of a state here. If the U.S. sent just one state against Spain, France , or many other countries, the U.S. would be blown out regularly.
Exactly... when you think about the former yougoslavia with countries now playing for their own banner (as croatia, slovenia, bosnia, serbia and macedoine)... it's almost frightening to imagine the level of play for so "small" countries with a smaller réservoir of potential players and supposed talents.
...spain is already 10 times smaller than USA. Lithuania 100 times smaller ! And they are competitive internationaly... so the level of development for young prospects has to be pretty high I think.
Yeah, you also notice the players in europe are more mature and dont get into trouble really at all. If these kids were around a team with quality player development people it would be great and the kids would get better coaching. In england the people from poor backrounds and broken families make up most of their players and they rarely have any kind of maturity issue and if they do they have people who can help the young player.
I know the spurs are mentioned in this article for being one of the premier franchises in scouting overseas talent. But the reality is they are pretty much riding the Parker/Manu Thing for over a decade now. How many other stars have they brought in from overseas? Splitter is supposed to be the example used for how the euro system is better then aau ball? Okay good luck building around that guy. Besides, if Manu was American he would be one of the poster Childs of American and 1 streetball style play this article condems.
How many US stars are you going to find at the bottom of the first round / 2nd round? Spurs aren't in a position to bring in the top talent as they're simply too successful to get a chance at them in the draft. The point is, that the players they get in from Europe through the draft are consistently more productive than their US counterparts. If you look at the European players drafted by the Spurs in the last 10 years and compare it to the person drafted immediately after them it becomes clear how much the difference is:
1999: Manu Ginobli (57) - Eddie Lucas
200: No-one of note either by Spurs or drafted subsequently
2001: Tony Parker (28) - Trenton Hassell
2002: Luis Scola (56) - Corsley Edwards
2003: Leandro Barbosa (28) - Josh Howard
2004: Beno Udrih (28) - David Harrison
2005: Ian Mahimni (28) - Wayne Simien
2006: No-one of note
2007: Tiago splitter (28) - Alando Tucker
2008: Goran Dragic (45) - Trent Plaisted
2009: Nando De Colo (53) - Robert Vaden
2010: Ryan Richards (49) - Soloman Alabi
2011: Adam Hanga (59) - Isaiah Thomas
2012: No-one of note
2013: Jean-Charles Livio (28) - Archie Goodwin.
Looking at those drafts, out of 14 years, they've managed to draft a rotation player 8 times, with De Colo looking like he could also make the grade. That is simply staggering. To get 5 starters from that group even more so. To have 2 all-stars is practically unthinkable. To say that their process isn't successful because they've only had 2 all-stars completly misses the point. To say that there's a better approach suggests that a number of teams have been more successful drafting outside the top 25. Can anyone find a team with a comparable record?
The whole point is to find successful professionals who can slot into a team. Since when does AAU ball support that? Of the 32 players drafted after Splitter in the 2007 draft, only 3 have had any sort of NBA success: Carl Landry; Glen Davis and Ramon Sessions. Only 1 became an All-Star, that player being Marc Gasol, not famed for his AAU history...
In fact, what is most remarkable about San Antonio is that, considering where they are drafting, the only international players they could be considered to have missed out on are: Varejao; Marc Gasol; Pekovic & Asik. All other players were long off the board by the time they drafted. To miss out on 4 international players in 14 years is unbelievable and clearly shows that the scouting process they go through is damn-near perfect.
Just went through the spurs drafting history from 2000-2011, and it's not super impressive. Obviously they don't get high picks, and I agree they do as well as anyone with international scouting, but the article suggests that the international scouting is safer/better then relying on Americas system. And I'm just not seeing it. Robert rytas, Sergei koralov, giourgus printeziz, nano de colo, Ryan Richards, Adam hanga are all non NBA calibe international guys they picked. You mention the very next pick, well that's a small sample size. Yes mahinimi is better then simian who went next. But the next puck after simian was David lee, spurs missed out on him. Other then Manu and Parker who they obviously deserve tons of credit for, the only other picks they seemed to nail were scola and dragic.
Again, I'm nit debating the spurs ability to scout internationally, I'm debating how much more useful international scouting is over American scouting. Hell, kawhi Leonard is better then any of those other guys mentioned.
Kawhi Leonard was basically a lottery pick (15). If people are doing their job right, then the player drafted at 15 should be at least a rotation player, with the chance of becoming a star. Anyone drafted at 28 is usually not in the league after their rookie season. Most 2nd round picks are lucky to be in the league by the following season. Spurs' record is considerably better than that. Sure they've probably had about a 50% success rate (don't write off De Colo, he can play), but most of those names were drafted in the 50s. If you manage to pull off getting a player of note at these slots then you've struck gold. It makes sense to take a flyer on a player who can sit in Europe for a couple of years, rather than a US prospect who almost certainly won't make it past training camp.
I chose the player immediately after to show that consistently the Spurs drafted better than the team picking next. If we looked at every player drafter afted the Spurs' pick, then I'm sure you can find a player better than the Spurs' pick, but if your argument is that the Spurs' system isn't as effective as the combined luck of every other team that drafted after them, then your logic is pretty spurious. 29 other teams missed David Lee and the vast majority of them were selecting from the US talent pool.
The point is: was there a better player that they could have drafted at that spot? Even with the benefit of hindsight, there aren't that many. Let's look at each year where they drafted a foreign player:
1999: Ginobli was the 2nd last pick. They also traded for Giricek at 40. The only players of note after that was Todd MacCulloch and Francisco Elson. There were only 4 rotation players available out of the last 18 picks and they got one with each pick, including the only all-star.
2002: Luis Scola = 3rd last pick. In the entire 2nd round, there was only 1 player drafted who was better than Scola. Carlos Boozer was drafted at 35, 21 spots ahead of Scola. Other than Boozer, only Gadzuric, Ronald Murray, Matt Barnes and Rasual Butler were drafted in the 2nd round and played any meaningful minutes. All these players were drafted significantly ahead of Scola.
2003: Leandro Barbosa = 28. A capable 6th man who is capable of exploding from the bench. Josh Howard, Luke Walton, Steve Blake, Willie Green, Keith Bogans, Mo Williams, James Jones & Kyle Korver were all drafted after him. Of those players, I'd only definitely take Josh Howard over him Howard was a 4 year college player, known for his defnce, hardly an AAU prototype. You could argue that Mo Williams & Korver are better, but personally I'd take Barbosa. Of the 30 players drafted from Barbosa onwards, only 9 played became rotational players. Only 3 of them became starters.
2004: Beno Udrih = 28. Again a solid player, capable of running an offence. Of the 32 players drafted after him, the only US players who've cracked a rotation are Chris Duhon (39) and Trevor Ariza (44). Ariza was a better player, but Duhon wasn't. Again, Ariza is a player who, like Howard before him is a player who earned his living playing defence, rather than playing 1 on 5. Ironically, by far the best player that the Spurs missed out on was an international player, Anderson Varejao. SAS also had an international pick at 58, but he never played in the NBA, much like the 2 players drafted after him.
2005: Ian Mahimni = 28. This is the one year when the Spurs had the chance at making a better pick. Let me repeat that, the ONLY year out of 14, when you can say they made a mistake. Again, the irony being that had they picked Marcin Gortat at that spot (he went at 57), they would have looked so much better. David Lee, as you said, went 2 spots later and would have been a good pick, but then again came out as a Senior, so had 4 yerears of college behind him. Monta Ellis went in the 2nd round and is probably the first player you could describe as an AAU player who the Spurs were able to pick and would of, had they had the benefit of hindsight. Brandon Bass, Louis Williams, Andray Blatche, Ryan Gomes & Amir Johnson all went in the second round. A great year for High School recruits and the one year where taking a punt on a high school player late in the draft was a good gamble. Even so, a lot of those players have caused major headaches through their careers whose me first attitude has cost them the chance to compete, whilst Mahimni would have got bigger minutes on a weaker team. Only Ellis & Lee are players who the Spurs would definitely have rather taken. Personally, I'd love to see what would have happened had Lee learned to play defence or Ellis learned to play team ball.
2007: Tiago Splitter = 28. Would be a starter on most teams. In the 32 picks after Splitter, only 4 players became rotation players. Only one became an all-star and he was an international pick (Marc Gasol). No American born players drafted after Splitter became a better player.
2008: Goran Dragic = 45. A starter. No player of note was drafted after him.
2010: Ryan Richard = 49. A wasted pick. However, with only Luke Harangody & Willie Warren drafted after him, no player of major note was missed out on.
2011: Adam Hanga = 2nd last pick in the draft. Somehow a better player was drafted after him in Isiaiah Thomas. Whilst it is unlikely that Hanga will pan out, he's still young, so we'll wait and see.
2013: Jean Livio-Charles = 28. A great performance against USA this summer, but unlikely to make the cut. There are probably 5 players with more potential: Archie Goodwin, Ricky Ledo, Ray McCallum & Glen Rice Jr are all very good players, but it is far too early to make a judgement.
Again, the argument isn't are the Spurs drafting all-stars? The question is, are they drafting better players at their picks than other teams who are drafting AAU style players. In the 9 years that SAS have drafted an international player (I won't count 2013, it's far too early to call), in 4 of the years they got a player better than any US pick who came after and in 2 years they got someone who was at a comparable level. In only 1 year did they lose out on a major domestic prospect (2005). The only issue is that they missed out on 3 of the premier international players. Had they managed to get Varejao instead of Udrih (2004), Marc Gasol instead of Splitter (2007) and Gortat instead of Mahimni (2005) it wouldnt even be close.
Over the years listed above (bar 2013, like I said too early to judge), there were 162 players drafted at Spurs' pick or later.
Spurs had the chance at a maximum of 11 players and managed to get 2 all-stars (Parker, Ginobli), 3 starters (Scola, Splitter and Dragic) and 3 rotation players (Giricek, Mahimni & Barbosa). Only 3 (Richard, Hanga & Karaulov: 2004) can be described as poor choices, and Hanga is young enough that there's always the chance he could become a rotation player, though it is unlikely. According to Draft Express, the chances of finding a star in picks 21-28 is 5%, a starter = 13%, a rotation player = 30% and someone who is out of the league = 53%. So 5%/13%/30%/53%. The Spurs' success rate, drafting later every single year time is 18%/27%/27%/18%. So the Spurs have as many stars than the average team picking higher has stars and starters. They have almost as many stars/starters as the average team have stars/starters and rotation players. For the average team, only 47% were worthwhile, for the Spurs it is 72%:
Of the other 151 players drafted, there were 2 US All-Star calibre players (Ellis and Lee, both in the same year), 3 starters (Josh Howard, Trevor Ariza & Ramon Sessions) and 16 rotation players (lots of these have started at some point, but not consistently) That's a success rate of 1%/2%/11%/86%, compared with the Spurs' 18%/27%/27%/18%. So, compared with the league Spurs were far more successful.
Internationally there were also 2 All-Star calibre players (Marc Gasol, plus Varejao) and a starter (Gortat).
In fact, put the Spurs' picks against the US picks that came after them probably still come out on top. The other teams can't have Lee & Ellis, as they were both in the same draft & Spurs only had one pick (Blatche & Louis Williams were also 2005). Likewise, Landry, Sessions & Glen Davis were the same year, so they can only have 1. Picking Josh Howard prevented Kyle Korver, Boagans,, Steve Blake & Willie Green.
PF: Scola Carl Landry
SF: Ginobli Trevor Ariza
C: Splitter / Mahimni David Lee
SG: Giricek / Barbosa Josh Howard
PG: Parker / Dragic Isaiah Thomas
Out of those picks I'd take the Spurs' picks. Imagine if they'd picked some of the better international players, swapping Splitter for Gasol, Gortat for Mahimni & Dragic for Varejao. It wouldn't even be close.
Also, you mentioned De Colo. He was a throw, along with Lorbek when they swapped George Hill for Kawhi Leonard. Both De Colo & Lorbek have a chance at being rotation players within the next 18 months, so not only did they trade a rotation player for a potential future all-star, they also got 2 potential role players who they can stash until they're ready.
Whatever eay you look at the numbers / players the Spurs come out massively ahead. If your only argument is that they've not managed enough star players, then the fact that they had far less than a 5% chance and yet managed 2 (18%)and a 13% of getting a starter and managed 3 (27%). When they should only have managed at best 1 star and 1 starter and they've managed to get 5, there's no way to argue against their success.
I isn't read your whole post, but i don't think we are arguing the same argument. I never said the spurs don't draft well or that they do not know ther international stuff well. I said the thought that the spurs( or anyone else) could decide international evaluation and drafting is greater then domestic evaluation and drafting due to the foreign system being better then the USA system is silly. The finals saw bonner, Neal and green all play as much a role as splitter and diaw. There is no evidence to suggest that it's a safer bet to rely on international guys over USA guys because of the system.
When everyone is on the same talent level the ball should be spread evenly but when someone is better they deserve more shots, the better they are the more shots they get. However this model doesn't get followed, a coach may think he can get his name out there and ride of the coat tails of a talented player if he lets that player take all the shots and get noticed himself; I've seen many parents get into coaching only to give the ball to their child entirely.
better players are really "better" when they manage to make players around... better than they should be.
bball is a collective sport.
Other factors to bear in mind include: how popular a sport basketball is comparatively; what other sports it competes with; and the age at which children have to make a sporting decision.
It is clear that in the US, that basketball is in the 'Big 3' alongside baseball and American Football. This isn't close to being the case in Europe, where football is by far the most popular. No other sport comes even close. If we take France as a fairly typical case, there are 2.3 million registered footballers, compared with around 450,000 basketball players. Tennis, horse-riding and Judo are also more popular than basketball, though horse-riding is predominantly female. Compare that with the 26 million people playing basketball in the US, with 10 million playing for a school, college or regional team.
Secondly, basketball doesn't really compete with any other sport in the US. There is little crossover with Ice-Hockey or Baseball. There are links between American Football and Basketball (clearly Lebron or Iverson could have made it in the NFL and there are some NFL players with some game), but as most NFL positions don't involve handling the ball, there are probably only about 20% of players who gave up a career in one sport to pursue the other. Besides, most children would have played both sports until at least High School, meaning that they were at lest 18 before they had to make a decision as to which sport they wished to pursue.
Compare this with the set-up in Europe. The amount of sports which require, size, athleticisim and ball-handling are much more likely to poach potential basketball players and poach them much younger. To take France again, we had 450,000 basketball players. However, we also had 370,000 handball players and 290,000 rugby players, both sports where the physical make up of a player is comparable. Were these sports not around, then you would probably double the pool of athletes. I'm from the UK and now actually play handball. It is very clear that there's a hierarchy of sports. Football gets the cream, especially from working class culture. Then it is rugby, then basketball. The vast majority of the people 6 foot 6+ in the UK, if they play sport, play rugby.
The final point is probably the most important. As I stated earlier, in the US you have 2 sport or 3 sport athletes, often up until senior year high school. In Europe, potential sports stars will sign with a club from the age of 9. Once signed to a club, that is the sport they play to the exclusion of all others. At 9 years old, it is hard to make an informed choice about which sport you're most suited to. It will largely be a result of what sport was popular in the region you lived. If you live in a rugby area, you'll play rugby. If you live in a handball area, you'll play handball etc. By making that decision so early, there is a large arbitrary element. When I grew up, our school teacher played hockey, so we had a strong hockey team, but all other sports suffered. When he left, the new PE teacher played Volleyball, so hockey dropped off and volleyball picked up. Because PE is a low status profession in Europe, unless you're in a professional club set-up before you reach your teens, your chances of making it as a professional are virtually non-existent. In a sport like basketball, where growth spurts can completely change someone's prospects, this early decision making process is massively detrimental.
In terms of creating professionals, I think that the European system is more efficient, but the pool it is working from is miniscule in comparison to the US. In terms of creating stars, the US system works for 2 reasons. Firstly, the 1-on-5 mentality works for a tiny percentage of players, but you only need a tiny percentage of players to work for the system to suceed. This is supported by the focus on athleticism in the US, which allows players to have a physical advantage compared to their European peers, which can often overcome technical shortcomings. By having young players playing with professional adults, they are taught to be naturally deferential and a good team-mate, rather than showcasing their talent. Their effectiveness as a team-mate is made somewhat redundant when you take them off of that team. Therefore, this deference is something that to a certain extent has to be untaught when they enter the NBA, especially when you see players criticised for not wanting to be 'the man', because winners have to demand the ball (Andrew Wiggins, Ben McLemore). Nicolas Batum springs to mind, as an example of a European player who has had to balance the style of playing within the offense, with the All-Star mentality of the NBA..
Overall it boils down to this (please note the massive generalisation here!): Do you want a fundamentally sound player who you've got to push to take over a game, or an athletically superior player, who you have to teach when to shoot and when to pass?
This was actually a great read.
I live in Russia and I'm quite familiar with our youth basketball system since I know a bunch of guys who went through it (one played with S. Karasev).
Every player that's relatively good here goes to a "basketball school" which is basically a youth basketball club where they are taught by great professionals (almost all clubs are connected to professional clubs). So all the young players you see are extremely skilled, even the ones you just meet in random pick up games - if they've been through such a "school" they are almost very good shooters, passers and their handle is solid too.
It has to be said though that firstly this is really only true for the very major cities (I live in Moscow), in most Russian cities there is NO basketball infrastructure. More than that it might even be tough finding a regulation-sized hoop anywhere in the street (I live in Moscow and I have to take a subway ride to get to the nearest basketball court). So basketball in general is MUCH more accessible in USA.
Also there is NO youth sports coverage anywhere here. Maybe only the occasional U19 world cup on some cable channel.
"Also there is NO youth sports coverage anywhere here. Maybe only the occasional U19 world cup on some cable channel."
and that's a good thing... too much media too young kills lots of efforts made in those "schools" to keep young prospects focused on bball development, fundamentals and collective play.
I don't know how much of a conflict of interest it would be but I'd like to see the NBA invest more in the youth like building their own HS basketball factory, prep/post-grad "schools" who play national schedules against the best prep schools like an Oak Hill, Huntington, Montverde, Findlay, Brewster, etc, run and coached by people with NBA pedigree and experience.
I'd also like to see them sponsoring more skills camps during the AAU season. IMO these kids need more instruction and less games. The US public simply won't accept 14-15 y/o basketball players turning pro, which is a double standard since it is accepted in other sports like tennis and golf. But besides that, the infrastructure isn't there to support junior/cadet teams like they have in Europe which is a truly awesome model for building players. There are other obstacles that would prevent that type of system happening in the US, like the draft.
On the double standard part about America is against basketball 15/16 year olds turning pro vs tennis or golf, I think the difference is that in tennis or golf you have prove you can compete with the elite to be pro. You don't become a pro golfer until you can consistently shoot a certain score. There are zero 15/16 year olds that will hold their own on a NBA court or NFL field.
If USA basketball were smart they'd set up a US Olympic Training Center style facility and organization for top amateur players to go and practice together during the off-season. Building off an Olympic model would negate any NCAA violations for college players or for high school athletes who's freshman years are often lost or shortened due to accepting money on the AAU circut.
The US with the NCAA as we know it simply doesn't allow the European model to work here, but there is a way to make more of an investment in American basketball and set up a workable infrastructure to do just that.
This would have to be invite only, and require a large sum of money to get going ( The NBA possibly ), but it could be a more workable way to invest in America's young talent. The AAU circuit is what it is, I'm not a real big fan and I played in it years ago. It didn't make me a better player, just gave me games in the summer time where we could run fast breaks and not run a real offense. This seems like a better option to develop young ball players.
Not sure why so many attack AAU ball. It's not much different than it always has been. It doesn't need to be very structured. It's a show case and a way for players to show other parts of their game that they aren't able to show while playing in the structured confines of H.S. if not AAU they would just do like they used to ( and still do) by playing in their area summer leagues.