“Our First Year Playing Club Basketball” by Dee Hoover, mother of Harrison, Class of 2017
In the beginning months of last year’s school season (2015) my sons’ homeschool basketball team went to Cary Christian to play against their JV team. Our son Harrison had a particularly good game that night, even though he was suffering from a calf pull. One of the opposing team’s parents approached us that night about getting our son into AAU. Up until that point, we had not really considered it; he played travel baseball during the time AAU took place. The parent shocked me by saying he saw college potential in Harrison, but without AAU it simply wouldn’t happen. Thus began our journey.
I asked around, speaking with the people I knew had played AAU. Most were disappointed by the frequent turnover in coaches, lack of organization, and the horrible behavior of other players, not to mention their parents. I was beginning to second guess the idea of getting into AAU, this was nothing like the league we played in, and I wasn’t sure it was what we were looking for, or that our son had what it takes to “go the distance”. About the time I was ready to give up, I decided to talk to one last person, and she had an entirely different story to tell. Her son played on a team with the Triangle Blazers Club. I got online and found the team. What I read seemed too good to be true. A club that cares about making my son into a man and not a future NCAA prospect only, it just couldn’t be true?!
Well, it was. My husband emailed Coach Michael the contact person for Triangle Blazers. He remembered my son right away from another game. Meetings were set up, one on one, Coach with my son, and eventually an invitation was issued. I loved that he wanted to make sure that my son would fit in with the team, it is important to protect your team in that way, in my opinion. The 2017 Blazers are academically minded, and they were looking for scholar athletes, luckily my son fits into that niche.
And we were off- practice 2x a week, and then after a month the tournaments began. It was eye opening indeed. Another new parent and I kept making eye contact and shaking our heads at the first game. The speed and physicality we were witnessing was totally unlike what we were used to. Fouls are not called unless they are egregious, because these games have to move, move, move! You are often crammed into small areas, with as many as 8-10 games going on around you. If noise bothers you, get a good pair of noise canceling headphones!!! The team socializes a lot over meals before and after games at these tournaments, and no one treated us like “the new guys”. Often the overwhelming nature of the crush of people and noise drove our family to want to just pull back for a few hours, so we sometimes skipped eating out afterwards or between games. I didn’t feel that this was seen as anti-social, just different strokes for different folks.
There is a varied and diverse make up on the team, living in several cities. We are a Christian family, and often didn’t stay overnight on Saturdays if we could drive back to the tournament after church on Sunday. Most chose to stay in hotels. We didn’t feel penalized in any way for not staying. By in large, we found most of the families accepting of the differences in the group.
Here are some things to be aware of if you have never played AAU before:
Expense : the start-up cost to join (yearly fees/dues) and buy uniforms can run you over $800. You will need at least 2 pairs of high quality basketball shoes, due to the amount of time you will play. The restaurants chosen are almost never fast food, and if there are 4-5 in your party, the cost for a weekend, hotel, gas, and meals can be steep. Entrance can run $17 each person per day, kids around $10, and during the live period you will pay $45 ea for entrance for the 3 days, plus parking. There are a lot of weekends in the season!
Organization : These tournaments can be frustrating when dealing with schedules. You often won’t know until Thursday if you will play on Friday, and at best you will know only the first 1-2 games. Future games depend on performance at the tournament. You will rarely know if you will play Sunday, and so hotel reservations can be tricky.
Behavior and Language: Our team has, in my opinion, exemplary behavior, both on and off the court. I think only one time in all the eating out did someone not stop to tell us how well our group of boys behaved. Many said they wanted to move when they saw such a large group of teenaged boys come in, and were so surprised at the manners and respect they witnessed. The Coach expects this of the boys, and it is so nice to know that he is watching this, and we as parents don’t need to patrol them while out, and we can sit as a group and enjoy our meals too. This will not be the case when you play games and are waiting in areas around other teams. I was shocked in the beginning at the language, yelled and spoken on and off the court, when they can clearly see adults sitting right there. The behavior of the parents is often worse than the kids…. BUT NOT ON OUR TEAM! Our boys don’t brag, cuss, or yell at officials, and sometimes it is really hard to take the high road.
Giving up time: The coach really does try to keep the tournaments down to every other weekend, as he wants to have a life too, but it just wasn’t possible – a lot. So if you don’t work in a job that allows you some flexible time on Fridays, then you will have to work out carpooling and trust another parent with your son. Luckily, on the Blazers, there will be ample people that will happily transport your son, and care for him like their own. The summer will indeed be eaten up with basketball. There are 2 tournaments in July during the live period that will be 2-3 nights in a hotel each (again, review expense). If you have younger kids, it will be hard, there is a lot of down time waiting to play, and that isn’t great for younger sibs. So if you have younger kids, expect to tag team and be in opposite directions, again…. A LOT.
Playing time and losing: This isn’t a pay for play league, and you may be upset that your son that usually starts on their school team doesn’t start on the AAU team. Coach Michael knows many of the teams we will play, and he uses the best mix of people against those teams, and it may not be your son, know that now. We had never watched our son walk off a court exhausted and down 50 plus points before. It will happen in July more than once. It can be a hard nut to swallow, but that is the only way to get better. Playing the tough teams makes you better. Coach Michael measures the game by how hard the boys worked, and did they push back and try to capitalize every time they had the ball. If so, it isn’t a loss. That can be a hard sell to young boys that got beaten like a drum more than once. Coach Michael is big on mental toughness, and this will bring that into focus.
All in all, this was an amazing time of learning and stretching out of our comfort zone. The games are often impersonal, and you have very little cheering, or crazy parent cheering, with little in between I found. It will be a season of highs and lows, and learning a totally different way of doing things. If you are flexible, which I believe is the key, and you take each game as an opportunity, then this will be a wonderful experience. If you hate travel, noise, and love a schedule that is updated nightly, this may not be for you. We wanted to move Harrison to ” the next level” and see if the NCAA was even a potential. Jury is still out, but I do know, unequivocally, that without the Blazers in general, and Coach Michael in specific, it would not have been even a remote possibility. Our youngest son as learned as much from helping in the practices as Harrison has. He told me the other day, ” I believe Coach will be at my wedding.” And I believe he is right. This is not a casual affiliation. Sign on seriously, ready to learn and push, don’t whine, and know that there will be bumps, but in the end, there will be amazing growth in your son. Strap in buttercup, you are in for a ride!!!!