The Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant recently came out ripping AAU basketball while saying young players in Europe are much better prepared than their United States counterparts.
"AAU basketball," answered Bryant when asked what's wrong with basketball in the United States.
Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. It's stupid. It doesn't teach our kids how to play the game at all so you wind up having players that are big and they bring it up and they do all this fancy crap and they don't know how to post. They don't know the fundamentals of the game. It's stupid.
Now, I'm not a Kobe Bryant fan but he's right on with this assessment.
Summer AAU basketball is often synonymous with sleaziness. Yes, that's an unfair generalization. There are plenty of good people in AAU basketball. But there are just too many examples of AAU basketball being done for the wrong reasons.
At some point, everyone who's been involved with youth basketball has heard horror stories of greedy youth basketball organizers, administrators, coaches and trainers who are more interested in what's best for them than what's best for the young athletes under their influence.
Bryant also nailed the reason youth basketball development in the USA in general, and AAU ball in particular, is falling short: Profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) values on the part of our country's youth sports vultures (err, entrepreneurs).
"People get really upset when you start cutting into their pockets because all they do is try to profit off these poor kids," said Bryant. "There's no quick answer."
But the solution is clear in his mind.
"Teach players the game at an early age and stop treating them like cash cows for everyone to profit off of," said Bryant. "That's how you do that."
But too many AAU coaches aren't interested in teaching. They're only interested in marketing their kids' athletic ability to college coaches and shoe sponsors at big AAU tournaments.
Working on fundamentals like the proper footwork in practice sessions doesn't pay off for these opportunistic, short-term thinking coaches, club administrators and tournament organizers.
Here's the situation: European youth club teams practice about four times for every game they play. The ratio is just the opposite in the United States.
"I just think European players are just way more skillful," said Bryant. "They are just taught the game the right way at an early age... It's something we really have to fix. We really have to address that."
Yes, we do Kobe. And it should start with the development of a youth basketball infrastructure in the United States that certifies coaches, referees and tournaments. The driving question for this youth basketball organization needs to be "What's best for the kids and their basketball development?"
The NBA would be wise to provide some seed money to get this infrastructure going.
Basketball was invented in the United States. However, when it comes to developing young basketball players in the most effective, efficient and ethical manner, we're way behind a lot of the basketball world.
Youth soccer in the United States isn't perfect but it's a pretty decent model for what needs to happen in American youth basketball. It's no surprise that youth soccer in this country is patterned after club soccer in Europe, where player development is paramount.
"We have to teach our kids to play the right way," concluded Bryant.
And it shouldn't be just about developing better basketball players. It should be about developing better people.
Most of these AAU kids aren't going to end up playing in college. And very few will play pro ball. But all of them are soon going to be adults. If we're not giving them tools through sports to become better people and citizens we're missing a great opportunity.