AAU basketball offers option to spring sports participation

Posted April 20, 2009, at 9:45 p.m.

Monday was Patriot’s Day. Seems like old times with the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins all playing this time of the year.

With the Sox heating up – finally – and the Celtics missing all-star center Kevin Garnett, the Bruins are trying to make their way back into championship action just like the old Bruins used to do.

Back in the day, my college pals and I used to gather for Bruins action and celebrate as only college boys do. All this was accompanied by a rousing game of table top hockey on my little STIGA floor hockey game. We even played for a Stanley Cup, which was, in actuality, a ceramic cup, made by somebody’s girlfriend.

Those were the days.

This is also the time of year when all this Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball action kicks into high gear.

I’ve had numerous discussions through the years with varsity basketball coaches throughout the state and AAU people statewide about this stuff.

I used to be of the mind that AAU basketball, because of its interruption of varsity high school spring sports, was not a good thing.

Now, I’m retired from all this, and I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s time that good basketball players are given the opportunity to perfect their skills.

Why the change, you’re saying?

Here’s why.

Generally speaking, the best athletes in high schools in Maine feel pressure to play all sports. In small schools, especially, there is a lot of pressure on talented kids to play every sport offered seasonally.

The more I pay attention to the growing popularity of AAU basketball, the more I realize that playing opportunities for kids should never be minimized by guys like me.

I hearken back to a lengthy conversation I had with coach Carl Parker, former varsity boys basketball coach at Bangor High and current AAU coach, regarding talented piano players or violinists and their concentration on their instrument, and, if you will, specialization in that field.

Carl’s point was this: Why should we penalize the outstanding hoopster by limiting his or her play in a sport he or she excels in?

Today, I’d have to say that I agree with Coach Parker.

Have we reached the point in Maine where kids and coaches are restricted in the games they love? I think it’s time to give in a little bit. Whether high school coaches or administrators, for that matter, want to admit it, AAU basketball is growing by leaps and bounds.

As evidenced by a new national AAU magazine, “The Real AAU Basketball,” the growth of this sport is big. Some AAU enthusiasts in our state think that AAU basketball will give Maine high school basketball a serious run for its money before all this is through.

I used to stand firmly on the side of all this Maine Principals’ Association hoop stuff, and then I retired.

I probably have a better perch to watch all of this from than I used to, but one thing is clear to me now: AAU is catching up.

Encouraging athletes who excel in one sport to enroll in any activity that will enhance their futures should be at the top of any list that an educator might make to help kids achieve their goals.

30-Second Time Out

All this Garnett talk – back and forth, back and forth – about playing time, surgery, and, of course, how this affects the Celtics in their play-off run, is getting old.

In 1958, the Boston Celtics lost all-star center Bill Russell to injury. They promptly lost to St. Louis — currently Atlanta — in the finals. Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game at all levels. Treat this year’s Celtics team like the one that would have been without the acquisition of KG.

Now, you have the Big Two, instead of the Big Three. And life goes on.

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