AAU basketball started in Maine in 1991, 19 years after the Maine Principals’ Association initiated its Sports Season Policy. That rule stated coaches could only have contact with their players during the high school basketball season of 15 weeks maximum, including three weeks of preseason, nine weeks of regular-season games, one week of prelims, one week of tourney play and one week of state-final play. The coaches can also have contact with the players during approximately six weeks of summer basketball.
Prior to the MPA Sports Season Policy, coaches could coach their teams in the spring as teams competed in undergrad tournaments in March and early April. The sports season policy eliminated that.
While I was coaching high school basketball I allowed my players to play AAU basketball six weeks during the summer and they were allowed and encouraged to attend AAU practices and games if in conflict with my summer program. I felt that I had the best of two basketball worlds during the summer.
My better players improved by playing with and against better competition than they would have faced in our summer program.
My remaining players got more playing time and had to raise their level of play to make us competitive. Thus, I had my best players improving as well as my remaining players.
AAU has grown significantly through the years as there are now five splinter AAU groups: the Sports Zone in Saco, MBR, MAC, MB Nation and YBOA. There are literally hundreds of elementary, middle school and high school players participating in these programs.
These programs are held for six to seven weekends in October and November and for 21 weeks from March through July. This is a total of 28 weeks. The sites used range from Saco to Bangor.
During August and September there is no basketball for either the high schools or AAU and the only time they compete head to head is during the six weeks in the summer.
The fall AAU program runs on weekends in October and November when high school players compete together as their high school team but coached by someone who is not connected with the school. In the spring the AAU programs shift to all-star teams and play weekends throughout March, April, May, June and then go to national tournaments in July after qualifying for nationals through the boys and girls state tournaments held at the Sports Zone in Saco.
AAU caters to the development of individual basketball skills, while high school and middle school teams are geared more toward team development.
AAU allows players to play against and with players of higher skill levels — which is how players really improve — and they play many more games. Another benefit of AAU is there is much less parent involvement about playing time.
AAU runs for seven months while high school runs for five months. AAU gives high school players much more exposure to college coaches while competing in state championship and national tournaments.
My 20 years experience with AAU basketball was as a coach from 1991-2000 and as an official from 2000-2010. I have worked more than 1,000 AAU boys and girls games. For the most part my experience has been very positive. Yes, there are poor, average and above average coaches in AAU, but that is also the case for high school and middle school.
The Maine Association of Basketball Coaches has not worked very much with the AAU to improve basketball in Maine because many high school coaches have a problem with the summer, when both AAU and high school basketball are going head to head with players competing for both.
Also, I see very few high school coaches in attendance watching or supporting their players who play AAU basketball, especially in the fall when the teams are playing together as high school teams.
AAU must be filling a 19-year basketball void because of the MPA’s sports season policy as hundreds of Maine basketball players are taking advantage of AAU Basketball whenever it is being run.
Bob Cimbollek is a retired high school basketball coach and former high school and college basketball official.