Skip to content

A college basketball fan’s guide to the current grassroots basketball scene

Apr 25, 2014, 1:30 PM EST

In the modern 24-hour sports news cycle, nearly every aspect of the four major sports of are covered. Extensively.

Free agency is broken down like crazy and draft coverage is at an all-time high, complete with a movie starring Kevin Costner and talk of potential one-and-done players dominating college basketball until February.

But one of the great unknowns left to the casual sports fan is grassroots basketball, which is often mistakenly referred to by people as AAU.

The Amateur Athletic Union is an organization within the current structure of spring and summer high school travel basketball for American players, but is hardly the only — or preferred — way that athletes play basketball.

Most elite players opt to play in shoe company leagues and never actually play in an AAU game. The term — AAU — has just overtaken the name of the scene — grassroots basketball — like Kleenex has for tissues.

Having covered grassroots basketball for the last seven years, I get asked a lot of questions about the overall scene and what it is. College basketball fans will commonly see people tweeting at events on most spring weekends, but they don’t understand some of what is actually going on.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the common questions and misconceptions I hear about the grassroots basketball scene from college basketball fans.

What is grassroots basketball?

Like almost every sport in America now, basketball is a year-round endeavor complete with spring and summer travel basketball and fall leagues and camps between high school seasons.

In the spring and summer, teams of high school players form with other players in their area — or sometimes from a state or two away for bigger and more prominent programs — and travel a schedule of weekend tournaments or play in a league.

Teams are broken down into three levels for high school:

17U – Seniors to be
16U – Juniors to be
15U – Sophomores to be

Many tournaments will also devote time for 14U and younger age divisions in off-site locations as well, but we’re focusing on high school for now.

Why is grassroots basketball so popular among basketball’s elite prospects?

Kids want to play basketball and grassroots basketball gives them the opportunity to play with and against the best players nearly every weekend. While high school basketball can have limitations in scheduling or playing time or style of play for certain players, players can often pick-and-choose what they’re looking for in a grassroots program. Want to play in a shoe company league? Want to play for a coach that will play you extended minutes? Players can find any situation ideal if they look for the right fit.

How are grassroots teams formed?

Teams are often recruited together by programs that try to maintain strong play throughout multiple age groups. Many of these programs are usually apart of the three shoe company leagues that will be on display this spring. The adidas Gauntlet, the Under Armour Association and the current standard of the leagues, the Nike EYBL. These teams offer a lot of exclusive apparel and travel to places around the country to play in league games.

For teams that don’t fall under these leagues, many will play an independent schedule or opt to play in AAU events.

AAU events are held at the state level and teams that win a local qualifier will advance to nationals in July. Many teams form for the sake of playing for some kind of overall title in a league or the AAU events.

Where are grassroots events held?

Events are held locally, regionally and nationally and tend to be held in bigger cities and places with multi-court facilities.

What is the basketball actually like?

The basketball is usually very up-and-down. There’s a lot of fast tempo play and with some tournaments making kids play up to three games in a few hours time, they can get exhausted quickly and play can get very sloppy.

With the changes in structure to shoe company leagues, however, less stress is being put on kids on weekends by scheduling out full league schedules with adequate time off and a cap on games per weekend. The coaching is also much, much better than people think. I’ve seen players like Julius Randle and Jabari Parker have to adjust to multiple zone looks and double-teams on the offensive end while more teams are running complete sets thanks to the integration of a shot clock in the EYBL.

Are grassroots basketball events fan friendly?

Yes and no. Fans can sit very close to the action at a grassroots event and see a lot of basketball during a Saturday session, but there commonly aren’t programs or scorecards and names aren’t listed on jerseys so it can be hard to identify players for common fans. Some camps are also exclusive to media and family and don’t allow fans to attend at all. But if the coaches are out in July and you can hit a big-time grassroots game attended by a lot of coaches, it can be fun to watch. Two highly-ranked kids battling on a national stage can be a great experience as a basketball fan.

Why is grassroots basketball so influential in modern basketball?

Since the talent comes together in the form of leagues and elite teams, it is much easier for scouts and media members to see a big collection of top players in just a single weekend. When you also include games being played for multiple sessions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and there is a lot of time to get games in.

Grassroots basketball is the major influencer of national rankings because the top players have more of a chance to matchup throughout the course of the spring and summer. Camps in June and August also allow top players to come together nationally in exclusive events that put them all together for practices and games. This makes it even easier for people to make rankings because the best are playing each other. Kids want to be ranked and travel to big events, so they continue to play with or without coaches being allowed out.

When are college coaches allowed at grassroots events?

The open period for grassroots events is only one weekend in April from the 25th through the 27th and then 15 days in July:

July 9-13
July 16-20
July 23-27

The limited face time for college coaches — given how much the players play — is not good in helping them identify players outside of the high school season in which they’re coaching themselves.

College coaches cannot have off campus in-person contact with players or their legal guardians during the evaluation period. Coaches can still make telephone calls to players or legal guardians, and players can still make campus visits.

Is grassroots basketball a necessity to be a big-time college basketball player?

It helps, but definitely not. And plenty of players play on great local teams that play local events and continue to work and get better as basketball players. Does it do you better to sit on the bench of a high exposure team in a shoe company league or does it pay to play for the smaller local team and gain more experience? That’s the question some kids have to ask themselves.

Latest Posts
  1. Late Night Snacks: West Virginia, Miami win in-season tournament titles

    Nov 24, 2014, 1:10 AM EST

    Juwan Staten, Terrence Samuels Juwan Staten, Terrence Samuels

    No. 1 Kentucky set a new school record, Ohio State’s Shannon Scott broke Aaron Craft’s single-game assist record and more.

  2. Miami caps 4-0 week with second Gildan Charleston Classic title

    Nov 23, 2014, 11:49 PM EST

    McClellan Fernandez Palmer Rodriguez Lecomte Thomas McClellan Fernandez Palmer Rodriguez Lecomte Thomas

    A week that began with a win at No. 7 Florida ended with a commanding victory over Charlotte at the Gildan Charleston Classic.

  3. West Virginia shows signs of progress in Puerto Rico Tipoff win over No. 17 UConn

    Nov 23, 2014, 9:57 PM EST

    Bob Huggins Bob Huggins

    West Virginia has better depth and toughness than they had a season ago, and those improvements paid off in Puerto Rico this weekend.

  4. #POSTERIZED: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s John Jordan takes flight (VIDEO)

    Nov 23, 2014, 8:55 PM EST

    John Jordan, Miles Reynolds John Jordan, Miles Reynolds

    The 5-foot-10 guard has a standing vertical of 38 inches. That’s pretty good.

  5. Rutgers’ Kadeem Jack scores 13 points in first action of the season

    Nov 23, 2014, 8:10 PM EST

    Kadeem Jack, Chris Hooper, Antonio Jenifer AP

    Kadeem Jack missed the first two games of the season with a thumb injury.

  6. New Mexico guard breaks bone in his hand during loss to Texas A&M

    Nov 23, 2014, 6:55 PM EST

    Peyton Allen, Arthur Edwards Peyton Allen, Arthur Edwards

    With Cullen Neal already dealing with an ankle injury, Arthur Edwards is the latest Lobo dealing with a health issue.

  7. Reserve big man one of four UConn players suspended for violation of team rules

    Nov 23, 2014, 5:34 PM EST

    Hunter Ware, Ryan Boatright Hunter Ware, Ryan Boatright

    Rakim Lubin was averaging five minutes per contest in UConn’s first three games.

  8. Danuel House’s Texas A&M debut a successful one in Puerto Rico

    Nov 23, 2014, 5:16 PM EST

    Danuel House, Nick Russell, Nic Moore AP

    House scored 18 points, shooting 7-for-11 from the field, in Texas A&M’s 64-51 win over New Mexico.

  9. Yale forward Matt Townsend named a Rhodes Scholar

    Nov 23, 2014, 3:55 PM EST

    (Yale athletics/dspics.com) (Yale athletics/dspics.com)

    Yale forward Matt Townsend was named a Rhodes Scholar this weekend, a rare honor only give to 32 American students each year.

  10. POSTERIZED: Welcome to the 2014-15 season, Danuel House (VIDEO)

    Nov 23, 2014, 2:41 PM EST

    Danuel House AP

    Danuel House made his presence felt immediately for Texas A&M.

  11. Assigned Reading: Oakland’s Tommy McCune has overcome a lot while showing flashes of great play

    Nov 23, 2014, 2:10 PM EST

    tommy mccune Getty Images

    Oakland forward Tommy McCune had to overcome the loss of his mother after she lost her battle with cancer, but he’s shown flashes of great play early this season as he moves forward.

  12. Four-star 2015 big man cuts his list to three then visits SEC powerhouse

    Nov 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    (Nike) (Nike)

    One of the best unsigned players in the 2015 class is down to three schools but then visited another school on Friday night.

  13. POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr. throws down an alley-oop in traffic

    Nov 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EST

    Larry Nance (AP Photo) AP

    Looks like Larry Nance Jr. is fully recovered from last season’s ACL injury.

  14. Division III school makes buzzer-beating three-pointer against same opponent in back-to-back years (VIDEOS)

    Nov 23, 2014, 10:00 AM EST

    NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Getty Images

    This is one of the wildest buzzer-beaters I’ve ever seen and the back story makes it that much more incredible.

  15. Pregame Shootaround: Tip-Off Tournaments and some ranked teams headline Sunday

    Nov 23, 2014, 9:10 AM EST

    AP AP

    Tournament action resumes on a busy Sunday of college hoops.

  16. Quinn Cook is thriving as an off-guard, and No. 4 Duke will reap the benefits

    Nov 23, 2014, 3:56 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Concerns about Cook moving off the ball seem foolish through five games.

  17. Late Night Snacks: Rhode Island, Wyoming pick up big home wins

    Nov 23, 2014, 2:00 AM EST

    Rhode Island's E.C. Matthews (0), Nebraska's Shavon Shields (31) AP

    No. 21 Nebraska was the lone ranked team to fall on Saturday, but give them credit for being willing to go on the road to play a dangerous opponent.

  18. Indiana’s Devin Davis in attendance for team’s win over Lamar (VIDEO)

    Nov 23, 2014, 12:05 AM EST

    Landon Atterberry Devin Davis AP

    Devin Davis has been rehabbing from injuries suffered on November 1 when he was struck by a car driven by teammate Emmitt Holt.