As the debate over load management in the NBA continues, one of the factors regularly brought up is the increasingly demanding schedule young prospects face on the AAU circuit.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James has strong feelings on the subject.
"These kids are going into the league already banged up, and I think parents and coaches need to know [that]... well, AAU coaches don't give a f--k," James, whose sons Bronny and Bryce both play for AAU teams, told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. "AAU coaches couldn't give a damn about a kid and what his body is going through."
"It was a few tournaments where my kids—Bronny and Bryce—had five games in one day and that's just f--king out of control. That's just too much. And there was a case study where I read a report. I don't know who wrote it not too long ago, and it was talking about the causes and [kid's] bodies already being broken down and they contributed it to AAU basketball and how many games that these tournaments are having for the [financial benefit]. So, I'm very conscious for my own son because that's all I can control, and if my son says he's sore or he's tired, he's not playing."
James isn't the only current or former NBA player or coach to have strong feelings about AAU basketball.
Earl J Watson @Earl_Watson
Load management isn’t the toll of the NBA schedule, it’s the toll of youth travel basketball playing 12-15 games a weekend to keep the monthly fees validated! That hurts the players later in life & rookies are entering the NBA hurting! Youth hoops needs less games&more teaching!
Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine told Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype he had mixed feelings on the matter:
"Yeah, we played a lot in AAU; it's a little much. When I was playing, it was sometimes 3-4 [games] a day. It's why, I think, some kids are getting knee injuries at a young age, too. But I can see it both ways, because playing those games helps us find out who we are and let us experiment with our game. I wish I did get more fundamental teaching before college, though."
Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner told Kennedy that the AAU circuit was a "grind-and-a-half—but a necessary one" for players trying to reach the league and make a name with scouts and recruiters. He added that load management was "smart" for modern NBA players, however, since "we're trying to have long, successful careers and I'm all for [doing] whatever that takes."
And Nikola Vucevic, who grew up in both California and Montenegro, is not a fan of how youth basketball is handled in the United States. He told Kennedy that young players were "overworked" in the AAU circuit and taught "bad habits."
"AAU is bad for basketball," he said. "It ends up being a one- or two-man show where kids just play one-on-five and don't learn how to play the game right way."
Playing a full AAU schedule may also limit a kid's time to play other sports. And that could also lead to injuries, as Baxter Holmes of ESPN wrote in July:
"A separate 2016 study from [University of Wisconsin's David Bell and a group of researchers] found that 36 percent of high school athletes classified as highly specialized, training in one sport for more than eight months a year—and that those athletes were two to three times more likely to suffer a hip or knee injury."
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver weighed in on the issue before Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals, per Holmes.
"What our orthopedics are telling us is they're seeing wear-and-tear issues in young players that they didn't used to see until players were much older.
"And, again, I understand I shouldn't use a broad brush to criticize the entire AAU system, because parts of it are excellent. But also parts of it are very broken, especially [as it] relates to injuries in the league. What we're seeing is a rash of injuries among young players."
The conversation persists, in large part because such a huge swath of star players—Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Victor Oladipo, DeMarcus Cousins, Zion Williamson, Marvin Bagley III, John Wall—have either already missed time this season or are currently sidelined.
Some of those injuries were isolated incidents, which is a natural occurrence in any professional sport. But some of them are being connected to the wear and tear that comes from a lifetime of specializing in basketball.
Others, like Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid, have been closely monitored in recent seasons under load management plans meant to give them the necessary rest to mitigate any injury concerns. At the core of the argument against such plans is that paying fans suffer if they don't get to see a player because he's being held out for load management.
The AAU's contribution to the issue will likely continue to be explored.