Yo man… y’all really NEED AAU guys: An Open Letter to College Coaches

Coach… Coach…. I hear it all the time. “Why do I have to call his “guy”? Why does he listen to him? I’m paying his bills… I’m the one that gave him a scholarship… It’s because of me that he’s on national TV 25 times a year…” A lot of college coaches hate AAU/grassroots guys. It’s no secret. Y’all despise the close relationships players have with AAU/grassroots coaches. In your eyes, they are trying to “come up” off the kids. Y’all resent the powerful influence that that AAU coaches have on the recruiting process. Y’all wish you didn’t have to deal with these street savvy dudes.  It really bothers you that they can tell players to leave school early.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that in many, if not most, instances a player’s truest allegiance, his strongest alliance is with his AAU coach. This really gets under your skin and that of a lot of other college coaches. You want waaaaay more control over the players.  I get that.

Philly Pride Triple Threat Poster-page-0Rysheed Jordan, Philly Pride & Triple Threat

No disrespect Coach, but you’re DEAD WRONG on this one! You just don’t get it…. AAU/grassroots guys are not “THE” problem, they are not even “a” problem. In low income neighborhoods throughout America’s inner-cities, these guys are making positive life altering contributions to the lives of young Black men in desperate need of guidance and direction.  Yeah… yeah… I know Curtis Malone was just convicted for second time on drug-related offenses and sentenced to 100 months in federal prison last May.  So what Coach?  That’s just one man in one program.  Truth be told, despite Malone’s transgressions, he helped many who players from the “hood” who would have fallen through the cracks if not for his assistance.

Yo man… y’all really need those AAU/grassroots dudes.  Without them, a lot of these kids would have absolutely no shot at making it to college.

With all due respect coach, you don’t understand the crucial role AAU/grassroots coaches actually play in helping players deal with growing up in places like Philadelphia, Paterson, Newark, Brooklyn, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, DC and Houston. Young Black boys are immersed in woefully under-performing, dysfunctional and underfunded public schools during the day. After school, their home lives feature poverty, hunger, substandard housing and in some extreme cases, homelessness. On a daily basis, they confront persistent frustration associated with parental abandonment and/or incarceration.  AAU/grassroots coaches use basketball as a means of helping these boys remain engaged in high school and accessing higher educational opportunities.  If a select few can make money playing basketball it’s a blessing.

A lot of effort is required to produce a college ready young Black man in contemporary American inner cities.  Shit doesn’t just happen.  Coach, by the time you show up looking for tough “Philly” guard or a “super athletic” wing, literally thousands of hours have been invested by AAU/grassroots coaches into developing a young man prepared to deal with all aspects of collegiate life.

Playaz Poster-page-0Isaiah Brisoce, Playaz Basketball Club

AAU/grassroots coaches, especially in low-income urban areas, are filling a void. In many cases, they are fathering the fatherless. Without these guys, many of the young men you are trying to recruit wouldn’t even finish high school. They would be lost in the streets, like many of those who came before them.  The 80’s wasn’t that long ago.  Try to remember Coach.  The parents of current recruits came of age during the War on Drugs (1980-present) and they begat descendants who live, survive and play ball today in poverty stricken, hard scrabble urban centers. Some of the boys you’re recruiting are “crack babies.”  Most of them are products of what polite society refers to as alternative marital and familial forms.

Many came into being through “promiscuous” sexual relationships or long ago severed “common-law” marriages. Some are the “illegitimate” children of fathers with other families and quite a few have been “abandoned” by the biological fathers.  Fortunately, AAU/grasroots coaches step in, step up, embrace and try to help raise these young men. The players intrinsically understand and appreciate the role these men play in their life, even if you don’t or won’t.

JaQuan Newton-page-0JaQuan Newton, Team Final

My main objective here is to help you understand that relationship. I really want you to realize the AAU/grassroots coach is NOT the bad guy.

Let’s put this situation in a historical perspective. Think about how the parents, especially the fathers, grew up.  Beginning in 1980, under President Ronald Reagan, the situation for the urban poor began to worsen dramatically.  In the 1980s, while the number of arrests for all crimes had risen by 28%, the number of arrests for drug offenses rose 126%. While Nancy Reagan told Americans to “just say no”, her husband’s “War on Drugs” evolved into a War on Black males. According to the the US Department of Justice, from 1990 through 2000, “the increasing number of drug offenses accounted for 27% of the total growth among black inmates, 7% of the total growth among Hispanic inmates, and 15% of the growth among white inmates.”

The “war” resulted in an unprecedented amount of casualties in urban Black communities. Coach, think about it…. these are the same communities producing many of the elite basketball players today. In 1994, the New England Journal of Medicine noted that the “War on Drugs” resulted in the incarceration of one million Americans each year. The overwhelming majority of these prisoners were Black males. In 2008, the Washington Post reported that of 1.5 million Americans arrested each year for drug offenses, half a million would be incarcerated. In addition, one in five black Americans would spend time behind bars due to drug laws.  These are the fathers, the uncles, the cousins and the older brothers.

Mississippi Basketball Association Poster-page-0Mississippi Basketball Association, Jackson, Mississippi

With so many Black men in prison, on probation or on parole, who is gonna raise the boys? Who Coach?  Who’s gonna step up?  Well, in too many instances, no one is raising the boys.  To a large extent, that explains why less than half of the Black boys in America’s major cities graduate from high school. In Philly and NYC only 28% graduate from public high school in 4 years. Of the more than 50% that don’t graduate, more than a third are in jail or prison. Only 26% of Black male HS drop outs are gainfully employed. It’s real out here coach. We ain’t got time to be pointing fingers because you don’t like the way guys handle their business.  AAU/grassroots coaches are a literally saving lives. Most importantly, they do it because others won’t or can’t.

Coach, you do understand that being incarcerated wasn’t the only consequence of the War on Drugs.  Time after time, federal and state policies imposed collateral consequences on those convicted of drug offenses. So even when their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins and big brothers are released from prison they are still very much limited by their drug-related convictions. To this day, they are subjected to restrictions and conditions that are not applicable to those convicted of other types of crime. As result of the War on Drugs, millions of Black men face restrictions in obtaining various professional licenses, ineligibility for public funds including welfare benefits and student loans, loss of voting rights, ineligibility for jury duty, and deportation for immigrants. How are they supposed to rebuild their lives?  How are they supposed to take care of their families?  It’s real out here coach.

I respectfully submit, that it just ain’t fair.  The deck was stack against their fathers.  In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed laws that created a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity for the possession or trafficking of crack cocaine when compared to penalties for trafficking of powder cocaine. This law was blatantly discriminatory against minorities, mostly blacks, who were more likely to use crack than powder cocaine. As a result, persons convicted in federal court of possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine received a mandatory of 5 years in federal prison. On the other hand, possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence. Do you know how many of the family members of the players you recruit got caught up in this mess?  A whole helluva a LOT…

AAU/grassroots coaches are fighting and struggling to keep these young men from following the crime riddled path of their oldheads. But Coach, you’ve gotta understand that this battle is not easily won. Crime statistics show that—in the United States in 1999—compared to non-minorities, African Americans were far more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and received much stiffer penalties and sentences. Statistics from 1998 show that there were wide racial disparities in arrests, prosecutions, sentencing and deaths. African-American drug users made up for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of people sent to prison for drug possession crimes. Nationwide African-Americans were sent to state prisons for drug offenses 13 times more often than other races, even though they only supposedly comprised 13% of regular drug users.

Now coach… you are recruiting the sons, grandsons, nephews, cousins, Godsons, young brothers and youngbuls of Black men that came of age during this era. Of course, to some degree the trails and tribulations of the elders have shaped the behaviors and outlooks of the progeny? If we compare the young Black males of the 1980’s and the contemporary young Black men you are recruiting, we find alarming similarities. Indeed, in many ways things are worse.  Basketball is all too often the saving grace.

We R 1 Poster-page-0

Derrick Jones, WE R1

Coach, in many cases, the AAU/grassroots coaches are the only thing standing between the players and the participation in illegal street crime. That’s why so many AAU/grassroots coaches keep the kids extra close to them. That’s why they allow them stay in their homes. That’s why they informally “adopt” them. That’s why their wives put up with 6’8” 235 lb dinner guests almost every night. The families of the AAU/grassroots coaches know how precarious the situation is for many poor inner city males.

AAU/grassroots coaches understand the odds.  Most of the time, they are from the “hood.”  In many cases, their linguistic skills aren’t polished and refined.  Don’t mistake that for ignorance.  These guys are very adept at using basketball to beat the staggering odds. Quite frankly Coach, rather than complaining about the AAU/grassroots guys, you should be grateful that their kids that are recruitable athletes. The peers of the recruits not in the AAU program would never gain admission to your school.  You know and I know most Black males in urban school districts don’t graduate in four years. We also know the overwhelming majority of young Black men have absolutely no shot at meeting NCAA eligibility standards.

So, let’s keep it 100, as the kids say, coach… Most players in urban areas need an AAU/grassroots coach to help him understand what’s expected of him and keep him on track. You might say: Why not the guidance counselor or the assistant principal? After I finish chuckling…. I would note that, in many cases, they are gone. Their jobs have been eliminated.  We must face the truth Coach, as a society, we have more or less given up on funding urban education. In 2013, the Philadelphia school system laid off 3,783 employees, including 676 teachers and 283 counselors. Along with teachers and counselors, those losing their jobs included 127 assistant principals and 1,202 aides who monitor the cafeteria and playgrounds.

So you see, in many ways urban black male athletes attending public schools are set up for failure. AAU/grassroots coaches enable kids to have shot at college. They are the ones that find tutors for the SAT. They are the ones checking the grades. If they weren’t there the pool of qualified recruits would be much, much smaller.

In 2016, the NCAA will establish a 2.3 gpa and a 900 SAT score as a minimum requirement for freshman eligibility. As you can see on the chart below, 39 of 58 (67.2%) of Philadelphia’s public schools have average SAT scores below 800. Only 9 of 58 (15.5%) have average scores above 900. All nine of those schools are special-admit magnet schools. There aren’t too many elite athletes at those schools. Young Black boys attending neighborhood schools are pretty much screwed. The system is structurally determined to result in ineligible Black male athletes.  They will have to score 200-250 points above the average score for their respective schools to meet minimum NCAA standards. Coach, you are gonna need the AAU/grassroots coach more than ever.

Philly Public School SAT scores

They have been doing it for years.  I have a lot of faith in their ability to continue getting guys through the NCAA eligibility center labyrinth.  AAU/grassroots coaches help impressionable, very “rough around the edges” young men deal with life situations face by the urban poor. They offer a guiding hand as the young men as they deal with the daily experience of inexorable pressure, unsolvable problems and overwhelming frustrations. If they give a kid a ride to your campus, you should find a way to help out his program. Buy a couple directories at his tournament. If he brings kids to your campus at your request, break him off a “lil sumthin.”  Gas and tolls add up.

Coach… you have stop complaining that AAU guys are “in it for the money.” At the elite program level, there is some money to be made. Some guys do alright. The tournaments themselves bring in some revenue.

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Let’s look at 2 typical “Big AAU” events. The first will cost, say, $550 for a team to register with play in the 14-under, 15-under, 16-under and 17-under divisions. The second will cost $650 and will be open to teams that play 15U-17U. Major events average between 40 and 60 teams per age division. “Big AAU” events also charge between $175-$300 for coaches packets that provide information on the players to college recruiters.  Event organizers can generate significant revenue. Joy of the Game’s Chicago summer classic charges $495 for boys teams from 15U-17U. Boys from 9U-14U pay $350. Adidas Super 64 in Las Vegas charges $700 per team.

Some program charge fees to participate. AAU basketball does not come cheap. Depending on the team, families can expect to pay $400 to $4,000 per summer to play, including uniforms. In many cases, that does not include transportation to and from practice or games, hotel rooms, food, gas or admission for those not playing. Most programs offer financial assistance for players who need it, but normally it only covers the cost to join the team, not the peripherals.

But, Coach you know a LOT of the programs in the “hood” get by on the “muscle.” They can’t possible get $4,000 from a Mom on public assistance, living in Section 8 housing. Ain’t gonna happen, no way no how. These guys will have 50/50 raffles and a “fish fry” to raise enough money to travel hundreds of miles in cramped vans so you can see his kids play.

Coach… y’all really need to stop calling AAU/grassroots coaches “greedy” and money-hungry. Too many of you complain that AAU/grassroots guys are in it for the money.  They rightfully resent that accusation.  Stop… Just stop! The AAU guys know that Coach K made $9,682,032 last year. They know that’s $806,836 per month. It’s not a secret that Rick Pitino made $5,758,338 last year. Calipari came in at $5,511,381 and Bill Self earned $4,960,763. Overall, they know that 32 college coaches made more than a million dollars. They know about the private jets, the 3 company cars and the country club memberships. They really don’t understand the allegation that they are “pimping” players.

under-armour logoIn most AAU urban programs, coaches feed players. Coaches clothe players. Coaches even pay medical expenses for players with no insurance. Coaches pay for SAT test Prep.  Coaches pay for educational testing.  I know some of the best programs have sponsorship deals with Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. Others rely on Aunt Sadies’s fried whiting, collard greens and candied yams moving every other Friday night.

Coach, in many instances Daddy is locked up. Even if he’s not locked up, he’s not involved. Momma doesn’t understand the process. She’s just grateful that the AAU coach is involved with her son. She’s seen her nephews, cousins and the neighbor’s boys hustling, playing with guns, getting locked, dropping out of school, making babies and being unemployed. She’s worried about the guys on the street and she’s worried about the boys in blue.  Momma saw what happened to Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo and score of other young men armed with their Black skin.

Through basketball, she hopes her son can maintain a level of focus and complete high school. The AAU coaches reinforce the importance of attending and completing school.  He’s an asset.   Through basketball, she’s hoping that her son can access higher education. She knows she can’t pay your school $40,000 -$60,000 per year for her son to attend. The AAU coach has been there. He’s helped her when her son started talking back. He’s kept him off the street. She knows he’s safe with the AAU coach.

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She’s grateful for the 3,4 or 5 pair of sneakers per year. Coach, I know you can’t relate, but $125-$175 is a LOT of money to some people. Before her son began playing AAU/grassroots basketball, he never left his hometown except for an occasional long drive down south for a family reunion or funeral. Momma appreciates the opportunities for he son to visit Las Vegas, California, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Atlanta and Charlotte. His friends “around the way” don’t get those opportunities. The boy knows he can’t count on his father. His Momma and her Momma have told him for 17-18 years, “that man ain’t sh*t.”  But, her son is special. The AAU/grassroots coaches made that happen.  Straight up Coach… y’all NEED those AAU guys…..

 

 

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