Beyond the Hype: An Australian perspective on AAU tournaments in the US

For many people in Australia, all that they know about Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tournaments is what they see in mixtape videos. However, there are teams of Aussies heading over to the United States to play in the hype machine that is the AAU.

Aussie Prospects is one organisation that is helping Australian youngsters showcase their skills in America, and co-founder and director, Matt Foster, is leading the charge.

Foster, a former college player and current head coach of Big V side Hume City, co-founded Aussie Prospects along with Ash McCormick around four years ago. They provide trips to AAU tournaments, where the likes of LeBron James Jr and Zaire Wade have been plying their trade in recent time. It is all in a bid to get players added exposure to US colleges and to also introduce them to the game in America.

We spoke to him, and a few players he has taken over there, about the pursuit of earning a college scholarship and what these tournaments are really like.

“The whole collegiate system is largely unknown to a lot of players and parents from Australia and it can be a really 'bizarre' environment,” Foster said. “The whole recruiting period, college offers, interest, visits etc can be a really stressful time. Our program is designed to try and help players and families through this.”

Believe The Hype?

Looking from the outside, it is easy to get caught up in the hype of AAU tournaments, but when we asked Foster about the some of the common misconceptions of these events, he made it clear that they aren’t just what you see on Bleacher Report or SLAM.

“People think the level of basketball is always at a high level. This is not true. There are some very ordinary teams and an obvious lack of skill development," he said.

“The top-end teams in AAU tournaments would be as good, or probably better than rep teams over here. It is hard to judge as it is a really different style, the US teams are, as expected, far more athletic and just bigger/longer.

“Australian basketball is a lot more structured and our skills are superior to the US. Shooting, passing, and fundamentals are better in Australia.”

Matt Roberts, Ringwood Hawks NBL1 guard, has just recently accepted a scholarship to Henderson State University and in 2018 was part of a tour that went over to the US to play in the tournaments that catch so much attention.

“I just went over to try and get some exposure from college coaches and generate more interest for myself,” Roberts said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially because of the group of people I did it with.”

‘Aussie Prospects gave us the opportunity to play against the best in the US, in front of hundreds of college coaches," Zac Triplett --who is in the class of 2020-- shared. The sharpshooting 6’5 shooting guard also participated in the NCAA's debut College Basketball Academy in Houston, and has received multiple mid-major D1 offers.

6'5 guard, Daniel Foster, also agreed on how the US tour enhanced his exposure to college basketball coaches, and personal development. Foster, who's also in the class of 2020, was a participant in the NBA's Basketball Without Borders 2018 camp, and was part of the squad that took bronze in the recent U18 3x3 Asia Cup in Malaysia.

The Experience

Only a few weeks ago, LeBron James caught some media attention for his courtside antics at his son’s AAU game, and Roberts explained that it’s all just part of the experience.

“When you walk in you just see everyone sizing you up, and for me personally I’m doing the same. The atmosphere in the gym is a little tense 'cause everyone is fighting for the same spots.”

Speaking of LeBron James, celebrity spotting is another thing that is just part of the AAU experience.

Ben Linkin, another player who was part of an Aussie Prospects team that travelled to the US, told us some of the big names he and his team have crossed paths with.

“This year we ran into Buddy Hield of the Sacramento Kings, however last year we were lucky enough to see Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Trae Young all at the Vegas tournaments as well as rising stars Cole Anthony and Cassius Stanley.”

The AAU Game

As you would expect, the AAU game is played and officiated very differently to what people are used to in Australia.

Firstly, in most tournaments, there is no 24-second shot clock. This means plenty of teams will attempt to stall down the stretch of games, however as a whole, the tempo of games is a lot faster.

According to Foster, this makes for some intriguing gameplay.

“The decision making in AAU can be very 'interesting’. We did a study a few years back and approximately 85% shots over there came off one pass or less,” he explained.

While the pace of the game lifts, it would appear the tightness of officiating drops.

“The way the game is officiated is also very interesting. Fouls are not always called and games can get very physical. To the point where we witnessed punches thrown and the game being called off for one of the other Australian programs over there,” said Foster.

Players echo the sentiment of Foster, with both Matt Roberts and Ben Linkin stating the reffing was one of the major differences of the game over there compared to in Australia.

In fact, Linkin said that is what he would change about AAU tournaments if he had the chance.

“The reffing is a lot different out there, I would change the way the games are officiated as there is a lot of fouls,” he stated.

As Australia’s presence in American basketball continues to grow, it is no surprise that AAU tournaments are one of the paths coaches and players are choosing to go down.

Although it’s not entirely what you see in the highlight videos and mixtapes, they act as a great tool for hopefuls to gain exposure to US colleges.

Who knows, soon it might be LeBron James getting hype on the sidelines for an Aussie superstar prospect.