ENGELHARDT: AAU an all-local outfit at Evansville Basketball Academy

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Perhaps some people got the wrong impression from my recent article regarding AAU basketball. I basically wrote that most kids benefit tremendously from playing against great summer competition — sometimes in front of big-time coaches.

“It gives kids the opportunity to play at a high level,” said Harrison High School coach Bryan Speer.

On the flip side, some AAU games are glorified playground contests. Coaches roll the ball out and let ’em play, defense be damned. Hangers-on and sponsorships from shoe contracts don’t help either.

But that is not the case locally.

The local AAU programs run through Evansville Basketball Academy and Evansville Basketball Club are examples of how to do it right. EBC only recruits players from a 50-mile radius of Evansville. It refused to take money through shoe contract sponsorship.

EBA program director Phil Kessler said EBA will have helped place a total of 77 to 79 girls and 25 boys with college teams by the time the current group of high school seniors are college freshmen.

Kyle Kuric is a recent example of someone who played for EBC — despite being constantly recruited by Indianapolis-area AAU programs — who thrived in college. The Memorial High grad played for the University of Louisville’s 2012 Final Four team and is currently playing professionally in Madrid, Spain.

“He was pressured all the time about leaving us, but he stayed with us and that worked out pretty good,” said Mike Thomas, who has been EBC’s president since its inception 25 years ago.

Without EBC, Jake Hassler said he never would’ve played collegiately. The Mater Dei grad went on to play for NCAA Division II Saint Joseph’s College. Calbert Cheaney and Walter McCarty are the two highest-profile players to come out of EBC. Washington graduate Tyler Zeller, currently with the Cleveland Cavaliers, spent one year with EBC.

“We have a list of about 120 boys who have gone on to play college basketball in some capacity,” said Aaron Thompson, who coaches the EBC team that will be eighth graders next fall.

He is frustrated by some of the negative perceptions regarding AAU ball. He noted, for example, that EBC works hand in hand with high school coaches, not behind their backs.

“We work with kids after their season is over until the month of June,” Thompson said. “In June, we don’t touch them. That’s their time with their high school team. (Bosse) coach (Shane) Burkhart talked about shoe-sponsored teams traveling all over the place. They can’t have JaQuan Lyle play with his high school team (throughout June) and that messes up the team chemistry.

“Our practices mirror high school practices. They get advice to help them make the right decisions, on and off the court. Our mission statement is to take players in this area and develop them, not only as good basketball players, but as strong individuals.”

Thomas acknowledges “there are some bad eggs and there is some bad stuff going on. No doubt about it.”

But you won’t find that bad stuff going on in the local AAU programs.

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