Posted by Justin on April 17, 2013
I really look forward to AAU ball and summer camps each spring because it's another chance to play the game I love. In this journal entry, I want to take you inside of what we do and how we do it.
When we were still living in Ohio and knew we were moving to Houston because of my dad's job, we looked for AAU teams in the area. There were a few teams we were interested in, but Houston Hoops really stood out to us. I started with the younger group and eventually joined the 17-and-under team when I was a freshman.
For those that don't know, Houston Hoops is on Nike's EYBL circuit. I love EYBL because it's got most of the top players in it, and I love going against the best. It's a great chance to see where you are against those players. Some of the guys we're recruiting like Theo Pinson, Rashad Vaughn, Andrew Wiggins, D'Angelo Russell, and my teammate Justise Winslow, are all on it. The level of competition in EYBL makes for some intense practices and games.
Wiggins is definitely the toughest player I've gone up against. I didn't get a chance to go against Jabari Parker, but he's very good too. Wiggins is just so athletic and aggressive that he can sometimes overwhelm people. I didn't guard him that much, but we definitely game-planned around him.
Getting to know my coach with the Houston Hoops, Tim Schumacher, has been great and I enjoy all of my teammates. Honestly, the circuit can get a little tiring because there's so much travel involved. We're basically booked every weekend, if not every other weekend, going out of town to tournaments until the end of July. There are lot of times when I miss sleeping in my own bed.
My schedule is a little different since I'm homeschooled. I don't have class on Friday, but the rest of the guys usually have to miss class on at least Friday and sometimes Thursday if we're flying really far away.
Another unique aspect of the travel is that my family is able to come to every tournament I play in. The only times they don't travel is when I go to camps. It really helps my focus and how comfortable I am to have them on the road with me. If you haven't noticed, my family means everything to me. We treated my recruitment as a family decision and I couldn't ask for more supportive parents.
It can be tough keeping your intensity level up for every game the entire summer. But what's always motivated me is a love of the game. If I have a game early in the morning, I'm going to be up and ready to go. Each game is so important because we want to put ourselves in a position to bring the EYBL Championship home from the Peach Jam in July. That really pushes me as an individual to get up and go.
During the games, it's sort of interesting to see who stays calm and who doesn't when we're running up and down the court, playing the fast-breaking style of AAU.
You have some people who just love to go 1-on-1 and it's their time to shine. For everyone on my team, all three years I've been on the 17-and-under team, it's only about winning. We do whatever we have to, to win.
The main difference between high school and AAU ball is that most of us in AAU are the best players on our high school team and everything runs through us. I think once you get to AAU, you have two, three, four or even five Division 1 guys on your team, so you have to kind of figure out when to get the ball and pick your spots carefully.
You just have to control what you can control and take advantage of opportunities. It's better because not all of the pressure is on you to do pretty much everything like in your high school team, but it's also more difficult because the players are much better overall.
A lot of people, though, have negative things to say about AAU, the style of play and have even blamed poor play in college on AAU. They say that fundamentals aren't being taught and that players just go out there and play.
I think AAU is a positive thing, playing against the best players in the country is never a bad thing. You just have to make sure you don't play too much, because sometimes injuries can happen from overplaying. As far as fundamentals go, if you don't really have them now, during your freshman, sophomore or junior year, if you're not working on it on your own out of AAU, then I don't know how you're really ever going to get the fundamentals.
Plus, we practice a lot to get ready for tournaments. People see us in the games and assume we're just thrown together. We have practice every Wednesday from 6:45 to 8:45 and then on both Saturday and Sunday for about two hours when we don't have tournaments.
The practices, bowling trips, dinners at restaurants and down time in the hotel are when we really get to bond as teammates. A lot of us don't hang out that much off the court, but we're still pretty close as a team.
I've been lucky that I've had older guys who are also Division 1 recruits who gave me advice and helped me with recruiting. L.J. Rose, Rasheed Sulaimon, J-Mychal Reese, Khadeem Latin and Justise have all influenced me in different ways; just watching how they went through recruiting and how they handled the process.
Now that I have committed to UNC, I expect this AAU season to be different. Obviously, there's always a target on your back once you commit to a school. Everyone wants to show that you're not good enough to go to that school or they're better than you so they should be going there.
I'm going to have a bigger target on my back, but I'm just going to go out and play. Knowing that I have that one coach in the stands to play for instead of 20 will be different – I can just go play freely.
We start EYBL this weekend in Los Angeles. Drop by and say hello if you're in the area. Talk to you soon.