AAU: Summer ball vs. Elite talent
Basketball lovers know the game doesn’t end in March. For several local prep athletes, the end of the high school season means the AAU circuit is right around the corner.
Now, more than ever, boys’ AAU basketball has become the hot bed for improving individual games, but is also a way to showcase talents in front of college coaches throughout the spring and summer.
That evidence was clear last week when Louisville hosted Eddie Ford’s Kentucky HoopFest. Games were played continuously for five days on eight courts at the Kentucky Fair and Expo Center, six courts at Hoops Basketball Academy and two courts at Louisville Male High School.
Last season, as a freshman at Corydon Central High School, Brandon Dunaway made a name for himself locally by starting for coach Jamie Kolkmeier early in the season. Now in the summer, Dunaway finds himself on one of the hottest teams nationally on the AAU circuit: Indiana Elite One 15 and under team.
High school sophomores-to-be are now drawing the attention of college coaches. During Thursday morning’s game against Grand Rapids Storm, Dunaway’s Indiana Elite One team dominated from the get-go. In attendance for the game was Purdue head coach Matt Painter along with assistant coaches from major NCAA Division I colleges Louisville, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio State and Butler.
‘My dad helped me get on this team,’ Dunaway said. ‘I do it to play year-round and get better. I just love basketball.’
The Indiana Elite One team features Marshall Plumee, who’s older brother Mason has signed with Duke, and Cody Zeller, a familiar last name to Washington basketball. His brother Tyler will be a freshman at North Carolina and older brother Luke will be a senior at Notre Dame. Plumee and Zeller, along with Spencer Turner, are hot commodities on the AAU circuit.
Dunaway played his role well against Grand Rapids Storm on Thursday, knocking down all four 3-point attempts while playing solid defense.
Over the course of the summer, Dunaway played at several venues, but none greater than where the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions took place. Indiana Elite One had the opportunity to play at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, North Carolina’s Dean E. Smith Center and North Carolina State’s Dail Center, all in one tournament.
‘It was a pretty neat experience,’ Dunaway said. ‘Gives me a chance to see what college campuses look like. Some are pretty big.’
Dunaway said some colleges have already shown interest in him but admitted he just wants to improve his game over the next few years. He had interaction with Indiana head coach Tom Crean and assistant Tim Buckley earlier this year at a camp hosted by IU. The coaches informed him on areas of his game they liked and gave him things to work on.
‘Tom Crean is a pretty cool guy,’ he said.
Dunaway isn’t the lone area product taking advantage of what AAU has to offer.
Team Southern Indiana is a 16-and-under team coached by former Austin and Western Kentucky University standout Anthony Winchester. The team strives to be a grassroots travel team. The roster includes several juniors-to-be in the area, including Bryant Conder (Lanesville), Garrett Ross (Corydon Central), Casey Saulman (Corydon Central) and Joe Bolin (North Harrison).
College coaches were constantly eyeing recruiting targets at HoopFest. Thursday afternoon when Team Southern Indiana was rallying against Charlotte Court, several college coaches were waiting to watch Indianapolis Pike sophomore-to-be Marquis Teague, one of the young players who drew a ton of attention over the weekend.
While Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, Ohio State’s Thad Matta, along with Painter and several assistants sporting their school’s colors awaited Teague, they sat through Team Southern Indiana’s game.
While Teague was a treat to watch, the local athletes were able to showcase their potential for high-profile college coaches, not only from the big schools. Three hundred and fifty coaches from all over the country attended the near week-long AAU event.
Earlier Thursday, Corydon Central junior-to-be Dylan Harl played for Fieldhouse Elite Orange, a team based out of the Noblesville area. Harl’s team struggled against CBIZ after having a good showing the previous day. Several coaches lined the baseline during Harl’s game, but one coach arrived midway through the game and caught his eye.
‘Seeing college coaches like coach Matta watch you play is pretty cool,’ Harl admitted.
Exposure at AAU events are key if a player wants to continue at the college level, which Harl hopes to do.
‘I tried out for this team when they were looking for an experienced point guard,’ Harl said. ‘I went up there and tried out, and they decided to keep me. Here I tried to do my best to get exposed to college coaches.’
Playing AAU ball also comes down to playing with a new group of guys instead of the high school teammates most have played with a majority of their career. Team Southern Indiana keeps their roster local, pulling talent from Corydon Central, Lanesville, North Harrison, Austin, Brownstown Central, Rock Creek and Trinity Lutheran.
Harl’s team is loosely based in the Noblesville area, while Dunaway’s is a little more scattered.
‘It has its ups and downs,’ Dunaway said. ‘There is a kid from Jeffersonville and Bloomington South on the team, but most of the guys are from up north. I had heard of a few of the guys before joining the team because you hear of them being recruited by big schools.’
AAU basketball isn’t just games showcasing individual talents. Coaches and players run set offenses and play defense. Referees call games a little looser, allowing more contact than high school games. The physical style of AAU basketball is set to better prepare the athletes for the rigors of the college game.
Next season on the AAU circuit, members of Team Southern Indiana and Harl hope coaches will inquire about their services in college, while Dunaway may take another step to improving his game.
For Dunaway, the AAU season wraps up July 22 through 26 with a trip to Las Vegas for the Adidas Super 64.
When the AAU season concludes, it is back to participating in fall sports for some and other conditioning for the upcoming high school season.
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