College coaches are putting their phones and GPSs on overload this time of year as AAU basketball has been in full swing every weekend since mid-March through the end of June.
The extended season provides college coaches the opportunity to look at the upcoming crop of prospects.
Walsh University assistant basketball coach Jeremy Shardo spends his spring traveling to AAU venues in Mount Vernon to Pittsburgh to Fort Wayne, Ind., to mention a few of his stops. In season, he watches high school basketball games on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights when Walsh is not playing.
"AAU is good for the simple reason I get to see a variety of kids play in one weekend," said the former point guard for Walsh from 2008 to 2011, who was a graduate assistant coach from 2011-2013 and has been an assistant coach since 2013. "When I watch kids in a high school game, it is better because it is more structured. AAU allows me to see kids play in a non-structure way without their classmates. Both are equally important, but I can see 30 kids in one weekend, so AAU is effective."
Shardo said he is done recruiting this year’s senior class. He is 95 percent recruiting juniors right now but will take a look at a sophomore from time to time.
Shardo, who earned his bachelor of arts in management and finance and masters degree in management, explains what AAU tells him about a basketball player.
"First of all, I am looking for a skill set – someone who can dribble, pass and shoot," said the newlywed, who married his wife Sheree last summer. "Then I look for good body language, a good attitude, unselfishness and someone who competes on every possession. Does the player make the right plays or is he forcing action. I look for the little things ... someone who really loves the game."
Once a kid catches the coach’s eye in AAU, Shardo explains what he carries through with in watching the athlete during the regular season.
"A lot of the qualities are the same," said Shardo, who enjoys golfing, hanging with friends and running in his spare time. He recently ran a half marathon with his wife at Disney World. "Honestly, I am looking to see if he is a coachable kid. Is he going to compete? I look at his skill set and to see if he has a high basketball IQ. I look for hustle. A lot of kids do not play hard."
Shardo said AAU is meant to compliment the high school season. He said if a kid played AAU but not on his high school team, he would probably not be looking at the athlete.
"Playing high school is very important, more important than AAU."
As far as recruiting goes, this is a quiet time for recruiting. Meaning Shardo can go watch kids play but he cannot talk to them in person.
"If I watch a kid at an AAU tournament, I cannot make contact with the player or parents," said Shardo, who grew up in Versailles in Southwest Ohio. "I can talk to their coach; I can to talk on the phone with them or text them. I cannot have face-to-face contact, unless they are on campus for an official visit."
Once a kid is on Shardo’s radar, he follows the athlete on social media. He indicated he realizes sometimes kids make mistakes using social media but it does show him how mature an athlete is and this can affect how much the athlete is pursued further down the road.
Shardo also offered some advice for athletes and parents in regards to AAU.
"Too many kids are focused on the results," said Shardo. "Kids are focused on earning a scholarship and worrying about the process. I recommend kids try not to do too much. A college coach can see when you do too much. If you focus on a process, the results will take of themselves. That goes for parents too.
"It is also better to play for an AAU team that a player gets play time and a chance to showcase their skills rather than being on a good AAU team and getting limited minutes."
Finally, Shardo saved his best point for last.
"If a player is good enough, a college coach will find them," said Shardo. "It does not make a difference whether you are on an elite team or not. Today, kids can promote themselves on social media. If a kid plays on an AAU team, no matter what team, a kid can get noticed. If you play on an elite AAU team, this can allow a kid to travel out of state and get more exposure if you want to attend a college out of state."