Our AAU Life

Deuanna Tolbert

© Copyright 2020 by Deuanna Tolbert

Photo of a girl basketball player.

AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball is what most serious girl basketball players strive for. They start off as young athletes playing in little leagues and at the YMCA while receiving outside training when possible. These fortunate ones usually know someone who can provide that additional training and who pushes them past all the other athletes and gives them an advantage. It is usually that dad who played while in college. It is sometimes that friend of the family who played in the WNBA/NBA or in an overseas league and who has returned home and/or retired from the game. They now have committed their time helping young kids nourish their love for the game by dedicating their time and skills to help these kids reach their goals. Whether it is just making the varsity team in high school or playing for a college team, or even playing in the WNBA, these dedicated veterans give all they have to making dreams come true. Girls who want to play basketball must stay diligent and have to want it more than any male basketball player, because there will be more obstacles.

My daughter started wanting to play basketball when she could barely walk or run. She would roll and bounce the basketball around the court we had in our backyard at 2 years old. She loved her alone time and most of it was spent with a basketball in her hands. My husband played basketball throughout middle school, high school and in college. He was delighted by her initiative and loved the fact that he got to share his basketball knowledge with one of our children. Our eldest started off playing basketball, but soon left the sport for volleyball so this daughter would be the one he saw making it as a college basketball player.

I started coaching her for fun during some YMCA leagues, but that didnít last long because she was by far more advance than any other player in the entire league. At the age of 8, my husband decided to take over and that began her official basketball career. He became her personal coach and started training her and getting her ready to go and try out for area AAU basketball teams. She still participated in area leagues during the school year until she was old enough to join a basketball club.

Years passed and then he finally found an AAU team for her to play on during the summer between her 6th and 7th grade school year. This particular AAU team didnít have a team for our daughterís age group, so we placed our 6th grade daughter on a 7th grade team. She had natural talent thanks to genetics, and she worked hard when practicing on her craft. We were both confident that she wouldnít have any issues playing with the older girls. She was smaller than some of the players, but she had an eye for figuring out how to make plays happen before they happened. She also had some quickness and other skills that most of the other girls did not have so she played several minutes each game, and this gave her much needed confidence. She had been insecure about joining an older team and was hesitant on what her role would be on the team. She soon proved herself and this made us and the coach very happy.

Throughout the season there were certain instances where the team and coach depended on our daughter to make a lot of the hard decisions and make the tough plays. Sometimes this worked out and other times she fell short. A lot of disagreements began between my husband and the coach because he had to protect his daughter while she was only thinking about the team. An impasse soon developed, and my husband decided that it was best if he coached our daughter and created a team surrounding her. Our daughterís coach was also the director of the AAU club and she didnít want to lose her as a member of her organization, so she asked my husband to coach a team for her club. He was able to select girls from try-outs that were held that next season and gathered enough girls to form a team around our daughter. This began the long road of his coaching, our traveling and our daughterís first steps toward reaching her goal of playing at the collegiate level.

We were all in as a family soon as we noticed it was going to take a lot of commitment to make the team operate smoothly. My husband took care of the coaching while I took care of the management of the team. I would organize the payments and all the travel arrangements. I handled the communication with the parents and made sure that everything off the court ran according to schedule. I needed for my husband to focus on working with my daughter and her team and making every second count while on the court.

That team competed for a year and made their mark in the AAU world. They were definitely contenders in the sport and most of the players on the team were very talented. My husband befriended a fellow coach who was also a director of his own basketball organization. This coach soon convinced my husband to bring our daughter and a few players over to his club and combine with some of his most talented players to form an 8th grade team. This turned out to be a great decision. The girls played together for two years and won several tournaments. The players become friends and the some of the parents and their children became like family. Our daughter continued to grow as a basketball player and still enjoyed playing the game she loved.

Over the next couple of years, we moved around to different organizations as my husband kept trying to find the right fit for our daughter that would allow her to display her level of play. The AAU world is very strange at times and sometimes more than basketball talent plays a factor as to what team a player land on. The scene can be very political, and people unfortunately throw a lot of things into the mix once college coaches start recruiting players for their teams. Our daughter was not receiving the college offers she deserved to be receiving as the 10th grade approached. It seemed that the team that was around her at that time didnít allow her to showcase her talents. At that point, my husband made the decision to stop coaching her and dismantle his team. We found a team for our daughter to play on during the summer between her 11th and 12th grade year. This was the last year for athletes to compete for college coaches and receive an offer to go and play at their university. We needed to put our daughter in the best light to be seen and so we released control of our daughterís future and put it into the hands of another coach and yet another organization.

This move didnít end up as we expected it. Our daughter was still not being offered the scholarships that were worthy of her talent and disappointment set in with her playing time on the team. There is always a chance you take when you give control to another person regarding your children, but seeing favoritism overshadow fairness doesnít sit well with a parent. Although there were injuries along our daughterís basketball journey, none were significant to deter her college future. We completed the AAU season and had to regain the control over the future of our daughter and make sure she got to play basketball in college. My husband was in contact with several coaches across the country trying to find the best fit for her. Him and my daughter traveled to the many camps she got invited to, but none of them felt right. It was beginning to feel like she would have to end her basketball dreams of playing at the collegiate level and enroll in an area university as a non-athlete student. One last contact with a coach that noticed our daughter at one of her high school basketball games spark an interest in us. This led to an invite to one of their games and eventually to signing of a letter of intent for her to play at the college.

All the dedication and encouragement from basketball veterans and my husband to help train and coach and get our daughter where she needed to be in order to perform at the college level finally paid out. She played one year in college but was plagued with sickness and she was troubled with disappointment on the lack of commitment from her fellow players. She decided that basketball would not be in her future. Her scholarship offer ended, and she returned home to attend an area college as a regular student. She is currently still enrolled and enjoying her life with no regrets.

I have been writing since middle school but always for my own personal reading. I recently started entering contests and started writing two short novels.  I am married with three children, two are mine and one is a bonus child. 

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