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Always Get Better   

Mike decided at age 11 that it was time to ‘advance his game’. He had played Travel Basketball during the Winter school year. Now he was interested in playing Fall Ball (Spring/Summer too?). The way to do that was apparently with AAU Basketball. But he didn’t know how to get involved. Neither did I.

One day, during a Winter tournament, ‘some dude’ walked into the gym wearing a leather jacket with large AAU letters stitched on the back. So, we naturally figured he was an ‘AAU Guy’. The Guy sauntered over to The Court where my son was playing and started watching the game. I wondered what he was doing. Was he watching Mike?

AAU Guy came over to me and said, ‘Who’s #30?’

I said, ‘It’s my son’

AAU Guy said ‘I think we’d like him to come play for us.’

Play for US? I wondered what US was. All of AAU? So I asked AAU Guy what he meant. He said, ‘Well, we have tryouts in a couple of weeks.’ Tryouts, I wondered…..what the hell are tryouts? But I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to appear to be as naïve and stupid as I really was.

I believed AAU Guy was an official with AAU. We knew nothing other. But, over the next few months, we certainly found out otherwise.

Every Basketball Dad wants the best for his kid. Gain more skills; become more physically fit; gain new friends; benefit from advanced coaches; see new things; become a better player. Basketball Dads spend countless hours (and lots of money) trying to figure out the best ways to help their kids. We know nothing to begin with. And when we ‘get smart’ over time, it’s often too late - unless we’ve got more kids. But I had only one.

Over time, it became clear that in our AAU initiation we were being ‘taken’ by a con man. AAU Guy named Barry Ronean. He was the AAU leather jacket Guy. Eventually, I/others learned he was an AAU bullshitter. He pretended to be an advocate for our sons – but actually was just an advocate for himself and his own sons. He was such an obvious con man that everyone else in AAU already knew it. But as newbies, we didn’t know And our trust would be repeatedly violated.

Turned out that Ronean was just putting together a team so his two sons could succeed in getting college scholarships. At age eleven? One of the Ronean kids was at least 1-2 years younger, but Barry decided it as best for him to ‘play up’. And he got to play all the time. And our 11 year old sons got reduced time. Some of us on the team had been chosen because we appeared to have ‘deep pockets’. Barry needed money for plane fares, hotel rooms and food for the Ronean Family (and any other players/families who wanted to pretend they were underprivileged).

Barry was a terrible Coach. But mostly he was just a terrible person. He yelled and screamed at players. Not just in practice – but in games. Even at regional tournaments in front of opposing teams/families from around the country. Barry was an embarrassment, a lout, con and a freeloader.

There was seemingly nothing I could do. Or so I thought. I felt so badly after the first few months that I broke down crying in front of Mike, apologizing for the BS situation I had gotten him into.

It got so bad that eventually I ‘sucked it up’ and organized a revolt. After more tumultuous weeks, I got Barry fired as Coach. New leadership was installed and we salvaged our season. We even qualified to go to a National AAU tournament. My son would play for Minnesota Magic – and I was appointed Assistant Coach (for Nutrition/Hydration).

We were really excited. We flew out to Virginia, played in Newport News and stayed in a marvelous beach home in Virginia Beach. We developed great friendships with the families of the nine young boys that were on the team. Five ‘Basketball Dads’ served as coaches. We enjoyed each other’s company.

And we got slaughtered in the tournament.

But it was the time of our life……….