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Family Guide to Selecting a Grassroots Program

11/24/2015, 4:15pm EST
By Nick Carroll of Prep Hoops Network

The intent of this post is to give families at all levels a brief road map for the information that is most critical to picking a team that will offer the most value for your personal situation.

My experience with grassroots basketball includes 4 years as a head coach in Non-Shoe Sponsored programs, and 3 years as a head coach in Shoe Sponsored programs. This does not make me an expert, but it does offer a diverse opinion for players at all levels.

Here are the areas that need to be addressed for all families planning to participate in grassroots (a.k.a. AAU) basketball.

Program Goal

This seems like an elementary question, but this will tell you a lot about the situation you’re walking into. Is the goal to win games? Is it skill development? Is it to get scholarships? Is it to build life skills? Likely, it’s going to be a combination of all of these, but what is the priority?

If the goal is to win games, you need some significant assurance that you’re one of the “guys”, or you may find yourself on the bench in crunch time.

Many teams end up scrimmaging and running plays the majority of practice (nothing wrong with this at all). With that said, if this is your team, you need to have specific times that you’re handling skill development on your own outside of practice.

If the goal is scholarships, you need to have clear communication with the coach regarding the level you want to go and you need to demand transparency from them on their thoughts. If you think you’re a Division 1 recruit, and your coach thinks you’re a D3 recruit, your definitions of success will be far different.


  • How many players do you plan to carry?

If a roster is carrying more than 10 players, that is a major red flag. The grassroots season is about developing new skills, gaining confidence in the ones you have, and hopefully generating recruiting interest (16U & 17U specifically). None of this is possible if you’re sitting on the bench or sharing minutes with 3-4 other guys within your skill set.

  • Who is on the team?

The roster needs to allow you to play your natural position. Most high school rosters force players to play out of position some or all the time. Many times you will find players that are above 6’4 are forced into the front court by necessity.

Your summer roster needs to have personnel that allows you to play your natural position that you will likely play at the college level.

  • How many people on the roster play my position?

Every geographic region has a limited number of 6’7 and taller players which generally forces grassroots teams to go with the “best on the board approach”. Many times this will result in a team acquiring 3-5 players at the same position, forcing players to the bench or out of position.


  • Where does the team go during the NCAA open periods?

This is more relevant for 16U and 17U players, but very important to get in the habit of being mindful of at younger ages as well. The NCAA open periods are the few times a year where college coaches at every level can evaluate prospects in person. It is vital that you attend events that are conducive to visibility that is in line with your desired and realistic level of recruitment. It doesn’t do you much good to play in the Nike EYBL, Adidas Gauntlet, or Under Armour Association if you aren’t getting significant scholarship interest at the Division 1, Division 2, or Junior College levels.

  • Does the team get any preferred consideration at these events?

This one is very important. Programs can be grouped into 2 categories: 1. Shoe Sponsored 2. Non-Shoe Sponsored. The top 1-3% of teams nationally have shoe sponsors. Right now, all of these teams participate in elite leagues (Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, Reebok). Their schedules are set and generally they are playing amongst a high percentage of Division 1 talent. 

Now, the Non-Shoe Sponsored group is more complex. On the surface, many of these programs’ schedules will look similar. Usually budgets are involved, thus you will see a couple of regional events mixed in with 1-3 nationally competitive tournaments. What you won’t see listed on the schedule is the consideration that each program gets at the regional and national events that they attend. 

Here is what I mean by consideration…

Non-Sponsored events generally have a “Main” facility or two. These facilities will host the marquee 17U (and 16U/15U if there are enough courts) matchups. This is typically where the college coaches hang out. Programs with strong consideration (i.e. relationship with a high regard from the tournament host) will have a high likelihood (even possibly a guarantee) to play at these marquee facilities. It is important to note that if you play well (i.e. win your pool) you will end up playing at this facility eventually, but it’s nice to be guaranteed a few games on this platform if possible.


  • Where has the program/coach sent kids to play after college?

This is another extremely important one. With the growing grassroots team and event market, college programs have to be strategic in the events that they attend. Being in a program and playing for a coach who has previous relationships and points of contact with college programs aligned with your level of recruitment is hugely valuable. It allows colleges to communicate with a trusted source on your behalf while they aren’t in attendance.

On that same thread, a program that has sent players to a number of levels (D1-D3, JUCO, NAIA) offers equity that could be the difference in a school being “interested” and “engaged”. For efficiency, college programs generally recruit and develop strategic relationships with strong grassroots programs. I want to be clear, if you are a good player, you will still likely be found by colleges. With that said, the roadmap to college recruitment (especially at a scholarship level) is likely to be more challenging if you play outside of a program with a track record of sending players to the next level.


  • What is the program fee?

Each program has a program fee. This is considered to be the “sticker price” and baseline for participation. For locally based teams, this fee will be $500-$700 (1-2 out of town tournaments), $700-$1,200 for regionally based teams (2-4 out of town tournaments), and $1,200-$2,000+ for nationally based teams (4-6+ out of town tournaments). It is important to note that most programs offer scholarships, fund raisers, and other subsidizing opportunities for families who can’t take on the financial burden.

  • What does the fee cover?

For local and regional teams, the team fee typically covers uniforms (likely additional gear of some sort), tournament entries, practice time, coach’s salary (usually $500-$1,000 for the summer), and administrative program costs. For national teams, especially shoe sponsored programs, your fee will likely include airfare and hotels for the player as well. It is very important to be extremely clear on what that team fee covers.

** Important Note**

All of the pricing above is the cost for the player. This does not include the biggest expense, which is the cost for the parent to take part in the entire experience as well. As template, here are the costs associated with attending event with 1-2 parents (no siblings):

*Admissions: $6-$10 per day

**Hotel: $80-$120 per night

**Gas: $100-$120 (depends on gas mileage on length of trip – make your own calculation)

**Meals: $10-$15 per meal (per person) per day

**Miscellaneous Activities (movies, arcades, etc): $20-$50 per day

***Airfare: $400-$500 per person 


*Denotes Local Events

**Denotes Regional Events (includes all local expenses)

***Denotes National Events (includes all regional and local expenses)


This should give you a good starting place as you go through the investigation process for potential teams. Be sure to ask as many questions as you need to. Keep in mind that programs have different timelines for forming their rosters, so you need to get all of your questions answered up front in case the best options come early.

This information is a guide to the selection of a team, but does not guarantee success once you arrive. Much like college recruitment, a program's interest in a player joining their organization is based on the production that they anticipate the player will provide. The #1 factor in the success of players is and always will be their academics, character, and production.

Happy hunting!


Published by Prep Hoops Co-Founder, Nick Carroll


Twitter: @PrepHoopsNick


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