“At All Costs” is a documentary that goes in-depth into the world of AAU (American Amateur Union) Basketball. The teams are made up of 11-17 year olds, usually the best of the best, that travel around to sanctioned tournaments that are usually backed by shoe companies (Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour) during the summer. The season starts in April with tournaments every weekend that leads to a final championship in July. But it wasn’t the talent of these kids player AAU that had me Hooked Till the Credits, it was the AAU world as a whole that left me scratching my head in confusion yet impressed by the power these coaches carry.
I will admit that my knowledge of the world of AAU (American Amateur Union) is limited to what I saw from the documentary “Sole Man” and knowing that LaVar Ball has an AAU team. So I felt that this documentary was a great way to learn more about the AAU league and see if it has any effect on the NBA.
It was shocking to see that AAU coaches do not look their teams like a team; instead it’s a brand that they have to develop and maintain. Take the Compton Magic CEO and Coach Etop Udo-Ema, who signed a deal with Adidas, meaning like any other professional team, Adidas gives the Magic all the gear they could ever want, money, and access to premier training events for the players. The owner of the team has a closet full of gear that he gives to his players all the time from shirts to shorts and shoes. It helps drive the Magic brand when the coach is posting the new shoes on social media so prospective players can see what they can get if they come play for the Compton Magic.
That leads into the recruiting, which AAU teams seem to have down pat. It’s amazing to see just how well they know how to market their team and recruit the best players. During one part of the doc, the Magic coaching staff is in a meeting to discuss which players they are looking to recruit and Udo-Ema makes sure his coaches know that they need to get this one player so they need to get in close with his mom and make sure she knows why the Magic is the best team for her son. They have it down to a science because they have to have the best of the best. They need these all-star players for the brand of the team because if they don’t have the best of the best and the team fails, the team could lose their contract with Adidas.
AAU has completely ruined high school basketball for a lot of players because college coaches are no longer relying solely on the high school season because they get to see the best of the best high school players during these tournaments and clinics. AAU coaches are the gatekeepers to their players so coaches have to make sure that they keep the coach happy so that they can continue to have access to their wealth of talent. For example, Gabe York played for the Compton Magic and in the film decides that he’s going to go play for Arizona where he sees little minutes. When his former coach comes to see him play, York tells him how unhappy he is with his minutes and Udo-Ema tells York that he can talk to some coaches to get York on another team and that he has no problem talking to the coach about misrepresenting York’s potential playing time.
While AAU helps players get scholarships to the best college programs, playing in the AAU can also hurt a player’s chances at playing college ball. Look at Schea Cotton who was implicated in an impressionable benefits NCAA investigation and lost his eligibility and thus his chance to play in the NBA. AAU also hurts players by giving them an inflated ego which hurts them going into higher levels of basketball. Think about it, say a player is the best in the AAU system and goes to play for Kentucky. He walks into practice thinking he’s the best player on the team, not realizing that Kentucky has three other players just like him, so his playing time won’t be what he wants it to be because he came up in the AAU system that inadvertently preaches ‘me before team’ mentality due to the nature of the AAU beast.
It’s unsure if the NBA is ever going to embrace the grassroots organization that is the AAU, even with stars like LeBron and Chris Paul holding clinics for AAU players or if the NCAA is going to start cracking down on coaches going to AAU tournaments to recruit given how players are given gear by shoe companies. But I highly recommend watching this documentary even if you’re not a huge fan of basketball because it’s an interesting look into the competitive game these shoe companies are constantly playing.