AAU basketball players go to the movies

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AAU basketball players such as Wheeling’s Kellie Kuzmanic are required to watch an NCAA-produced video at each tournament this month. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media.

July belongs to AAU basketball players. This month, college recruiters will crisscross the country in search of talent, traveling to tournaments in Las Vegas and even small towns in Tennessee and Georgia trying to find the next Derrick Rose or Candace Parker.

For girls, the Chicago area’s biggest AAU tournament starts Sunday with the Nike Summer Showcase, based out of the Elgin City Centre, a downtown park district facility just a few blocks away from the Grand Victoria casino.

These events are regulated by the NCAA. Recruiters are required to watch AAU games from a balcony or an area separated from fans and players. Coaches cannot make contact during this period.

Last summer, I learned that each player is required to watch a video provided by the NCAA. It’s called an NCAA Basketball Certification Video. According the NCAA’s website, players will be seeing a new video called “Smart Play Wins” for the first time.

I couldn’t help but think about Rose while watching last year’s video, the seven-minute film, “Your Game Plan.” The video is designed to scare the bejeezus out of prospects, but I doubt Rose saw it.

Recruiters are allowed to evaluate prospects for a 20-day period during the month. Attendance is required at the video session. A volunteer checks off names from each roster. The same volunteer starts the DVD several times during the day as different groups of players watch the video after their games. Players usually watch the film in the first couple of days of the tournament.

Since many players attend three to four tournaments during the month, there is a good chance they will have already seen the video or another one like it.

At one of the Nike Summer Showcase’s venues, the Ackerman Fitness and Sports Center in Glen Ellyn, players trudged up the stairs to a second-floor meeting room where about 20 folding chairs in three rows were set up in the direction of a small television set mounted in the corner. When there were more than two or three athletes in the room, the volunteer would press play on the DVD player.

I always enjoy a good movie, so I sat in the back during one of the screenings for “Your Game Plan.” The video is hosted by television basketball analysts Gus Johnson and Beth Mowis.

Johnson and Mowis take athletes through an Xs and Os-inspired plan of three ‘Plays’: 1) Use Your Head; 2) Be an Amateur; and 3) Keep it Clean. Use Your Head advises athletes to avoid cheating, especially when it comes to academics and the ACT and SAT exams. Be an Amateur warns athletes: “Do not take money, gifts or benefits or sign anything. Don’t play for money.” Keep it Clean addresses sportsmanship, drug and alcohol prevention and gambling on sports brackets with friends.

The video is spliced with several highlights from NCAA Final Four games for men and women.

“It gives a lot of good information if you need to get a good college scholarship,” Wheeling senior guard Kellie Kuzmanic said. “I’ve seen it a hundred times. Sometimes it’s different. As long as I get to play, (I watch the video).”

I would like to believe women’s basketball recruiting is much “cleaner” than men’s basketball. But I shouldn’t be shocked if a program lands into trouble. Rose’s cheating scandal involving his SAT exam has already resulted in NCAA infractions and forfeits against Memphis, where he played in only one season.

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