These days AAU basketball has become so widespread among teenagers that it's hard for a player who wants to get noticed to avoid playing on a team. This system has proved incredibly divisive, with some arguing that it helps showcase high schoolers while others countering that it stunts their development.
Count Kobe Bryant as one of AAU's leading cynics.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins, Bryant bashed the AAU system and said he's glad he circumvented AAU ball by growing up in Italy.
"I was lucky to grow up in Italy at a time when basketball in America was getting f----- up with AAU shuffling players through on strength and athleticism," Bryant said. "I missed all that, and instead I was taught extreme fundamentals: footwork, footwork, footwork, how to create space, how to handle the ball, how to protect the ball, how to shoot the ball."
Bryant isn't the first current or former NBA star to come out as a critic of AAU. Charles Barkley has been railing on the system for years.
"AAU is the worst thing to happen to college basketball ever," Barkley said in 2011. "I hate AAU more than anything in the world. These kids aren’t getting good coaching. They're playing too many games and not working on their game enough."
Bryant's words also touch on the hotly debated issue of development in the United States versus development abroad. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a noted admirer of foreign systems, has said that in the United States players can become "coddled." Overseas, Popovich says, there is more of a focus on fundamentals.
It should be noted that several of Bryant's formative years were spent in the United States -- he played high school basketball in Philadelphia. But by that time he says he already noticed a difference between himself and his American-bred opponents.
"I wasn't the strongest kid at that camp," Bryant recalled of an ABCD summer camp he attended in 1994. "I wasn't the fastest. I wasn't the most athletic. I was probably the most skillful, but that didn't matter. It was all about the 360 windmill dunks."
(H/T to Business Insider)