Comparing ‘Basketball Without Borders’ to AAU as Pro Hoops Pipelines

As the game endlessly globalizes, organizations at the pinnacle of basketball have collaborated to develop athletes with optimal results.

This is especially true with the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) program run as a collaboration by the NBA and FIBA beginning back in 2001. It has been able to help develop global talent and allow them to reach the brightest stage.

A different approach

Feb 16, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; International campers during drills and practice at the All Star-Borders Global Camp at Queens University . Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

U.S. basketball has many lanes for developing athletes—one of the most prominent being the grassroots AAU programs run across the country, allowing talent at a young age to be discovered and developed thoroughly.

Astonishingly, more than 78 percent of current and recent past NBA talent has taken part in AAU programs at one point or another.

Yet, with international basketball being recognized as a talent pool more and more since the end of the 1990s, NBA teams and NCAA student-athlete programs too have seen a spike wherein international athletes have taken the leap to develop themselves further.

It has been this approach that paved the way for the NBA and FIBA (The international governing body of global basketball) to collaborate in creating a program that allows NBA coaches to work with this always-growing talent pool. It has resulted in more than 2,600 young athletes across 131 countries and territories having the opportunity to be coached or mentored by more than 400 past or current NBA players with the involvement of all 30 NBA teams.

Over 40 BWB Alumni have been selected as NBA Draftees, with 5 BWB athletes being directly signed as free agents.

A major part of the success comes from the combination of international talent and the top-level NBA coaching working together, as well as the various NBA regional offices and operations involvement. With so many countries being involved and basketball’s two most dominant organizations joining forces, the type of workouts, drills, 101 player management and overall approach of gameplay that is involved in the BWB camps is unique with every single undertaking.

I have had the luck to witness both the AAU as well as the BWB structures firsthand. And while the AAU allows U14 level players to develop much faster, the BWB camp approach—where coaches, players from the NBA are involved in teaching versus simply trying to win some scrimmage games—impacts youth development players so much more.

In both cases, court time is definitely the critical element. However, the 101 player development time that is spent between coaches and players is the clear distinction for BWB. It not only allows the present NBA coaches and players to see what is available for them to work with and how coachable certain players are coming in, but by the end of each BWB camp, the takeaways, hunger and determination that youth development players move on with is immense in itself.

Success across the globe

Feb 16, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; International campers during drills and practice at the All Star-Borders Global Camp at Queens University . Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

From the number of BWB camps versus the AAU tournaments run across the US, I can say with the utmost confidence that the BWB camps have had a much higher impact, especially when dissecting things further on a regional basis.

Europe has had the most success due to its deep-rooted legacy: The inaugural camp was held in Treviso, Italy. Benjamin Morel, a former director who also formerly worked at the NBA London office with more than 65 staff during his tenure, told me: “The way youth development leagues, talent development and the business of developing players in and around Europe is managed is unique and needs to be explored much deeper.”

Basketball Without Borders is a collaboration between NBA and FIBA. Photo used via Ermay Duran with permission from BWB.

When looking deeper into the numbers across 18 camp editions of BWB Europe, there have been more than 780 attendees that have taken part in the experience and roughly more than 120 campers/players who have utilized the BWB Europe camps as a springboard to boost their playing careers further.

Joerik Michaels, the co-brand owner of Elite Athlete and long-time skills development trainer from Antwerp, Belgium is also a coach invitee to the BWB 17th edition held in Belgrade, Serbia. He said, “It was an honor begin on the court with Coach Popovich, and I learned a lot on and off the court”.

While there are always ways to improve making international talent much more visible to the NBA stage through the BWB organization, the overall structure also allows for coaches and scouts to see and be able to assess the level of talent that can make a possible jump.

Feb 16, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; NBA star Deandre Ayton helps campers during drills and practice at the All Star-Borders Global Camp at Queens University . Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The testament to how big the organization and development has gotten reached a new peak just recently back in 2015 when the BWB organization did its first-ever GLOBAL camp. There, Dragan Bender ended up as the top camper/athlete and was eventually a high lottery pick of the Phoenix Suns. Though his NBA career has been inconsistent, he is but an early example of a high-talent pipeline forming between BWB, FIBA and the NBA.

Let’s take a quick dive into the technical aspects of how AAU and BWB run their organizations, identifying some of the pros and cons of each:

AAU

  • Begins at a very young age (U7 age range to be exact)
  • Operates throughout the entire USA
  • The official duration of AAU runs from Feb-July, though there are tournaments that intersect with the HS basketball season and conclude with qualifying for the National Championship
  • Winning games is much more important than player development
  • Individual skills and player coaching is often at a very poor level (which is very unfortunate given the level of talent that is involved in games)
  • Parental intervention in player decision-making is at an active (and sometimes detrimental) level
  • Due to the number of games played across the USA, AAU basketball players get the chance to play twice as much than BWB, gaining court presence that much more.

Feb 16, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; International Campers during drills and practice at the All Star-Borders Global Camp at Queens University . Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

BWB Camps

  • Runs close to the end of the season in respective regions so it does not interfere with domestic leagues
  • Players are predominantly U17 in age and prone to be selected as top-level talent from their respective countries
  • 101 player development as well as skills development through drills are a major part of camps’ core
  • 5×5 games are run at the end of camp events to wrap up and see talent development
  • Coaching staffs are NBA or regional level caliber, allowing players to be immersed in high-level instruction
  • NBA regional office operations personnel are present at each BWB camp, allowing for streamlined player development
  • Top-level scouts, media and guests are always present at BWB events, allowing exposure of players not just being limited to NBA but other opportunities as well
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