Summer vs. High School Basketball – 10 Reasons Why Kids Like Summer More

by Kent Sterling

Basketball purists hate summer basketball.  They say it erodes the specialness of the high school seasons, and features kids doing little more than what they used to do at playgrounds in previous generations.

High school coaches hate it as it erodes the influence they have over a kid.  College coaches love it because it allows an affordable and convenient way for them to evaluate and impress kids and families with their presence.  Parents hate the expense, but enjoy the rest during the summer.

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What do the kids think?  Here are 10 reasons (not in any particular order) they prefer summer over high school basketball:

  1. Limited scouting. This is mano a mano stuff.  It’s up to the kids to figure out how to beat their opponent.  When you play eight games in three days, it’s impossible for coaches to spend much time evaluating others, and that means the kids can focus on what they do best.
  2. More games than practices. The entirety of the summer season might feature 75 games and 20 practices (if the coach is interested in holding practices).  High school seasons are close to the converse.  Many of the games are de facto scrimmages anyway, and a decent coach can teach as well through games as during practices.
  3. The competition is superior in the summer. The number of future NBA players at top summer events is dizzying.  You want to match up against the very best?  That is best done in the summer.
  4. Summer ball is like summer camp. Spending 24 hours per day with friends for 20 days in July, plus all the weekends in April and May is just like camp, except the games are more competitive than the events at summer camp.  The kids spend all day and night together hanging out, and friendships are made that will last for decades.
  5. Travel. It’s fun to head to Houston, Pittsburgh, Vegas, and even Fayetteville, Arkansas for three or four days of physically punishing tests of basketball skill.  The plane travel gets a little old, but for awhile, the kids are living their dream.
  6. Kids choose their teams.  The kids at the high end of the food chain get to pick the team for whom they will play, and many times get to encourage friends to come along too.  Instead of being stuck with teammates based upon a geographically drawn districting map, they actually get to play with kids who play as well as they do, and against the same level of players.
  7. Coaching. There are high school coaches who are assholes, but because most parents aren’t going to sell a home to facilitate a change in leadership, the kid is stuck for four years with a guy more interested in his own legacy and bloated self-importance than the development of the kids.  In summer ball, getting away from the idiot coaches (and there are plenty) changing teams is accomplished through a phone call.  Indiana is lucky in that many of the best high school coaches in the country work here, but there are still some dopes out there.
  8. Access to eyes of college coaches. Go to the Adidas Invitational in Indianapolis in two months, and watch Coach K, Roy Williams, Tom Crean, Matt Painter, Tom Izzo, Brad Stevens, Rick Barnes, and every other D-1 coach in the country sit on the opposite side of the gym as the best players in the 2012 and 2013 classes play.
  9. Tournament play is more fun. The difference between tournament play, where a missed shot can send a team home early, and a regular season game where the outcome is only meaningful because of pride and the praise or crap taken at school the next day, is stark.  Tournaments are high stakes poker.  High school’s regular season is checkers at the barber shop.  Sending teams home early from tournaments is joyous.
  10. Every weekend brings another trophy. In July, the trophies can come three per week.  In high school, there is the state tournament, and maybe a county or city tournament.  The games are more fun when the format invites drama.

High school proponents want to limit summer ball because they are threatened by its success, but basketball should be about having fun, and if players are enjoying summer basketball, what the hell is wrong with that?  If lovers of high school basketball want change, they need to consider very seriously what changes they hope to cause through their actions because forcing kids to choose between high school and summer could cause a serious erosion in talent from the high school game as many of the best kids may choose summer over high school without a second thought.

The system as it is today works for both.  By the end of the summer season, players are ready for the structure and fans of high school games.  At the end of every high school season, the kids can’t wait to see their summer teammates, and to play against the very best players in the country.

12 thoughts on “Summer vs. High School Basketball – 10 Reasons Why Kids Like Summer More

  1. Neil

    Guess what part you left out? The fans. Just like the guys arguing over the money in the NFL quagmire, the fans have become irrelevant. Fans don’t care if the kids enjoy it or not. This summer ball crap is not sustainable if the future of college and the NBA are to survive. It is the fans and the money they spend and the TV and all of its money that really drives things. If you don’t develop fans and in large numbers eventually the sport is doomed. Sure the kids like the summer ball. Yes there are more games but they mean a whole lot less. There isn’t the same kind of pressure that occurs in “REAL” games. When the pressure and importance of games happens the REAL players come to the forefront. That is why so many AAU stars don’t become great when REAL games in college or the NBA happen. Bob Knight had a philosophy that his players just hated but came to respect when it came to basketball and that he believed “PRESSURE” in games is that it either put you under or brought out the best in you as a player. Every time I hear a player in any sport talk about being “relaxed” I shiver and wonder what in the world is going through your mind? Why is it really that there have been no undefeated champions since IU in 1976? They make up all kinds of excuses but kids can’t stand the pressure for the same pressurized length of time anymore. The REAL champions of the past always wanted pressure and going after the big stakes. It is the same reason playing cards for money just isn’t the same as when you do play for monay. You say they’re going against the best but that is still not the pressure of a big game with thousands of FANS watching and the pressure of representing something more than a sponser like a “chewing gum” manufacturer etc.. The best thing to do is outlaw any contact by any coaches from NCAA schools from attending, watching or any contact whatsoever with summer ball and see how long it lasts. Of course that is not likely to happen. The best solution might be to limit the season (two months) and have the high school coaches do the coaching. Lets face it many of the summer coaches are pathetic. It takes kids a month or two every year to get rid of bad practices they pick up in summer ball. They sure can’t do them for most college coaches at least and still win. (see why Butler won and the teams full of summertime stars didn’t, the last two years)

    1. kentsterling Post author

      I cannot think of a single kid who has been harmed in any way by summer basketball. My son’t best friends came from summer ball. The best basketball they played was during summer – minus Matt Howard. Without summer ball, JaJuan Johnson never would have developed like he did.

      The best game I saw between high school aged kids was a game in the summer for the state championship. There were 60 people watching, and those kids were under the same amount of pressure to win that game as if they were playing in front of 12,000 at Hinkle.

      Some very good coaches devote a lot of time to summer ball. Granted, some as asshats, but that’s par for the course.

      As far as fans are concerned, in high school, I don’t care how many there are or whether they care about the game. In the pros, it’s all about cash, ticket sales, and TV revenue. The games are shows, and they should be. High school games are about the kids and what they can learn from competing.

    2. Brian

      Neil, you’re way off base on the pressure argument. I can just about guarantee kids feel more pressure when John Calipari, Roy Williams, Coach K, Jim Calhoun, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, etc. are sitting courtside deciding that young players future than they feel in front of a packed high school crowd. As for your fans argument, fans are allowed at aau events and it usually costs between 5-15 bucks to see a day’s slate of 10 games or so.


    There are good and bad AAU coaches and good and bad school coaches. I think both systems are relevant and important. U-17 AAU basketball is a good thing. The level I don’t like is the kids ages 8 through 13 playing on a team for a guy who isn’t a coach by profession and who has the parents buy jerseys with names on the back, has his team stand in a 2-3 zone, doesn’t play his bench, and runs screen and roll for his son to shoot every time so he can go around and tell everyone how good of a coach he is. Those are formative years and that guy is really hurting those young people’s ability to grow as players. My problem is, young kids don’t play unless an adult is doing the organizing. The players that play at the highest level usually come from backgrounds where it was shirts and skins in the park regardless of whether that park was in the Bronx or Zagreb.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      That is exactly right. Names on the backs is a red flag. A dad coaching is another. A roster of more than eight is a third. Playing any kind of a zone as a 12-under group is a fourth. The coach standing and pacing during games is a fifth. Hey that’s a pretty good idea for another post. Thanks, Brent.

  3. Kenneth

    I agree that both have their place. But I do think that playing too many games without structure or purpose (other than just another trophy) can be detrimental. I wonder how much someone can care about a win or loss when they get another shot in an hour or next weekend.

    I enjoyed playing summer league and AAU tournaments in high school. They gave me an opportunity to build confidence (the repetition worked in reverse here, we played so much that we just got more opportunities to be aggressive without the concern over getting yanked), but they were a means to the end of a successful high school season for me.

  4. chuck stake

    the best thing is still working on fundamentals and shooting in the driveway and playing endless games at the rec center or playground.

    big time aau and its equivalents in other sports is something parents have done to themselves (no excuses) and it’s time to start saying no. (some have) there isn’t a brass ring for everyone. make summer participation in organized leagues and teams and camps against the rules. it’s just leeches sucking money out of parents. let them be kids again.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      For many teams, the cash for entry and travel is covered by the sponsor of the team. The last four years of summer ball, the only money I spent was for my travel and accommodations.

      Summer ball is still my son’s favorite experience.

      The people carping about summer ball are ill-informed and see the experience through the wrong end of the prism.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      If you think that parents are paying at the elite level, you are ill-informed. The kids get as many pairs of shoes as they like, travel, food, ground transportation, lodging, and entry fees paid for. If your team doesn’t get that, stay local.

      To say that summer basketball is a waste of time, or has nothing to do with a kid getting better, you are also ill-informed. Like any experience for a kid, it’s up to the parents to figure out the most productive route. Some teams are run very poorly, and are wastes of time. Some are run very well, and are great experiences for the kids.

      To call for a ban of summer play is a ludicrous overreaction to the problems that befall the poorly funded teams run by idiots.


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