Check out this list of AAU Alums: Chris Paul, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony. If you get psyched out about taking on competition of this caliber, we understand, but we want to help. So we talked to a few current NBA stars about their AAU experiences and to Dr. Earnie Fingers, founder of HYPER Sports Consulting, who deals out a few tips on keeping your mental game as tight as your physical game.
According to Fingers, who also serves as a learning advisor to University of Maryland athletes, “the mental part of basketball is as important or more important than the physical.” From handling the tough competition to avoiding intimidation, Fingers says that it all starts in the mind.
Dealing With Better Competition
Fingers believes that going up against stiff competition—and maybe failing—provides an incredible learning experience. “Always remain a student of the game,” Fingers says. “If you’re always studying how to become better, then playing against someone of higher talent is something you should enjoy, because [that gives you the] opportunity to become better.”
It worked for Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry, who was cut from his first AAU team. Terry says, “[Being cut] definitely made me the player I am today.”
Terry’s current teammate, forward Brandon Bass, played only one year of AAU ball, but according to Bass, it was “against the best players in the country.” Going up against the AAU elite amped his game and propelled him from being an unranked high school player to a top-10 baller.
“When you’re playing against other highly skilled players, look around,” Fingers advises. “You’ll find something in their repertoire that you could use to improve.”
Take a Supporting Role
You might be the best player on your high school team, but only third- or fourth-best on your AAU team, which is exactly why you need to learn how to be a good sixth [or seventh] man. New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul is a great example. Paul took to North Carolina’s AAU courts beginning when he was 12, but didn’t land a starting spot until he was 16.
According to Fingers, patience is key. “You have to be patient in terms of the growth of your own game and in terms of recognizing that there are other players who are better than you.” His advice: take advantage of practice. Since you don’t have as many opportunities to show your team and coaches what you can do in the heat of competition, you have to show them during practice and scrimmages. “When you’re low on the depth chart,” Fingers says, “you really have to use practice.”
AAU is loaded with talented ballers and trash-talkers. And according to Portland Trail Blazer Greg Oden, it’s a different kind of smack than you’re used to on the high school hardwood. “AAU is a little bit crazier,” Oden says, “but you just gotta go play and that’s it—not think about anything else.”
Fingers says the best way to stop the talk from trashing your game is to “maintain a high level of confidence at all times. Good habits and always feeding yourself positive information serve as a shield for a lot of negativity some opponents will shoot at you.”
Any player will tell you: playing basketball is meant to be fun. Don’t let your own pressures and nerves overpower that. If you put in time and give it time, you may be the next AAU alumnus called in the NBA Draft.
Calming Your Nerves on the Court
“One of the biggest things in terms of calming your nerves is controlling your breathing,” Fingers says. “If you can do that, you’ll slow down your heart rate. And that’s one of the things athletes talk about—feeling like their heart is going to beat out of their chest.”
To calm your court nerves, Fingers prescribes this exercise:
Take a big, deep breath // Hold it for three seconds// Exhale as slowly as you can// Simultaneously, visualize the plays you want to make // Feel yourself start to relax