Navigating the terrain of AAU basketball and the recruiting jungle that comes after it can be tall tasks—tall enough for a giant to wrangle. The number of questions that arise can seem endless. What AAU camp is right for me? Am I working out the right way? How can I best showcase my talents to scouts and college coaches while also making sure my game is improving with every step? For an 18-year-old kid and his or her parents, the pressure can be overwhelming.
When Zach Zegarowski and Mandy Carter-Zegarowski went through the process with their son, Philadelphia 76ers star Michael Carter-Williams, they understood how difficult it could be. So they formed A to Z Basketball Insiders to help guide families through the journey that they took mostly on their own.
"Everything is so watered down with basketball," Carter-Zegarowski said. "We always tell players to trust your gut as a family and stay close."
Both Zach and Mandy have backgrounds intertwined with the game of basketball, both as players and as coaches. Mandy was the head coach of the girls varsity basketball team at Ipswich High School in Massachusetts. Zach was an assistant coach at Charleston High School in the same state. Their experience guiding their son through AAU camps and the recruiting process, which ultimately landed him at Syracuse to play college basketball, spurred the couple to relay their knowledge back to families in similar situations by creating A to Z Basketball Insiders.
"We give [families] one-on-one time with us to talk about their child," Mandy said. "It's more than just two hours a day for us. We realized beyond the two hours of practice, we asked what are kids doing in the off-season? What type of time are they putting in?"
A to Z Basketball Insiders offers skill development, personalized workouts and recruiting advice, such as helping parents choose the right AAU camp for their athlete based on budget and skillset. Mandy and Zach stress the importance for each young athlete to formulate a plan—e.g., creating a bio and a playing schedule to mail out to coaches and developing a relationship with coaches and programs that interest them.
"The biggest thing we've learned is everyone is looking for instant gratification," Mandy said. "There are going to be ups and downs. We always tell players to turn the page."
When athletes work on their game, Mandy and Zach stress the importance of keeping it simple and resisting the allure of the highlight reel stuff. "It's easy to get caught up practicing the dunks, highlight reel moves and other things that aren't helping with their game," Mandy said. "Kids are going to the gym and trying to do this fancy stuff and shoot 3-pointers. But it is important to be fundamentally skilled first. Work on your ball handling, staying low and form shooting. Make your layups. Really do the simple things well."
A to Z Basketball Insiders has already worked with guys like Ricky Ledo, who plays for the Texas Legends, the D-League affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks, and George Nang, a starting forward on the top-10 ranked Iowa State Cyclones. Find out more about their association and what it offers at mcwstarz.com.