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Season never ends for Redhawks basketball

Tournaments, camps keep AAU athletes busy during warmer months

With summer break approaching, winter sports are over for most people but not for juniors JaVonni Bickham, Lorenzo Smith, Jeff Stordahl and freshmen Jalen Suggs, Terry Lockett and Kaden Johnson, members of Minnehaha’s title-winning basketball team.

The offseason is a really important aspect in building a state championship caliber team like the Minnehaha basketball team.

Countless hours are put in by the players in or to achieve their highest potential and get ready for the next high school season.

Basketball is a yearlong occupation for these athletes, who play for the same AAU club, “Grassroots Sizzle,” which is led by Brian Sandfier.

AAU stands for Amateur Athletic Union. AAU basketball consists of independent groups around the U.S. that form teams and play in tournaments backed by the Athletic Union.

The “Grassroots Sizzle” organization has teams ranging from eight and under to 17 and underage groups. They draw kids from different organization around the state.

All teams practice one to two times a week at other local gyms around the Twin Cities and compete around the state in local tournaments as well as out of state tournaments.

Johnson and Lockett both play on the 16 and under Elite team, Smith and  Stordahl play on a 17 and under team together, and Suggs and Bickham play on the 17 and under Elite team.

The 17 and under Elite team with Bickham and Suggs competes in the Under Armour Association circuit.

High level AAU is primarily run by three shoe companies Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.

These companies offer gear and money for travel expenses, and access to prestigious tournaments around the country that college coaches attend.

The Under Armour Association hosts events around the country throughout the season that college coaches attend.

There are team sessions in New York, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

Three of the sessions are guaranteed and there’s a fourth tournament in Atlanta if the team qualifies.

Each team plays four games in a session.

There is an extreme amount of pressure for these players to perform because of the platform they’re on.

Elite camps are also a huge importance in the summer.

Not only do they give exposure to colleges but they also show how you stack up against the best competitors.

Suggs plans to attend the Top 100 Camp, Pangos All-American Camp, The Stephen Curry Select Camp and 15u USA Team Invite only tryout.

For Smith, Bickham and Stordahl, this is their last AAU season, because AAU ends at 17 and under. So it’s one of their last chances to impress college coaches.

“This AAU season is huge for me because it could be my last,” Bickham said. “So I’m just trying to play the best I can to get offers. They aren’t given to you, they are earned.”

AAU is huge for gaining college interest. All of the players agreed that playing AAU is really important for gaining interest from colleges.

“AAU is huge now,” said Minnehaha boys varsity head coach Lance Johnson.

“AAU now is probably more important than the high school season, just because so many coaches have accessibility to AAU tournaments and that’s where the college coaches go.”

Johnson explained that scouting AAU events saves college coaches time and travel.

“At a high school game you can see one player in one game,” he said, “and in an AAU tournament they can see 10 players in 10 games. So it’s really convenient for them.”

The players agreed that playing in the same organization during the offseason helps in the high school season.

They aren’t all on the same team, but being around each other and playing together all the time definitely helps their chemistry on and off the court.

“AAU is helpful because we build great relationships,” said Smith. “That leads to playing better during the season.”

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