Kobe Bryant says AAU system fails to prepare U.S. basketball players

Kobe Bryant, Timofey Mozgov
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, drives past Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov during the first half of the Lakers’ 111-103 win on Dec. 30.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Kobe Bryant had harsh words for the Amateur Athletic Union after the Lakers’ 109-106 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

When asked about the limited number of skilled big men in the NBA, Bryant was very clear where he felt the blame should fall.

“AAU basketball. Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. It’s stupid,” said Bryant. “It doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game, at all.”

“In America, it’s a big problem for us. We’re not teaching players how to play all-around basketball,” he said. “That’s why you have Pau [Gasol] and you have Marc [Gasol] and the reason why 90% of the [San Antonio] Spurs roster are European players, because they have more skills.”


Bryant grew up in Italy, where he says he learned a wider range of fundamentals than the average u.S. player coming up through the AAU system.

“I was kind of fortunate, because when I was growing up in Italy, the Red Auerbachs, the Tex Winters were doing clinics and camps in Europe,” he said.  “They were teaching the club coaches -- all the club coaches were just following their advice and their fundamentals, and they were teaching us kids all that stuff.  Me, Manu Ginobili, all these guys that grew up around that same time, we’re a product of that.

And what if he had grown up in the U.S., instead?

“I probably wouldn’t be able to dribble with my left, shoot with my left, have good footwork,” said Bryant.


While he has some ideas on how to address the problem, Bryant isn’t sure there is a way to actually fix it.

“Teach players the game at an earlier age and stop treating them like cash cows for everybody to profit off of them,” Bryant said. “You’ve got to teach them the game. You have to give them instruction.”

Bryant thinks economics are in the way of a solution.

“That’s a deep well. Because when you start cutting into people’s pockets, people get really upset,” he said. “Because all they do is try to profit off of these poor kids. There’s no quick answer.”

Email Eric Pincus at and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus

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