Which basketball is better: AAU or high school?

Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree of Villanova celebrates after a Donte DiVincenzo dunk against Texas Tech during the 1st half of the East Regionals of the NCAA Tournament at TD Garden on March 25, 2018. CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

This story was first published in July 2016.

Kobe Bryant called AAU basketball "absolutely horrible for the game." Too freewheeling.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr wrote that AAU ball has a "genuinely weird subculture." Big egos.

"It's like everybody for themselves," said junior Del-Val High School guard Antwuan Butler.

But the high-intensity, big-star AAU programs pay off.

Future Villanova Wildcat Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, from Neumann-Goretti High and Team Final in the AAU, and Penn State recruit Tony Carr, from Roman Catholic and Team Final, said most of their college recruiting came from AAU games played against other all-star players.

"AAU ball in this city is the best competition," said AAU's Team Final coach Aaron Burt.

The tension between high school basketball and Amateur Athletic Union ball is natural. Both teams vie for the same players, but the coaches often have different personal goals.

Many high school coaches want to build programs through teamwork, deep rosters, and tradition. AAU coaches want to showcase top players, entice coaches and recruiters to their games, and play at high levels every night.

So sparks sometimes fly.

"If you play high school ball, you play maybe five to seven tough, tough games a year," Burt said. With AAU, "you have to come to play and compete every moment, every possession, every game."

Darnell Vaughan, a coach for AAU team WeR1, said he sees that "power struggle" between high school and AAU teams.

Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said he always faces a period of "reprogramming" his players after they return from AAU teams. He said he must stress the importance of running plays and passing the ball to combat AAU's me-first star mentality.

Players said they like the different styles.

Carr, Cosby-Roundtree, and St. Joseph's University guard Lamarr Kimble said their AAU games with Team Final gave them travel and wider exposure to better competition and college coaches and scouts.

But Cosby-Roundtree and Carr also like the high school rivalries and fan following. Cosby-Roundtree's family and friends can go to every high school game, while getting to his AAU tournaments all over the country is difficult.

Kimble said the consistent schedule and focus on teamwork in high school made him a better college player.

Schedules are issues, too. The high school basketball season coincides with the college season, so it's harder for some college coaches to get to those high school games. AAU games are played in spring and summer, and some tournaments feature star players from around the country. It's one-stop shopping for some college recruiters, and games are more accessible for many coaches.

AAU coaches acknowledged the bad rap they get. They even said some coaches deserve it. Yes, players do get flown in for a single tournament. Yes, some coaches don't practice. Yes, some coaches meddle in the high school programs.

But the high school programs aren't perfect, either. There is uneven competition, coaches say, and a tightly structured program can stifle individual growth.

So, which is better? Seems as if the answer is both.

"There are good and bad programs," said Vaughan, the WeR1 coach, "like anything else in life."