CEDAR RAPIDS — The Battle at the Lakes was the next big weekend tournament for most of the AAU boys’ basketball programs around these parts. It was a three-day event scheduled for May 10-12 in the Twin Cities.
But it’s not happening. The entire spring AAU season isn’t happening because of the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s putting a huge squeeze on the junior class, the kids going into their senior years looking to solidify their college hoops plans. They can’t solidify anything right now.
“It’s killing me,” said Tanner Carlson, head coach for Central City High School’s team and for the Iowa Barnstormers 17-U AAU team. “I’m doing everything I can to still send tape out to colleges, and I have been on the phone a lot with coaches. But so many coaches, rightfully so, want to see kids play live. The 2021 class has had a tough go.”
Not only because of this spring’s canceled season. The NCAA restricted college coaches to two in-person viewings during last year’s AAU spring season.
It’s a double whammy.
“Last year, I didn’t think that was going to be a big deal,” said Mount Vernon’s Keaton Kutcher. “I thought, well, it’s just some changes, not much is going to happen. It’s just going to be the same. But now you get to this year, and you think, well, maybe if I would have had one more opportunity last year, something would be different. Maybe I’d have more opportunities now. You just can’t help but think that. This is just kind of the worst-case scenario going into your senior year (because) your AAU season is huge. It’s just kind of a bummer. But, you know, what can you do?”
Kutcher is a shooting guard prospect who has one Division I offer from Western Illinois. He was hoping a good spring season would increase his D-I opportunities, though that’s not happening.
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He plays for the Martin Brothers AAU program and has a pair of teammates there in Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Caleb Schlaak and Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Jaylon Moses who are in the same boat. They are kind of tweeners at the moment: kids who could play at the Division I level but need all the opportunities they can get to prove it.
“It just lays a lot of uncertainty out there about what the future holds,” said Schlaak. “This year was supposed to be a big year. I was supposed to be on a stacked team, play super good, show out in front of everybody, hopefully make a statement. That just kind of got taken away. It’s crazy.”
Schlaak is a versatile 6-foot-7 kid coming off a breakout high school season for Kennedy. He was the Metro’s leading scorer this past season (17.2 points per game).
The plan was to take the momentum from the winter and use it this spring. Schlaak said he has had some feelers from Division I schools but has had more contact with D-II colleges right now.
“It’s just going to make stuff a lot more interesting,” he said. “People will be relying more off high school than AAU.”
Moses is the 6-8 son of former University of Iowa guard James Moses. Known since he was a freshman as a potential high-end prospect, Jaylon has been beset by a pair of surgeries on his right knee to repair torn ACLs.
He made it through this high school season unscathed and was seeking to continue to show everyone that he is getting healthier and closer to the player people thought he’d be before his injuries.
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“My knee feels normal again, so that’s good,“ he said. “I’ve been working on getting it strong, so that both of my legs are equal, as far as strength and stuff like that. I feel like once I start playing again, whenever that is, the offers will start coming.”
As Schlaak mentioned, no AAU means the 2020-21 high school season will become even more important. The good thing is Kennedy Coach Jon McKowen and Mount Vernon’s Ed Timm are as good as it gets, and Xavier’s Mike Freeman is a promising newbie with experience coaching at the college level.
“If we don’t have AAU, (high school) is going to be the new AAU, I think,” Kutcher said. “More coaches will have to sacrifice time and get out and see people. It’ll be huge.”
“Usually the 17-U season is the most important for people,” Moses said. “That’s when most colleges look for kids. So that’s going to be different. But I’m pretty sure by August we’ll be able to be playing again and stuff, so that will help.”
In the meantime, the three are doing what they can to stay sharp while staying isolated. Moses and Schlaak have hoops in their respective driveways to work on their games, while Kutcher’s family has an indoor gym, which is a nice thing to have.
Hank Huddleson, their AAU coach, suggested they put together highlight videos of themselves, just do everything they can to stay visible.
“It’s still just getting better every day and shooting,” Kutcher said.
“It kind of sucks,” Moses said. “I was excited because I felt like I did pretty strong with my high school (season), and I was looking forward to doing well my AAU (season) this summer. It’s kind of annoying that I won’t get to do it, from what I’m hearing so far with the whole outbreak and everything. But I am happy that I am getting more time to work on getting stronger by myself, continuing to get better with this time off and stuff like that.”
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