By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
For coaches, one of the benefits of having their programs participate in American Youth Basketball Tour (AYBT) events is that they can have players from several grades learn vital hoops skills over the summer. To ensure those skills work their way throughout the program, it is even better when those players are related.
Nowhere is that more true than at Kent City (MI), where head varsity girls basketball coach Scott Carlson has six groups of sisters participating in this year’s AYBT schedule.
There’s the Krueger sisters, Kelsey (9th grade) and Janelle (7th); the Dreyers, Kendra (12th) and Audrey (5th); the Mortensen sisters, Paige (9th) and Machenzie (7th); the Sisters Harrison Olivia (10th) and Jenna (5th); Coach Carlson’s own daughters, Kendal (11th) and McKenna (9th); and the Geers, Kaitlyn (9th), Emma (4th) and brother Brendan (7th).
Obviously, Kent City’s participation in AYBT is a family affair. And the commitment to basketball has clearly paid off for the Eagles. Under Carlson’s leadership, the varsity girls have had three straight 20-win seasons, and have won three-straight league and district championships. Carslon takes in active role in his program’s AYBT participation, coaching himself a group of third and fourth grade girls.
“(They) decided they wanted to do it,” said Carlson, “as they have older sisters or know of friends and families that have done it and they wanted to be part of it. So, my family will spend the entire week in Fort Wayne watching and coaching basketball.”
It’s a family affair, indeed.
So why does Carlson have so many players in AYBT.
“I encourage our players and parents to participate because I think it is the best run summer program for players to develop,” he said. “It extends for part of the summer and allows players, parents and coaches to pick the tournaments they would like to participate in that will fit their schedule while still being able to enjoy summer vacation.
It also allows for improvement in that it is not just one tournament and done,” Carlson continued. “Players, coaches and teams are able to practice and improve on the things they need to work on. So the players are able to develop their game over the summer.”
The program participates in tournaments in Muskegon (MI) and Ludington (MI), but the real action takes place at the Fort Wayne (IN) Nationals, where developing team chemistry, parental involvement, and meeting new people is as important as learning the two-hand bounce pass and the crossover dribble.
“We travel to Fort Wayne and spend four days as a team with parents and are really able to bond and get to know the families, not just players,” said Carlson. “For us, it is the best part of AYBT. There are so many people there that are excited about basketball like we are so there is automatically a common bond between everyone there.”
He adds with a bit of humor, “My players also seem to like it because there are so many boys teams there, and as a father and a coach, that’s just something I have to live with.”
Carlson says the AYBT organization does a great job of matching up teams with those of their respective skill levels.
“I have heard coaches who were skeptical about going and that is the thing that you don’t understand until you have gone,” he said. “There are more teams at your level whether it be average, good or highly skilled so you get more close games which I feel helps prepare us for the high school season.”
Carlson said the last day of the tournament is the best.
“It simulates our state tournament because if you win you advance and if you lose you go home,” he said. “(If you lose) you have to wait an entire year to get back to the tournament again.”
Carlson first became involved with AYBT when he coached his son’s fifth grade AYBT squad. Eventually, kids from that group would make it to the state finals.
“The Top 7 players on that team had been playing together from the beginning of AYBT and stuck together all the way through high school,” he said. Carlson moved on to coach his three daughters in AYBT events, the oldest of which now plays basketball in college. It was elements like AYBT’s 60-40 playing time rule (which encourages coaches to ensure each player on the roster plays bout 40-to-60 percent of the tournament) that helps the entire team get better.
“This is for the development of the team and depth is the key,” said Carlson. “So to have everybody playing is crucial to our success. You would be amazed at the improvement of the less-experienced players when given the chance to be mixed in with those that have been playing for years. The skills and teamwork skyrocket.”
So, although there are lots of summer basketball options for players, Carlson believes AYBT is the best option out there.
“To me, AYBT is the absolute best concept for creating a solid and cohesive group of players, families and a program as a whole,” he said.