USA Basketball Alliance Tournaments Serve as Path to U.S. Open Basketball Championships
Bobbi Barajas had been running youth basketball tournaments in the Phoenix area for several years before she saw a way to partner with USA Basketball.
While searching on the internet, Barajas learned she could apply to have her annual Memorial Day Masterpiece designated as a USA Basketball-affiliated Alliance Tournament.
Barajas was impressed with the high standards that USA Basketball requires from coaches and players who compete in Alliance Tournaments. Boys and girls teams must play in the regional tournaments to qualify for the U.S. Open Basketball Championships, hosted by USA Basketball in Westfield, Indiana, in July.
Barajas applied and soon received good news.
She was notified her Memorial Day Masterpiece had been added to the rotation of Alliance Tournaments — previously known as official qualifiers — for 2018 and again for 2019. Sixty-four teams competed in her tournament in Avondale, Arizona, earlier this month.
“All we are concerned about is impacting our youth in a positive way and creating great memories, and I know USA (Basketball) has very high standards,” said Barajas, owner of Phx Is Rising sports company. “So, we were excited to have their logo with us in the gym.”
There is no shortage of basketball tournaments for kids ranging from 12 years old to the 10th grade throughout the year. Teams can travel every month to tournaments affiliated with AAU and other organizations.
USA Basketball was aware of the crowded landscape. However, the governing body wanted to bring more structure, discipline and accountability to youth basketball by forming a tournament alliance and starting the annual U.S. Open Basketball Championships in 2017.
“There are a lot of tournaments out there, and by and large, a majority of them do a good job delivering basketball to young people,” said Jay Demings, USA Basketball youth & sport development director. “We just think that the time is right to provide some structure and some enhanced standards to that space.”
Twenty-six Alliance Tournaments are scheduled in cities across the country this year, with an average of 52 teams competing in each event. Every team must adhere to strict guidelines set by USA Basketball.
All coaches must go through a stringent screening process that includes passing a background check and being trained on child abuse issues in order to be approved for a license to coach through USA Basketball.
Barajas said she believes the screening process for coaches makes players’ parents feel more comfortable dropping their kids off and knowing they are safe.
At the same time, teams must adjust to all games being played under international-style basketball rules. A 24-second shot clock is used for the grade divisions, a 30-second shot clock is used for the younger groups and coaches must go to the scorer’s table to call a timeout, instead of simply doing it while standing on the sideline.
“For my girls, when we first explained it to them a couple of years ago that they would be playing under the FIBA rules, they were like, ‘Is it hard, coach?’” said Bridgette King, head coach and executive director for the Lady Panthers Girls Basketball Association in Texas. “And I was like, ‘No, it’s not hard, but it’s going to make you think quicker on your feet.’”
USA Basketball doesn’t own or operate the Alliance Tournaments that feed into the U.S. Open Basketball Championships, which will run this year from July 17-21. Instead, USA Basketball identifies existing tournaments that agree to uphold a certain standard for coaches and players.
“Our goal for the U.S. Open is not to hold events all across the country, but rather hold that one event that other great tournaments can attach to,” Demings said. “And then our goal is to drive teams to go find and play in those great events.”
At least 100 teams from across the U.S. and even in Canada and Mexico are expected to participate in this year’s U.S. Open Basketball Championships that will be held July 17-21 in Westfield, Indiana. A total of 685 players from 72 teams competed in last year’s event.
Demings said USA Basketball’s reputation brings a level of credibility to the tournaments it’s affiliated with, adding that the plan is for USA Basketball to remain involved in youth tournaments.
“In some non-USA Basketball events, parents don’t have anybody to call with concerns,” Demings said. “Affiliating with a national governing body gives people — parents in particular — a good feeling.”