BOWIE – When Terry McPherson and his wife Denise started the Metro Sixers Fall AAU Basketball League eight years ago there were no other circuits of its kind in the area, so it didn’t go unnoticed.
“In this community of basketball it doesn’t take people long to find out,” Terry McPherson said. “People didn’t know what to do with their kids, so once they found out that there was a league, then it was that simple. We went from the first year with six [teams] to the next year, it was 30 or 40.”
Things haven’t slowed down since, and the league currently features close to 50 teams, including some hailing from as far away as Delaware, Pennsylvania, Norfolk and Richmond.
McPherson said the Metro Sixers League – which also has a Winter session – typically include players from ages nine to 14.
“The high schools start working their kids out at 15 for their freshman year,” he said. “So, we try to stay away from that. Our intent is to get them to a high school. We don’t want to compete with a high school once they get to that 15, 16 age, so we stay really at 14, and at that point they’re transitioning to the high school level.”
The fall league’s regular season ends on November 6, with the playoffs taking place Nov. 7. After a short break, the winter league will start up Dec. 4 and last until February.
The developmental aspect of AAU is what attracts parents of young children to AAU programs.
“I love it, ’cause that’s where you can reach the kids and teach them the fundamentals of basketball,” said Kelvin Johnson, who coaches the Sixers’ 11-and-under and a 10-and-under teams. “Really, they can kind of slide through the cracks if they’re not given the right fundamentals early on in life, so that’s why I enjoy coaching the little guys – I just try to bring them through the ranks.”
Johnson – who had a Hall of Fame playing career at the University of Richmond – said that focus on the development of his own two sons is what drew him to AAU coaching in the first place.
“I saw some things that I didn’t like as a former player and everything as far as teaching the kids,” he said. “So I didn’t want to [coach], but I had to so they could get the right fundamentals and the right foundation starting off. The key is to start them off as young as possible. I started my youngest off when he was like, three or four, and I put my oldest son on a team when he was, like, six. He was playing 8- and-under when he was six, and I just brought him through the ranks. Like anything else in life, you need a jumpstart sometimes. When you start something early, then you can perfect it.”
Greg Moore – whose 10-year-old son Justin plays on Johnson’s 11U squad, said he wasn’t even thinking about signing him up for AAU ball four years ago until people started recommending it.
“I was just trying to find a good coach who was going to help him get better -- that’s all it was,” the elder Moore said. “Even if he wasn’t the best player out there, but just to help him get better and get him around other good kids.”
Moore called around looking for teams before finding the Sixers. On the other hand, Donald Greenwood – whose son Aman is also in his fourth year with the program – took a more active approach, travelling around to look at different programs.
“My son, he was playing at a very young age,” Donald Greenwood said, “and we were looking for a competitive team to put him on, and as we were doing our research we came across Coach Kelvin, who had an extensive background as far as coaching. He coached on the collegiate level, he coached on the high school level, and it was all about the development aspect of it. We wanted him to get with a developmental coach, and that’s why we came here.”
Greenwood and Moore both praised the team for helping to develop their sons’ basketball skills, as well as for the camaraderie that it helps foster between players.
“He’s enjoying it,” Moore said of his son. “That’s his team and he’s made good friends with it. They all hang out, and it’s like a family.”
Of course, a little winning doesn’t hurt, either. The Sixers boast the league’s best 11U squad, and posted an undefeated record through the first eight weeks of play.
“Usually [interest] come from winning and if you coach the kids the right way,” Johnson said. “That’s attractive to the parents, that their kids are getting taught the right things.”
The excitement surrounding the league – and how it’s given players an opportunity to improve enough to play in college – is what McPherson said he finds most satisfying.
“We started on Saturday night, six [p.m.] to nine with six teams,” he said. “It was a point of keeping our kids active, and over the years it grew into where we are now, with about 40, 50 teams a year every year for fall league. But the intent is to connect the kids with good schools. Like, we’ve played at Riverdale, we play at McNamara, Bullis, we play at Georgetown prep. It’s really giving the kids – as well as the parents – an opportunity to see the various different facilities. So, it’s all about going in and helping them grow.”