CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Amateur Athletic Union is a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to promoting athletics and fitness programs. It was founded in 1888 and currently sanctions more than 30 sports programs, including basketball. "Some of my best memories are from playing AAU and being with the guys," said Westside High School senior Levi Lambert. "AAU is a big reason why we [the Westside team] are so successful in the regular season.""It's a way to play against the best competition and really improve your game," said Westside junior Justin Cogar. "I've been in AAU for seven years. I think it has made me a much better player."Westside basketball coach Nick Cook played AAU growing up. He encourages kids today to do the same. "I started playing at a very young age. I played on several talented AAU teams that traveled the country," he said. "My high school basketball team won the state championship at Oceana in 1994. Plus, I had two years first team All-State. I went on to play college ball at Concord."Cook said of AAU, "It is great if done correctly and for the right reasons. It's for exposure for the kids for college, travel and to see different places. Plus, every day you can play the game that makes you a better player. As long as kids are on the floor, they should be improving."
Lambert said, "When I was younger, I chose to play AAU to make myself a better player, and it has. In AAU, you play against some of the best competition out there. Therefore, it prepares you for whatever you may face in the regular season.""I recommend AAU to any player who wants to get better while at the same time possibly getting your name out there for college coaches," said Cogar."Playing AAU has showed me what kind of talent is out there," he continued. "And I feel like that helps me set goals for myself on where I want to be as a basketball player."AAU is different from school basketball. Lambert said it's more unorganized, in that there aren't plays to go by; it relies more on talent."You pretty much just go out and play basketball and rely on your God-given ability," he said.To register to play AAU or for more information, go to www.westvirginiaaau.org.