How Did This Youth Program Excel Despite The Odds in 2020?
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Aaron Burt is the Co-Director of Nike EYBL Team Final. After his spring season was cancelled in early 2020, Burt and his program quickly changed direction, making way for more unorthodox strategies to bring his team and program together. He sat down with SportsEdTV's Jaki Goldner and Executive Director, Mark Strickland, to discuss the challenges he faced and the positives that came out of the year.
SportsEdTV: Why don't you start by introducing yourself, what teams you're involved with, and a little bit about what you've got going on in the hoops world.
Aaron Burt: My name is Aaron Burt. I am the Head Coach and co-director of Team Final in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL). I've been involved with Team Final for about ten years now; Coached some of the some of the best players in the country, some of the best players have come through our program like Cam Reddish, Trey Hollis-Jefferson, Malachi Richardson, Deonte Vincenzo, Miles Bridges… I can keep going on and on.
We've had a lot of guys come through our program. Tyreke Evans. We have a lot of guys in college now and the EYBL - It's like the NCAA championship, high school basketball trying to vie for a championship.
SportsEdTV: How have you approached the pandemic as a program?
Aaron Burt: We entered the unknown with all of this stuff because it varied from state to state when it first started. So we could see coming into the spring season after the NBA shut down that some states were doing some things, some weren't. As a person in charge of young men and their health and safety, we had to make an executive decision and not start anything. Nike shut everything down for me, which I thought was the best decision when it came to managing the pandemic and trying to navigate through. As a program, it was just to try to educate, educate our parents, educate our players of the new terrain.
Most of our guys have been fortunate enough to have scholarship offers, so to help them with their recruitment things of that nature. We turned to educating and helping our kids recruit. We helped them with gathering a team final media guide.
It kind of helped us build our brand and our social media because we did the interviews with our players on Instagram. Just to get those avenues out there and opportunities for those kids.
I feel so bad for them, so we just tried to do some things to keep those guys positive, help them with their recruiting, their marketing, educating the parents about the NCAA recruiting process. We help mentoring and things of that nature. So we just turn to marketing those kids, educating those kids and just trying to make them aware of what's going on and just trying to navigate through the pandemic. It was rough because we always had a question, should we do something together? Should we play? Is it worth it? We just thought their health and safety more than anything than the game of basketball.
SportsEdTV: Did any positive actions come out of the pandemic once you got a hold on the new restrictions?
Aaron Burt: We were fortunate enough to secure the Sixers training facility for a Team Final Combine once we familiarized ourselves with good protocol. We created our own little bubble. So what we did was we invited our guys from the seventh grade on going to the twelfth. We took temperatures, no parents were allowed until the last day to pick their kids up. On day two we checked again and we took temperatures, made sure everybody filled out waivers. We tried to make sure we were covered on all of the bases without taking the test. We had to prepare the facility, have sports doctors there and all that kind of stuff. So we just had a camp situation. We almost had like a bubble or the kids at a camp just so they can have some sort of experience.
We felt it went great. It's something that we'll bring on to do it every year. We have speakers come in, we had Honest Game talk to them about their academic tracking. We had people come talk about the NCAA recruiting process and it allowed our younger guys, this was in the seventh grade to look up to our older guys to say, like, these guys are human, just like us, you know what I mean?
SportsEdTV: It is amazing to hear, but the one common theme that I'm seeing is that these are all things that hands down you coaches don't do not have the time to do during a regular season format. Of course you want to do all the recruiting guides and the media guides and the social media, but that's usually a battle over who can help you do it and probably a budget issue as well as half of the time.
Aaron Burt: I also did a lot more of what we did as a program already. We did a lot of the film work, looking at old film, looking at old games, dissecting. We did sessions where we'll teach kids what they did wrong in the game, how to correct habits. We did virtual videos and some virtual workouts as well.
We educate ourselves as a staff. Before 2020, I'm going to college coaches, college practices, things of that nature and learn a lot to bring back to my guys. We did was we did a lot of video work, a lot of teleconferences, zoom meetings with coaches and things of that nature. Just as a student of the game, you're always learning. We just always try to make sure our craft is getting better instead of staying abreast with the times. So those are the aspects did as a program, too, for our coaches so we could stay just educated and active.
SportsEdTV: How has 2020 affected those 9th, 10th, maybe even uncommitted 11th graders in regards to recruiting?
Aaron Burt: I feel that's the biggest thing that's going to affect the classes for the next two years. Since current students and seniors are being granted an extra year, more guys are getting ready to transfer - the portal will be humongous. Filled with game-ready experienced guys vs. young freshmen.
Honestly, you see a lot of guys where they're going to levels they probably shouldn't go because of colleges and coaches wanting to win or think they can get this guy or something like that. I'll look at this opportunity for colleges to level off, fo kids to go where they're supposed to be. This way, the portal isn't looking as bad as it is. It's going to affect opportunities for a lot of those kids because colleges aren't going to give the kid a scholarship when the video isn’t getting the job done for the college coaches. They want to see a full game rather than the best parts. How are you coaching tendencies during the game? How are your tendencies during practice? How are you academically? All of those things come into play and you can see those things on a consistent basis. Yes, the college coaches trust what we say, but it's limited opportunities.
SportsEdTV: Has there been any solution that would better the landscape for student-athletes in the recruiting process?
Aaron Burt: I don't I don't know. We're all in question. You know, how long the pandemic is going to be around, how long it's going to continue to affect us.
We're on the phones all the time, just trying to figure out what's best for the student athletes and moving forward.
I know with technology, the use of technology, we at our camp, we filmed everything/ It was on so every college coach could see the app, you know what I mean?
Moving forward, we don't know how it's going to be. We just have to prepare, try to see what's the best situation. Is it a small group practice? Is it no parents at all involved? Is it testing all the players and taking temperatures at the event? Is it doing local events may be the same type of teams or something like that until you get to the national championship? So it would be difficult moving forward to see how we navigate through it. But until we get back to how basketball is supposed to be, we're trying to constantly make steps to get this thing going again.
SportsEdTV: Be honest, after several months of quarantine, how did the players look out there?
Aaron Burt: You know what we saw? We were looking for a level of play that may have been a little below what we had with some of these kids when we were still working out.
They were doing some things. But it was a lot of selfish basketball. And that's understandable because these kids haven't been in a lot of team concepts for a few months. We preach this playing unselfishly, but we saw a lot of selfish basketball more often than we would see because the kids just haven't had team opportunities in so long.
It looked like how the NBA did when they restarted their season this summer. When they started in the bubble, it was a little bit sloppy, and it was a little bit sloppier on our end too.