Father Time and a heavy workload has left Kobe Bryant feeling tired. His shooting inaccuracy has left him frustrated. So has the Lakers’ persistent losing.
But as Bryant talked with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on his radio show on SiriusXM, the Lakers’ star expressed irritation about something else.
“AAU basketball is just killing us,” said Bryant, whose interview with Krzyzewski will air on Thursday at 6pm ET/3pm PT. “There’s so many games being played without a concept of how to play them. Everything is off theball and how to beat your man off the ball. There’s no concept of playing two-man game or three-man combinations. That concept is a lost art.”
Less than a year ago, Bryant raised his frustration that numerous prospects did not develop properly through AAU system as opposed to various European players. Bryant spent most of his childhood in Italy where he has gushed about learning the game’s fundamentals, including footwork, post moves, dribbling with both hands and ensuring proper spacing. Lakers coach Byron Scott also recently said, “I hate AAU basketball,” because it has not taught players simple concepts, such as boxing out properly.
But Bryant took his criticism a step further, arguing that the organization’s surplus of games has actually made players worse.
“They’re playing so many games without a clear purpose as to why they’re playing them. So they become desensitized to it,” said Bryant, who played at Lower Merion High, a suburban school outside of Philadelphia. “I remember in high school, I would have certain games where on an AAU circuit, I didn’t play as well and some people would say, ‘You’re not as good as people say.’ But I understood why they were saying that. There were certain things I was working on by myself that I wanted to work on during the game. I wasn’t going to play to my strengths every time. It was how am I going to get better?”
Bryant has continued that quest in his 20th NBA season by relying on what he calls “repetition” on various jump shooting and defensive drills. But Bryant has averaged only 16.9 points on a career-low 33.6 percent shooting in eight games. He has already missed three games, two to nurse a sore back and one to rest.
That left Bryant painfully honest about a few things.
Bryant sighed and laughed about the state of his health.
“My body’s sore as hell,” he said. “My knees are sore. My legs are sore.”
The Lakers’ 37-year-old star player conceded the likelihood that his NBA career will not feature another image of him holding the Larry O’Brien trophy.
“Of course I want love to win another championship. But my responsibility now is to think outside of what I want,” Bryant said. “My responsibility is to these young players.”
Bryant admitted the obvious that he no longer can perform as he once could in his prime.
“My legs aren’t what they used to be,” Bryant said. “I’ve had to play more of a ground game.”
Bryant even offered a head-scratching answer, the ultra competitor saying the biggest enjoyment of his NBA career did not just involve collecting rings.
“It’s the relationships that I enjoyed the most. We’ve had some ups and downs with teammates and kind of have had contentious relationships. But it was all done to try to win a championship,” said Bryant, no doubt referring to Shaquille O’Neal. “It’s been a great teacher of understanding how to challenge each other and hold each other accountable. But it all works itself out in the end. To be able to look back now and look at those relationships and where we are today and be able to look at each other in the eye that we have been through the battles and been through the wars and come back and reminisce with all those things, to me that’s beautiful.”
But as Bryant and Krzyzewski equally waxed nostalgic about his NBA career, his work ethic and his role on the U.S. Olympic teams, they soon equally sounded frustrated with AAU hurting the game’s next generation of players.
“It’s really about trying to teach them conceptually about the game or the floor of the game or how to orchestrate or manage a game,” Bryant said. “That seems to be a lost art.”