Madrid and Texas: Player Pathways
The developmental pathway in Spanish clubs, such as in esteemed clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona varies hugely from the developmental model in the United States.
The US pathway involves High School and AAU basketball as its two main spearheads, with the majority of basketball development occurring in the High School system and the exposure within AAU basketball.
After graduating from Middle School in the United States, players enter the High School system eager to impress the Varsity Head Coach, with Varsity being the top tier team within their School. The Varsity team features the school’s best and most accomplished players, no matter what school grade, and is the team to be a part of in any HS system. Players are driven to make the Varsity cut, and it can be very competitive. As most ball-players know, Michael Jordan himself was cut from the Varsity team as a Sophomore from Laney High School in North Carolina!
Feeding the Varsity team are the JV and Freshmen teams; the JV, or Junior Varsity team is mostly Sophomores and the better Freshmen, and the Freshman team is for first-year players. Each of these teams compete against other schools’ JV and Freshman teams respectively.
In many cases the Head Coaches of the JV and Freshman teams assist the Head Coach of the Varsity team, thus aligning the basketball philosophies and ensuring consistency through the whole program. The Head Coach of Varsity is the most esteemed coach within the HS basketball program and is usually the most experienced of the group.
With the High School season only lasting four intense months from November to February, the Amateur Athletic Union stepped in to provide additional basketball throughout the Spring and Summer months. An AAU team is essentially a club team that competes not in a league but in frequent tournaments regionally and nationally. The very best players compete for teams that are sponsored, usually by shoe brands like Nike, Adidas and Reebok, and will receive a considerable amount of apparel in the form of shoes and clothing. The most famous AAU tournaments are played in such locations as Las Vegas, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Orlando.
Some look at AAU with a very sceptical eye; often times the coaches credentials and motives are deemed as questionable as there is a large amount of money being thrown around the recruiting scene. College coaches flock to AAU tournaments to recruit their top players and the competition between the teams is fierce, albeit sometimes severely lacking in fundamental team play
Young players in Spain usually pick up a basketball for the first time at school, where they attend after-school sessions and first find their love for the game. These sessions are provided by local club teams, and the players that wish to play further will join their local club. Generally the more talented players are hand-picked to join the club’s most competitive teams.
It is within the club system that the players are taught how to play the game. Unlike in the USA, where basketball development is very school-focused, the Spanish system involves players travelling up their club’s developmental pathway. They train with their club and represent them in competition against other clubs within the city or region.
The playoff system involved all of the clubs within a region, say for example the Canary Islands, competing for a spot in the Spanish championships where they will take on the best teams from other provinces such as Madrid or Andalucía.
Larger clubs such as Real Madrid or Barcelona have academies, where Elite young players live, train and study in a lifestyle that mirrors professional basketball players. They also take on talent from their surrounding area, offering a door to door pickup service for their players that live locally, picking them up from their family home to bring them to practice and dropping them back once it has finished.