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AAU basketball strives to become more inclusive

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 9, 2019

Former Gonzaga basketball star Matt Santangelo is now the Spokane Hoops Association Executive Director. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Former Gonzaga basketball star Matt Santangelo is now the Spokane Hoops Association Executive Director. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

The Amateur Athletic Union – or AAU – is often associated with travel teams, money and LaVar Ball.

The Spokane Hoops Association is looking to change the negative connotations that usually hang over the league by “continuing to pay attention to what our community wants, and then kind of create programs that meet that,” Spokane Hoops Association Executive Director Matt Santangelo said.

In order to do that, Santangelo uses the full power of the Spokane Hoops Association – the same organization that puts on Hoopfest – the largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the world.

Spokane AAU is in its 31st season and continues to run separately from AAU as a club within the organization. It allows for complete autonomy over the program while still employing the national power of AAU to create a better and safer brand of basketball.

“The other thing that I think really separates us as far as how we provide basketball, is just the level of care,” Santangelo said. “And what I mean by that is from paid score clock operators to paid gym supervisors, to a contract with the Spokane Basketball Officials Association.”

As schools in the area continue to face difficult budget decisions, it has become more important than ever for clubs to offer safe, affordable basketball in an environment that fosters growth on the court.

“It is the least expensive option per game that the Spokane Hoops Association offers,” Santangelo said. “It’s not this super crazy, hyper-competitive, what you kind of think of maybe when you think of AAU, it’s just a local basketball league that’s really, really well-run.”

New this season is the introduction of a third-grade division, expanding the availability to even more families, coaches and players in the Spokane area. The program continues to welcome players up to eighth grade.

Also within each grade is the addition of two divisions. Division I is the normal competitive division that features most of the teams. Division II is designed to enhance basketball skills and reinforce the players’ love for the game.

“That’s really what’s motivating us, is just to continue to add offerings to get more families engaged with our program, at the appropriate level, to make basketball in our community stronger,” Santangelo said.

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