LAS VEGAS — It’s not often that you have the chance to play in front of more than 30 top Division I basketball coaches — including legends such as North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. It’s something that could be nerve-wracking for most people, but it’s something that top AAU participants have grown accustomed to over the years.
Arizona Select’s Payton Dastrup was faced with such a prospect during a pool play game on Thursday against Chicago’s Mac Irvin Fire. Not only was he pressed to play well in front of top coaches, but he was also going against the top-rated center prospect in the country — Jahlil Okafor.
With Las Vegas hosting three tournaments in what could well be considered the Grand Finale of 2012 AAU play — almost every top national basketball prospect was in town. Subsequently, top local recruits faced stiff competition in every matchup.
This is what AAU basketball is all about. It’s an opportunity for collegiate hopefuls to hone their skills while showcasing those skills in front of coaches from every school imaginable.
Dastrup, who is 6-foot-8 and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held his own against Okafor as did his team. Arizona Select was able to build an early lead before Mac Irvin Fire came storming back to take the win.
You don’t just show up and play well against the nation’s top teams and prospects, however. Those who reach the top levels of AAU play get there with a lot of personal sacrifice and dedication from not only themselves, but also their families.
Most AAU participants begin in early March and go non-stop until the end of July with set practice sessions and tournaments around the country. A lot of parents not only provide the money for their children to make the trips, but also their time.
“I’ve spent less days in the month of July in Arizona than I have out of state taking Payton to these tournaments,” said Dastrup’s father, David. “I figure it’s an investment in his future, so as a parent I wouldn’t do it any different.”
David has been doing this since before Payton’s eighth-grade year. David recognized that his son had a lot of ability and determined to sacrifice the better part of his summer to help him realize that talent.
The sacrifices have apparently paid off with Payton currently holding 10 scholarship offers, which include offers from Utah, Utah State and most recently, BYU.
The Dastrups are hardly alone in this, with other parents sacrificing just as much and for a longer period of time.
Take Orem High's Dalton Nixon, who has been fully participating in AAU ball since the fourth grade.
“Doing this is just part of what we’ve done for so long that I don’t know what I’m going to do when our kids move on,” said Dalton’s father, Kevin. “It’s something we’ve grown used to and it’s basically our family vacation every year.”
The Nixons spent 19 straight days in Las Vegas with a lot of time to kill in between games. So what do you do to pass the time in a place not typically known to be “family friendly?”
“It’s really hard finding things to do in Las Vegas for almost three weeks,” said Kevin Nixon. “You end up doing a lot of the same things over and over again and one of those things is bowling. We’ve stayed at a place that has a bowling alley in the hotel, so we’ve been there a lot, so we’ve gotten pretty good at bowling, too. The kids enjoy it — getting to eat out at McDonalds and other places, but after 19 days I think everyone is ready for mom’s home-cooked meals.”
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