SHERIDAN — For some players, basketball never stops. Even after the confetti fell and the benches cleared in celebratory fashion following the high school season, basketball will continue year round for some of the more talented and dedicated ballers.
The AAU basketball circuit in Wyoming kicked off its season in April and a couple Sheridan Broncs have elected to join in an effort to improve their games and play against higher levels of competition all across the country. Sheridan’s Tristan Bower holds a spot on Wyoming Power’s U17 team, and Gus Wright plays on the U16 team.
This year marks the first season that both aforementioned Sheridanites will play AAU basketball, and each player’s reasoning for joining mirrored the others.
“My sophomore year was a very good year for me. We went to state, and I got a lot of experience,” Wright said. “I realized how big this is and what my potential could be, and I realize if I want to be as a good as a I can be, I need to be playing basketball, so I decided AAU basketball would be a good move.”
Wright — who stands 6-foot-7 with potentially a few more inches left to grow — came off the bench this past season for the Broncs. He averaged 4.3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. Wright stepped up and tallied a total of 19 points in the Broncs’ run through the state tournament.
Bower led Sheridan in scoring this season, pouring in 16.6 points per contest.
Bower also added 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He was named to the All-State team, and with one more high school season to play, Bower hopes the AAU circuit will sharpen his game and garner him some looks from college coaches.
Sheridan College’s Channel Banks — who recently signed to play basketball at the University of Akron — participated in AAU basketball during his high school years in North Las Vegas, Nevada, catching the eye of Sheridan head coach Matt Hammer.
“AAU was very important getting the basic details of competition and just playing against some of the best kids in the world,” Banks said. “It gave me that exposure on and off the court, meeting different people trying to criticize my game and get me better.”
Hammer has utilized the AAU circuit to watch prospective Generals. He attends showcases all over the country to watch some of the best high school basketball players square off against one another.
While Hammer believes AAU basketball is crucial to the development and improvement of a high schooler, he also believes it’s somewhat dependent on the AAU coach’s mindset. Does the coach have the players’ progress at the forefront of his of her mind or is he or she coaching AAU for personal advancement in the college coaching ranks?
Hammer grew up in the small town of Elkton, South Dakota, and played AAU basketball in high school. While Hammer’s participation within AAU didn’t expand his collegiate basketball options — Hammer ended up playing at Division II Northern State — he enjoyed the AAU atmosphere.
“It was an eye-opening experience because in South Dakota I didn’t play against the level of athletes that are out there,” Hammer said. “I didn’t realize how athletic high school kids were out there. Getting outside of our region and where I grew up, it was great to see.
“But just playing AAU isn’t enough. You need to be in love with the basics; you need to be in love with the fundamentals and be in love with being in the gym and working on your game and trying to better yourself. A lot of the AAU stuff, it’s good, and a lot of it comes down to the individual kid.”
The simple fact that Bower and Wright have both signed up for AAU basketball shows their level of dedication to the game. Practices for Wyoming Power take place in Casper, and the two-hour drive on top of academics and high school spring sports — Bower plays soccer and Wright does track — can prove challenging at times.
Prior to signing up for AAU, Bower and Wright both relayed their dedication to spring sports to their AAU coaches, making it known that they won’t attend every Tuesday and Saturday basketball practice. To combat the missed practice time, Bower and Wright work on their craft at the Sheridan County YMCA.
Sheridan County resident Jaren Fritz — who plays basketball at Tongue River — plays alongside Bower on the U17 team. Other players from Cheyenne Central, Glenrock, Kelly Walsh, Pine Bluffs, Riverton, Rocky Mountain and Torrington fill out the roster.
It’s an eclectic mix of Wyoming talent and the unique blend makes it fun for the players.
“They’re all great athletes, and it will kind of be cool because I’ve been playing against them and now to be on the same team will be cool,” Bower said.
Wright plays with players from Douglas, Kelly Walsh and Natrona.
All of the players had to go through a skills evaluation and a scrimmage evaluation in March in order to make the team. The tournament schedule includes destinations such as California, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Wisconsin.
AAU basketball isn’t for the faint of heart, especially in Wyoming. The drive time to simply attend practice can deter some players. But for Bower and Wright, the opportunity to square off against world-class talent all across the country and improve the individual game was too much to pass up.