North Charleston AAU basketball teams earn spots in nationals
Meg Reilly said growing up she didn’t play basketball and didn’t particularly like the game. But she does like her students at Northwoods Middle School and appreciates their dream.
Reilly, who is a physical education teacher, said some of her students came to her three years ago with the idea of forming an AAU basketball team.
In just a few weeks, that dream will be taking the ninth-grade Charleston Playmakers (charlestonplay makers.com) to the national AAU tournament in Little Rock, Ark., followed by a trip to the NCAA Super Showcase tournament in Orlando, where they will play in front of more than 300 college coaches.
The eighth-grade Charleston Playmakers also qualified for the national tournament in their age group and will be going to Orlando.
“We are the only team from this area that is going to AAU nationals,” said Reilly, who also took the team to the national tournament a year ago.
Reilly said the youngsters took that loss hard and came back this season with a chip on their shoulder, determined to do better.
Reilly shepherded the effort, which included becoming a nonprofit in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service and then applying to the AAU.
She handles the paperwork for the team while Brandon Smalls, a former South Carolina State player who is working on his master’s degree, handles the Xs and Os on the court.
“Their dream was to play travel basketball, and I think they were smart enough to see me as a resource,” she said.
Reilly said she sees travel basketball as not only an opportunity to play a sport they love, but also as educational. When there is free time in a town, they try to take advantage.
For example, during a tournament in Atlanta, the players visited the Martin Luther King memorial, rode the MARTA and took advantage of other opportunities.
They often visit college campuses.
“We want them to know where sports can take you,” Reilly said.
Smalls, a teacher assistant at Northwoods, said coaching is fun and he thinks most members of the Playmakers will have an opportunity to play college basketball.
“It wasn’t that long ago I was in the division they’re in,” he said. “We want to get them around as many college coaches as possible so they can see the opportunity they have. The AAU experience is a great experience.”
Reilly said the players are required to keep passing grades and she does progress and report card checks.
“We require passing grades, but they go above and beyond,” she said. “I would say of these 23 athletes traveling to each national, more than half would meet honor roll requirements.”