Getting Players Out Of Their Comfort Zone

By Zeke Jennings, Assistant Editor

Steve Bethke is not a stranger to either AAU or high school basketball. He’s been coaching both for three decades.

As the co-founder of Team Connecticut, which he started with brother Jack Bethke in 1993, Steve Bethke has developed different philosophies for high school and AAU over the years. Team Connecticut is based in East Haven near New Haven.

Jack handles the administration side of things, but Steve’s forte is coaching. Bethke has coached girls high school basketball since the late 1980s, which includes the past 19 seasons at Career Magnet High School in New Haven. He’s also coached AAU for 30 years. He started with Connecticut’s first girls AAU program, the Starters, in 1989. Bethke was awarded AAU’s Governor’s Award in 2010 for his years of dedication.

In terms of philosophy and overall style of play, Bethke sees a world of difference between high school basketball and AAU. He realizes many people may not see that a positive thing, but he does.

“I’m probably not the majority, but AAU and high school are miles and miles apart, and they should be.” said Bethke. “In high school, you take a player who screens, who rebounds, because those things help you win. In AAU, I want that player to shoot the ball and run the court. By doing those things, that player will become more of an asset.”

Whatever a particular player’s strengths are Bethke feels AAU is a good chance to push her outside of her comfort zone to improve on her weaknesses.

“My philosophy is the (high school) offseason, meaning AAU, is a time to get better.” Bethke said. “If you’re a defensive player, you want to be able to go back to your high school coach and show “Now I can run the court, now I can find the open man.”

“I see some (AAU) groups that say, ‘She does this well,’ so they only let her do that. I disagree with that. It’s not helping them.”

For Team Connecticut, Bethke stresses offense and encourages up-tempo play. His reasoning is that players who have aspirations of playing college basketball need to show offensive abilities to get noticed.

“College coaches recruit both offense and defense, but if you can’t put the ball in the hole, you’re not going to play.” he said. “If you don’t put the ball in the basket, you’re not going get recruited.”

If a quick-hitter isn’t there, Bethke’s teams settle into a four-high motion offense that is predicated on players’ decision-making rather than running a set play.

“I’m not big on plays; it’s about continuity.” he said. “It’s not a play. It’s an offense and you make decisions within that offense.”

(credit: The Real AAU Basketball – Winter 2019)