Sharpening up their skills

Local AAU girls basketball teams showcase their talents this summer

MARQUETTE — High school and middle school basketball seasons have been over for quite a while now, but some local girls are still trying to stay sharp in the offseason.

While some players choose to shoot around on their own or maybe play 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 with some friends to simulate game scenarios, these girls are playing in real time with their respective AAU squads.

Creating AAU teams in the Upper Peninsula was the idea of former Northern Michigan University women’s assistant coach Mariah Dunham, who started the program last year.

“I was coaching at Northern for two years and then I decided I wanted to get out of college coaching and invest my time more into the high school and middle school-aged groups,” she said. So I started the AAU program up last summer and we only had two teams. This year, we expanded to five.”

Dunham said that there was such a large interest this year at the middle school level that they had to create two 14-U teams after holding tryouts in March.

The five teams active in the central U.P. ranging from ages 14-under up to 17-U and with such a large amount of interest at the middle school level, they had to create two 14-U teams. Fans may recognize some of the names on the 17-U squad as they include Westwood’s Madi Koski and Tessa Leece, Negaunee’s Abby Nelson and Marquette’s Avery Ledy and Sydney Kivi among others.

“We had about 30 kids come to our first tryout (last season), but this year, we had over 50 from 14-U to 17-U,” Dunham said. “We have Houghton and Hancock on the west end and then Baraga and Chassell. We have Escanaba, Bark River and of course, Marquette, Ishpeming, Negaunee and Westwood. We’re pretty much west, central and east. I even have one from West Iron County as well and last year, we had someone from Sault Ste. Marie. It’s growing a lot and it’s pretty cool to see this take off and see the interest that kids have. I’m excited for it.”

With the number of teams increasing, that meant Dunham needed to find more coaches and one of them ended being Allen Dehority, one of NMU’s two athletic communications managers. Dehority played basketball in college and coached for a few years after he graduated.

“I had been coaching ever since I graduated college,” he said. “I got out of it for a little bit and when I moved here, I decided I wanted to get back into it. I talked to (NMU head women’s coach) Troy Mattson and I asked if there was anyone looking for AAU help or if there were any AAU teams and he got me in touch with coach Dunham and went from there.”

Dehority coaches the 15-U team that is coming off a third-place finish at a tournament out in the Green Bay area thanks to a late 3-pointer in overtime. He said his team made a lot of progress in a short period of time considering the players have only played with each other for a limited amount of time.

“That was only our second one and our first one was back in April,” he said. “We’ve only had like three practices and I thought we played pretty well considering we were playing teams that had been together for several months. This tournament we played much better as a team. I think we’re starting to come together and they’re starting to pick up what we’re doing.”

Dunham’s 17-U team has been challenged a lot this year due to the high level of competition, but Dunham likes it that way and thinks her squad is doing well.

“They’ve been doing good,” she said. “I’ve put them into some really hard brackets this year. Every tournament you go to, you get to select what bracket you’d like to play in. So we’ve been seeing some teams with girls on the opposite teams that are probably going to play Division I basketball. So they’re going against top talent and top athletic people from all over. It’s kind of cool to have the girls see different kids and not just the U.P. kids that they normally see.”

In regard what the future holds for AAU in the U.P., Dunham said that she’d love to expand the program further including potentially adding a boys team.

“I definitely would love to keep building,” she said. “I’m very selective with coaching staffs and stuff, so if I can get quality coaches to run the programs the way I envisioned it, we’ll certainly keep building. I’ve been getting more inquiries about starting a boys program, so that’s a potential thing that’s been thrown out as well.”

When asked if there was a message he wanted to get out about AAU basketball, Dehority said that not only can you become a better player, but it’s just a quality experience.

“We’re always looking to add more players and this is a great opportunity to learn more about basketball,” he said. “You can broaden your skills and improve your game. You can also broaden your knowledge and learn a little bit more about different styles and different areas. You also get to meet girls from the U.P. that you otherwise might not get to and you get a chance to make new friends.”

Improving your basketball skills and spending time making new friends sounds like a fun way to spend a summer vacation.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.