Becoming an elite basketball player comes at high price

Lady Fire travel team
Kiara Lewis' father, Gary Lewis, with the Mac Irvin Lady Fire travel team on a trip in 2014. (Courtesy of Mac Irvin Lady Fire).

By Aishwarya Kumar Lakshminarayanapuram

Whitney Young junior guard Adrienne Truitt and her family have never gone on a family vacation in the last 10 years. Not even on short trips.

Adrienne’s father Michael wanted to spend every additional penny he had on his daughter’s basketball career.

And it is considerable: An estimated $40,000.

“Wow, man, coming to think of it, I spent a fortune on her,” said Michael, a senior economist with the U.S. Labor Department.

Other parents of players in the Whitney Young girls’ basketball team have similar stories spending big money to develop their daughters’ skills. Often, for these predominantly middle class families the expense comes at the sacrifice of money that would be spent elsewhere. One family even has delayed remodeling its house to accommodate basketball expenses.

Their goals are twofold: They want their kids to reach their potential as basketball players. If they do, they could be in position to land scholarships to play college basketball.

Ever since Michael saw Adrienne make a layup when she was four, he didn’t mind the additional expenditure that came with raising a basketball player. From scouting basketball camps to interviewing coaches, he did everything to help Adrienne with her game. He enrolled her in AAU teams, sent her to summer camps and traveled with her for away games.

“When she started showing signs of a good basketball player, I took the next steps because I knew it was going to be worth it,” Truitt said.

Michael Truitt
Junior guard Adrienne Young with her father Michael Truitt when she was in fifth grade (Courtesy of Michael Truitt).

The path was fairly standard for all the players: Get the help of a personal trainer; attend basketball camps; play for elite level AAU travel team; get picked up for your high school team; start for your high school team.

Most parents have to travel with their kids for their AAU team’s away games. And this comes with expenses like food, hotel and gas. Also, basketball players get hurt. And parents have to copay for their surgeries and therapy.

Angelique Andrews, mother of junior center Ashanti Andrews said that she spent at least $5,000 on travelling to her away games, on stay, food and gas.

Breaking this down further, Michael Truitt explained that per trip would cost around $500: with $100 for stay per day, $50-60 for food, and $20 for gas.

It costs $1,600 per player every summer to be a part of the Mac Irvin Lady Fire AAU team. They have also played for other AAU teams like Lady Angels and Dribbling during their middle school which ranged from $300 to $800. While some teams paid for their travel expenses during away games, parents had to bear the expenses in most cases.

Mac Irvin Lady Fire team
The Mac Irvin Lady Fire team poses after a game in 2014 (courtesy of Mac Irvin Lady Fire).

These additional expenses come with many sacrifices for the parents and the players. Andrews explained that their family hardly ever venture out to restaurants.

“The money we spend on eating out is spent on gas to get them to practices and games,” she said.

For junior forward Kistinger’s family, even the trips her parents take to get her to away games are on a budget. During their tournament in Puerto Rico in 2015, her parents did not stay with the team because of the high cost of hotel rooms. They stayed at a small bed and breakfast instead, she said.

Between juggling paying for travel, gas, stay, food and training, oversees vacations seemed a distant dream for Ashanti’ mother and other parents on the team.

“I have always wanted to go to Moscow,” Angelique Andrews said. “But I know I have to put in on hold for Ashanti.”

If travel, accommodation and food expenses seemed scary, injuries made parents realize how insignificant travel expenses were. From ACL tears to ankle and back injuries, parents have had to deal with copay for their insurance since their kids were in third grade.

Michael Truitt estimated that he spent around $10,000 on Adrienne’s injuries in the form of copays and deductibles on her health insurance. She suffered an ACL tear to her right knee, making her sit out all of her eighth grade season. Recently, she suffered a shoulder injury which kept her out of her junior season for six weeks.

“For her knee, she went three times a week [for consultation]; for her back she went three times a week; then there is therapy; Michael said. “So that was a major added expense.”

Artrina Beck, mother of Breanna Beck, agreed with Michael and added that they spent close to $1,200 per year on treatment, consultation and therapy.

All the Whitney Young players also play for Lady Fire travel team during summers. And this opportunity comes with expenses of its own.

Most parents traveled to Tennessee, North Carolina, Indiana and Puerto Rico last season with the team.

Whitney Young trip
Mac Irvin Lady Fire AAU team during one of their away games (Courtesy of Mac Irvin).

“Each trip cost an additional $500 because you need to pay for gas, food and stay for a few days,” Michael Truitt said.

Every player on the team is also part of the Mac Irvin Lady Fire team. They all agreed that playing for an AAU team is the best way to improve if they want to play college basketball.

Mac Irvin, head coach of Mac Irvin Fire, said it is an important avenue for players who want to play college ball. He said college coaches don’t attend high school games and playing for AAU games is the only way players get to prove their worth and get scholarships.

“I think it is really important because if you can save yourself $190,000 [approximate cost of four years of college] by paying $10,000 for an AAU team, that’s a huge deal,” Irvin said.

Senior forward Isabelle Spingola and point guard Kiara Lewis pose for a selfie with Mac Irvin after signing with Marquette and Ohio State respectively in September.

Joyce Kenner, Whitney Young High School’s principal agreed with Irvin and added that AAU teams give players the right kind of exposure to get them into an elite college.

Players compete with the best in the city when playing for an AAU team and this elevates their skills, said Andrews. It is easy to make it to a high school basketball team, but they need to be really good to be a part of an AAU team, she added.

In spending  as much as $40,000, the parents are pinning their hopes and dreams on their kids to perform well at the high school level and sign with a good college.

“Hopefully [Breanna] will receive a nice scholarship, get a degree and be happy playing,” Beck said.

Parents have hopes and dreams for their children, but there always the added pressure for them to consistently perform well, they said.

Irvin agreed but said the extra expenses gives them more incentive to  spend more time on their games, making them better.

The players said they are always thinking about making the most of their parents’ investment in them.

“I don’t want to disappoint them and what they want you to be,” Kistinger said. “That’s always pushing me to be my best on the court.”

Photo at top: Kiara Lewis’ father, Gary Lewis, with the Mac Irvin Lady Fire travel team on a trip in 2014 (Courtesy of Mac Irvin Lady Fire).