Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Building Lone Wolf

A few days ago, I had written in my post on AAU basketball in Vermont that while I was not thrilled with everything about the system, some teams did AAU right. Today, I've decided to put one of these organizations on the forefront. Lone Wolf Athletics was founded five years ago and since has developed into a Vermont AAU powerhouse. I contacted Wayne Lafley, Lone Wolf's creator, in hopes to find what has made this program stand out and attract many talented athletes. So without further ado:

ZS: How have you built this reputation as Vermont's premier AAU basketball team that these girls should play for? I realize now that your teams and the results they produce have begun speaking for themselves; however, this reputation I assume was not instantaneously acquired. How did you convince your first team that Lone Wolf Athletics was the organization that was most capable of developing them into athletes who would be competitive at the next level?

WL: When I started Lone Wolf Athletics I originally had no plan to have AAU teams as part of my programs. The original intent was to build a business that would help develop players thru skill camps, clinics, and individual lessons. I was lucky enough to have some very talented players work with me early on and then thru word of mouth more players came. My first year I had some high-level girl players training with me. When it got to be AAU season, they all wanted to play together so some of them asked me to coach a team. I accepted the challenge and coached them. We ended up being very successful with two kids getting basketball scholarships to D1 colleges. Everything on the girls' side just snowballed from there and it seems like every year we've just gotten better. In 5 years we have had 20 girls get D1 or DII college basketball scholarships. We are very proud of that. However, none of it would have been possible without having the support of the kids, their families, and the high school coaches who supported the program.

In year two I decided to expand the program by adding a boys AAU team. Again I had some very talented boys training with me at the time and they started talking to other players and soon enough we had a very good boys team. Good players want to play with other good players so it just kept making sense for them to play together. Over the years I have assembled a very good staff that has been great with the continued development of the program and players. The boys have developed a good reputation in the northeast and many are playing at fine colleges. When you have good players and a good staff who work hard, good things happen.

ZS: Also, I was wondering how you keep AAU basketball affordable given that the economy is not quite what it once was. I noticed several sponsors on your webpage; I'm not asking for actual dollar amounts, but given all of the traveling your club does throughout spring, are these costs mainly paid through sponsor money, or do the athletes themselves have to pay those?

WL: I decided about 5 years ago to make the AAU side of things separate from the skill development business side. Lone Wolf Athletics remained the business portion which I continue to run today. I then created the Lone Wolf Basketball Club as the AAU organization. The staff and I made it a 501c3 organization which means it is tax exempt and can accept donations. Over the years we have been lucky enough to get corporate donations for the AAU program. We have also done a lot of fund raising. Obviously there is also a financial commitment from the families. I can safely say we charge less than many other programs. Another thing I should mention is that none of our coaches receive a salary. They all volunteer their time and knowledge. We do pay for their travel expenses. Many organizations pay salaries, etc. This obviously raises the cost.

ZS: Looking through your list of coaches, I noticed that the Vermont Basketball Group has merged with your organization. This will add the U16 boys' state champion to your ranks. Does your group intend to keep expanding by getting younger as I believe last year was the first year you had a U15 girls' team? Or do you intend to maintain Lone Wolf's image as Vermont's premier high school AAU basketball club?

WL: This is a good question. I want to help as many Vermont kids as possible but there is only room for so much. We have added a 15u girls' team to go along side our 17u girls' team. We also added a younger boys' team to give us two teams there also. Right now I think we are comfortable with that but you never know. I think we will expand but it will be more in the facets of programming not teams. This will be the third year of our girls summer tourney and we want to keep growing that. It has become a solid stop for the D1 & DII colleges in the northeast during the summer evaluation period. Last year we started a boys' showcase that featured the top 50 high school boys' players in the state. We had 20 colleges in for the day to see the boys play. We felt it was very successful and we would like to continue to grow that also.

I hope you have enjoyed this small preview into the business side of Lone Wolf Athletics. These types of results encourage me; as I mentioned in my previous post, when the best players play together, they are able to develop to a level where college scholarships are not beyond the realm of possibility. I would like to thank Mr. Lafley for this interview. The Lone Wolf website can be found here, and please support all AAU basketball! Highly competitive experience will indeed benefit all basketball players.

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