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Pacers Guard Edmond Sumner’s AAU Team Takes A ‘Scholarships Over Rankings’ Approach

Talking to Edmond Sumner and Andrew Mitchell about the AAU team that bears the former’s name is a pretty fun exercise. Here’s what Sumner had to say when Mitchell came up in conversation:

“I give him the most credit,” Sumner told me over the phone. “I basically just have my name on it, he does all the dirty work. That’s why, honestly, the interview should be more towards him because he knows everything. He’s the one dealing with the parents. He’s the one making sure everybody’s happy. He’s recruiting kids. He’s coaching the kids. He’s doing a phenomenal job and he needs 100 percent of credit. I’m just the guy that’s using the blessing God has gave me to be able to fund most of the things.”

And here is what Mitchell has to say in response:

“I’m just thankful that Edmond gave me this opportunity to try to run away with this,” Mitchell says. “And I think our program is headed for the stars. And I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction. And obviously Edmond gives me a lot of credit, but I give him a lot of credit for even believing in me and this opportunity.”

No matter who deserves more credit between the two, Sumner and Mitchell, a pair of former teammates with the Xavier University men’s basketball team, are determined to be a pair of positive influences in the young men who come through their program. Both Sumner, now of the Indiana Pacers, and Mitchell, who is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the program, came through the AAU circuit, and understand that people who run these programs don’t always have the best interest of the kids who play the game in mind.

As a result, the two wanted to make sure that the young men participating in their program were front and center.

“At the end of the day, you never know really what people agendas are,” Sumner says. “And I know what my agendas are. So, at the end of the day, it’s to get these kids the opportunity to get seen and potentially get a college scholarship. That was my goal. A lot of people who are in it for the wrong reasons. And my whole thing is making sure we all in it for the right reasons. If you’re in this circle, you’re in in for the right reasons. This is not about us. It’s about solely the kids.”

A former four-star guard recruit, Sumner was an All-Big East selection with the Musketeers. He parlayed this into a second round selection by the Pacers in 2017, and after spending some time with the team’s G League affiliate in Fort Wayne, was able to make the jump to the league.

Throughout his basketball career, Sumner always knew he wanted to do something with AAU. A talented player in his prep days who participated in the Nike EYBL circuit, Sumner remembers going from being a kid whose family had to pay for things — his dad was his coach when he was younger — to someone who was able to participate in AAU ball without that extra burden being on the adults in his life.

“My parents not having to pay for the tournaments, not have to worry about basketball shoes all the time and little things like that,” he says. “It adds up and that puts a whole other pressure. So my mindset always was, I always wanted to try to have either my own program or give back to a program. And Andrew, he’s the reason why. He brought it to my attention, it’s an opportunity we have and he knew what I believed in and stuff like that. So he basically told me ‘I’ll run it for you, I know you’re going to be busy during the season.”

Mitchell took the reins of the program prior to Sumner’s involvement. His partner’s son was on the team when it was known as Much Greater Elite, and when the team needed someone to step in as coach, it only made sense to turn to the former college basketball player who was around the program. It paid off, as he managed to lead them to a win in a tournament. Things snowballed from there — he kept volunteering as the coach as a way to help the kids out, they kept winning, and next thing he knew, Mitchell was the program’s full-time head coach.

At the time, the program’s sponsor was now-former NFL cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones. Mitchell, who doubles as Sumner’s manager, thought it’d be cool to be the only AAU program sponsored by an NFL and an NBA player. Sumner agreed, hopped on board in a smaller capacity, and then got to thinking: How cool would it be to have his own AAU program with his name on it? As such, Edmond Sumner Select, led by Andrew Mitchell, came to fruition in Sept. 2019.

“We won over 120 games in three years and lost less than 25,” Mitchell says. “In three years! So we’ve had a lot of success and I don’t really go by the rankings, because I’m a big ‘scholarships over rankings’ guy. But, if you go by the rankings, in the last few years, we’ve been in every top-15 ranking in the country that’s ever been announced. We’re on every ranking site, we go to tournaments, we’re in super pools, which means the best teams are playing each other in pool play. So we’re playing against the best teams in the country right away.”

The early returns have been solid — as Mitchell noted, the ’26 squad, in particular, is quite promising — but neither want the kids involved to feel pressured to make it to the NBA. That’s far down the road, and if that comes to fruition, so be it. Instead, the pair care about taking care of young men who have dreams, while Mitchell has the long-term goal of seeing his kids all sitting together on signing day and making their college decisions together.

Still, the pair picked one heck of a time to get into the AAU game. Several months after the team started carrying its current name, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing movement for racial justice in the United States became as much a part of everyday life as getting out of bed in the morning. For Mitchell, this presented an opportunity to hammer home life skills — he teaches them things like making sure they always hold the door for someone walking behind them, and wants them to “be the best man on the court, be the best man in the classroom, [and] be the best man at home” — while letting the basketball court be a source of refuge.

“I feel like it’s just their getaway from all the stuff,” Mitchell says. “Obviously most of the families in our team, they’re not letting their kids do much. So their kids are on lockdown in the house, and it’s just you, your mom, your dad, your siblings in house. So as soon as we were able to come out and have an AAU tournament, I used it as a getaway. So I preached that to the kids before the games. Like, ‘The world has been crazy. We didn’t know when we were going to play basketball again, if you were going to play basketball again. This thing can last for years. So all these moments where you get to go on the court and you play with your friends, use that as your Why.’ I call it your Why, your fuel as like, ‘Don’t go out there and waste time. You never know when you could get these moments again, they could be your last moments, for some of you guys.'”

You’re never too old to learn, though, and for both, this year served as a learning experience for both of them on how they can use AAU basketball — and mentorship in general — as a way to improve the lives of young men. Mitchell praised the NBA for setting an example on how to come together in the face of multiple hardships, specifically citing the social justice-inspired slogans that players wore across the backs of their jerseys in the Orlando Bubble.

As Mitchell tells it, that trickled down to the AAU level, which adopted a similar practice. And unsurprisingly, he cited one player in particular who was in the Bubble and chose “EQUALITY” as his slogan for being able to cut through everything and get a message across to his kids.

“I think our kids have been torn all over the place, because they’re obviously getting older, they’re more mature, they’re listening to their parents talk, they’re listen to everybody talk,” Mitchell said. “Social media is huge. So they’re seeing ever thing and some of their favorite players — obviously Edmond’s in the NBA, so he’s a part of this stuff that NBA was standing for this year.

“You see everybody with jerseys, similar to the NBA — the Black Lives Matter slogans on the back, or ‘Equality,’ or ‘My Life Matters’ and things like that. So it was awesome to see white people, black people, all peoples of color just standing together as one. It was awesome.”

Sumner says in general, this year hammered home the importance of not taking life for granted. When it comes to the AAU program, while Mitchell is making sure everything is going well on a day-to-day basis, he’s taking pride in making sure he can set the sort of example that every kid is excited to follow.

“I feel you can really tell someone’s character by how they treat somebody that they don’t need, like a janitor or somebody who you don’t really benefit from them,” Sumner says. “It’s easy to go ahead and treat your head coach great, or treat somebody that you look up to, that’s easy. But for you to, like [Drew] said, somebody is behind you, hold the door open for them and let them walk in, or little stuff like that. That’s a testimony to your true character. And I just really try to be the best role in my life each and every day.”

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