Year-round round ball

Thousands of Minnesota youngsters play basketball all year long in programs that provide skill development and, for a growing number, national exposure leading to Division I scholarships.

8 years old

Many kids start playing in-house or recreational ball around this age as an introduction to basketball.

9 years old

Many high school associations start their travel programs at the fourth-grade level. Kids go through tryouts and are placed on teams: A (highest level), B or C. Teams compete in tournaments — usually 10-12 per season — across the Twin Cities with one big tournament held in Rochester. Kids who choose not to make that commitment can continue to play in-house basketball.

11 to 12 years old

Kids who want to play after their travel season ends often join AAU programs around this time, if not sooner. The state has 40-plus AAU programs of varying skill level. Kids not at an elite level have several options. They can try out for an AAU program and be assigned to a team that provides a coach, uniforms, practice time and tournament entry fees. Costs vary depending on program and number of tournaments. Or players can arrange their own team and enter tournaments themselves. AAU tournaments are held almost every weekend in the spring and summer.

15 years old

Players who separate themselves as top-tier talent — such as Hopkins freshman Paige Bueckers (above) — often specialize with an intense focus. Bueckers plays AAU for North Tartan, which is sponsored by Nike and plays on a national circuit called EYBL against other Nike programs. Athletic apparel companies Nike, Adidas and Under Armour outfit their teams with apparel and help subsidize travel costs. College recruiters often attend apparel-sponsored tournaments.

17 years old

Playing varsity generally requires a year-round commitment. Most kids play AAU basketball and attend varsity camps during the summer. Many kids also seek out private training from former college and professional players. College recruiting for top players heats up about this time.