Finding the Best Fit
When it comes time to choose a college, there are a lot of factors to consider. If playing basketball in college is important to you, the three primary questions are:
- Where can you play?
- Where can you get in academically?
- Where do you feel the most comfortable?
Of course, there are other things to consider:
- How far away from home do you want to be?
- Big school or small school?
- Urban, suburban, or rural campus?
- Private school or public school?
- Do they have your major?
- How diverse is the student body?
- What is the quality of housing and on-campus eating?
- How large are classes? What’s the typical faculty-student ratio?
These types of questions are important ones and students who are not interested in playing intercollegiate athletics should use every one of them (and more) to determine where they belong. But for an aspiring college athlete, these criteria become secondary. You must understand that the amount of choice you have in some of these areas will largely be determined by how talented you are in your sport and how good you are as a student.
The better player you are and the more coaches want you, the more you will be able to take these secondary criteria into consideration as you choose among the many schools vying for your services. By the same token, if you are a good student, the number of schools available to you (at whatever level you are desirable as a basketball player) will increase, again giving you more choice regarding the secondary criteria above. If you are a poor student, you may be stuck choosing between the few schools who are able to get you in.
Let’s discuss the primary questions:
Where can you play?
I have to address this one first because it has proven to be the least understood by players and their parents. Nearly every decent high school player in America today, at some point in their career, believes they are a potential D1 player, and for many this belief persists far longer than is realistic. For some, it is only after they find themselves without a D1 scholarship offer in May of their senior year that they are forced to realize that they might not be D1 material. And this is NOT an insult. In fact, it is a compliment to be considered good enough to play college basketball at ANY level.
High school players and their parents rarely get to see D2, D3, NAIA, or Juco games, because nearly every televised college game is a Division 1 contest. Many assume these levels are for the players who weren’t good enough in high school. But, the fact is that most D2, D3, NAIA, and Juco players were the best players on their high school teams, and probably even one of the best in their city, county, or conference. College players, at ALL levels, can play! And the truth is that most of the best players you play with and against in high school and AAU will probably play at the D2 or D3 level in college, if they end up playing college basketball at all.
Sometimes, talent-wise, there is not an awful lot of difference between a mid-low D1 player and the best players at the D2, or even D3, levels. Of course, the best players at the highest levels of Division 1 college basketball, it’s a little different – many of those guys are just a different breed; they exceed the limits of normal human talent, athleticism, and/or work ethic (and probably all 3). But, most of the players on 200+ of the D1 teams in America are not that different from the best D2 or D3 players as far as talent is concerned.
So what’s the difference?
In some cases, it’s height. Let’s say we find three of the most skilled high school centers in America. All three dominate the competition at the high school and AAU levels. One is 6’10, the other is 6’7, and the third is 6’5. Even if they’re all equal in talent, in fact even if the 6’10 player is a little less talented than the other two, the 6’10 is probably going to be a D1 player. The 6’7 player has a chance to play D1, but not probably not as a center, and there is almost no chance a 6’5 center will play D1 basketball. (To be clear, I am not saying that if you’re not at least 6’8, don’t play the post. If you’re a post player and you can dominate in the post, DO IT! You’re chances of playing college basketball are infinitely higher if you stick to the area(s) in which you can dominate, than if you try to be something that you’re not). Of course there are exceptions. I’m sure there have been 6’5-6’6 centers in D1 basketball before, but everyone can’t be the rare exception. It’s basic probability; you are almost certainly not the 1 in 10,000…there can only be 1 of those. But, none of this is bad news – the 6’7 and 6’5 centers can go on to have outstanding college careers at the D2, D3, or NAIA levels and may even have solid professional careers overseas.
In some cases, it may be athleticism that makes the difference. Imagine, we find three guards that are all incredibly skilled – can handle, shoot, and pass with the best. If one of these guards is 6’4 and super-athletic, another is 5’10 and an above-average athlete, and the third is 6’2 and an average athlete, it is likely the 6’4, super-athletic guard can play at the D1 level. For the other two, D1 is unlikely; not impossible, but unlikely.
Remember, all six of the players we just discussed are great players. They can all get it done; they’re some of the best at their positions at the high school and AAU levels; All-Conference, All-State, and all the rest. You can’t not be good and still play in college – at ANY level! There are so many factors, height and athleticism are just two, but the important thing to remember is, not everyone is a D1 player, but every college player can play. (And, there are Division-1 caliber players who choose to play D2, D3, and NAIA; trust me).
So, how do you know what level YOU can play at? It’s pretty simple. Regardless of what you think, what your parents think, what you’re uncle who played in college thinks, what your trainer thinks, or what your high school or AAU coaches think – you are who’s recruiting you. And “recruiting” doesn’t mean you’re getting mail from a school (almost every D2 player, and many D3 players, got mail from a D1 school(s) at some point in their high school careers…Read Part 1). If a coaching staff is seriously recruiting you, they will come see you play in person by your junior or senior year and they will call and text you. If they haven’t come to see you in person and they aren’t calling/texting, then they aren’t recruiting you.
So, if you’re a senior and the coaches who are calling, texting, and coming to see you are D3 coaches, then guess what…you’re a D3 player. It doesn’t matter that you got mail from a D1 school when you were a sophomore; you’re a D3 player. If it’s spring of your senior year and no D1 coaching staff has felt strongly enough about you to offer you a scholarship, then you’re not a D1 player. It doesn’t matter that D1 coaches have called or texted you in the past or that a D1 coach told your high school coach they were interested in you last Fall; you’re not a D1 player. (Again, are there rare exceptions where a kid gets his first D1 scholarship offer in April of his senior year? Yes. But, by definition, “rare exception” means it’s probably not going to happen). We all have dreams, and I encourage you to dream, but we also have to embrace reality. At some point, you have to start taking interest in the schools that are interested in you. Remember, it is a privilege to play college basketball at ANY level.
Where can you get in academically?
Once you’ve determined the level you can play at, your list of schools to consider has narrowed. It is now time to look at your academic situation. My advice: Go to the best academic school you can get into and do well at. Don’t go somewhere that’s so academically rigorous that you’re going to struggle just to survive (remember, basketball will take significant time also). But, you also don’t want to go to the easiest academic school on your list. Go to a college where you can get B’s or better if you put in the work.
If you’ve been a strong student throughout your high school career, you will probably be able to go to any of the schools showing interest in you as a player. If you haven’t always taken care of your school work, your options may be more limited. There will be schools that like you as a player, but can’t get you in academically. Hopefully, you’ve done well enough in school that you aren’t limiting your options.
Where do you feel the most comfortable?
Once you understand the level you can play at, and you’ve ruled out the schools that don’t fit you academically, you will have a list of schools to choose from. Now you have to decide what school you will call home for the next four years. There are a few considerations here:
- What do you want out of this? Do you want to play right away as a freshman, or are you comfortable being on the bench for your first year or two with the hopes that you can earn time by your junior or senior year? If you want to play significant minutes early (even by your sophomore year), then you probably shouldn’t choose the highest level schools who are recruiting you. The highest level schools recruiting you represent your ceiling – if you go there you will likely have to sit early and hope that you develop enough to earn time later in your career. Just be aware, that if you choose this option, and you don’t develop the way you or the coaching staff had hoped, they will recruit another player to take your place. For most players it is wise to go where you will be celebrated; not where you will be tolerated. At some point in the recruiting process it will become clear to you which coaching staffs LOVE you – you’re their guy; they gotta have you. My advice: Choose one of these schools. They will be invested in you and your success on and off the court. You’ll get chances to play early and you’ll get the benefit of the doubt and patience when/if you struggle. You are likely to have a better career and a better overall experience at a school like this.
- Who do you feel the most comfortable with? As much as school choice can seem like it’s about the location, campus, and level, it is wise to remember that the difference between when we are happy and when we are unhappy is the people who we are surrounded by on a daily basis. My advice: If you are going to be happy and successful, it will be important to be surrounded by people you trust, respect, and like. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose the school with the tough, no-nonsense head coach who yells (by the way, that’s every college head coach), but it does mean you shouldn’t choose the coach who you’re not sure has been honest with you during the recruiting process. No matter what you do, you will face struggles and difficulties when you go to college, and there will be days when you don’t really like your coach (just like high school). Truthfully, you will probably need someone to yell at you from time to time if you’re going to reach your potential. What you don’t want are people who you can’t trust and respect. Choose the school where you ultimately feel like the coaches & players have your back and are going to challenge you and help you become your best self. There will still be tough times, but you can get through them when you have good people around you.
- How does it “feel?” When you talk to the coaches, visit the campus, and meet the current players, how do you feel? It’s not something you can define, and sometimes it doesn’t follow logic, but some places you will just get “that feeling” about and other places, you won’t. You can’t make your decision based solely on this feeling, but you can’t ignore it either. Sometimes, you just know.
- Now it’s time to consider the secondary criteria mentioned in the beginning of this post, along with a few others:
- Ask about the meal plan. The NCAA has helped the D1 athletes with this, but you will want to find out how many meals/week or dollars/semester you get and figure out if it will be enough for you to live on.
- Ask about academic support. With the extra time you’ll be spending with basketball, you will need tutors and study halls if you are going to be successful academically. Make sure they have a solid system in place.
- Ask about internship opportunities. No matter what degree you pursue, it will benefit you to get some experience in the field before you graduate. Find out about the availability and the quality of these opportunities.
- If playing professionally is important to you, find out if the coaching staff has connections overseas and if they have any former players playing professionally.
Navigating the college recruitment and selection landscape is difficult and stressful. I hope that my posts have been helpful and that you find the place that is right for you. Please let me know if you have any questions.
I always appreciate reading stuff like this. Everyone’s journey is different, but many share common themes. As someone who is currently working towards fulfilling his own dreams, I find insight like this to be incredibly valuable.
Separating Yourself at Camps and Tournaments
The more camps and tournaments I go to, the more I have come to believe that there are few things more mysterious to a high school or AAU player than how to play in front of college coaches.
Even if you are very talented, your best chance to stand out at camps and tournaments is to understand what college coaches are looking for and become adept in these areas. The easiest thing for a college coach to find is talent. Talented players are everywhere and every camp and tournament you go to will be loaded with players as talented as you or better. Chances are good that your talent alone won’t earn you a scholarship or a spot on a college roster.
Here is how to standout at camps and tournaments:
1. Do what you do best!
If there’s one thing that simultaneously perplexes and annoys all college coaches at camps and tournaments, it’s watching players who insist on doing things that they can’t do. If you’re not a 3-point shooter, don’t shoot 3’s. If you don’t handle the ball well, give it to someone who can. It is far better to let the college coaches go home wondering if you can, than to prove to them that you can’t. And even worse, when you consistently try the things you can’t do, you show coaches that you have a poor understanding of the game and an unrealistic evaluation of your own ability – both of these are red flags for coaches.
So ask yourself, “What 1 or 2 things can I do better than anybody else?” And then do those things as much as possible. Do them so much that you become nauseatingly boring and predictable….and then do them some more. Establish the fact that you are the best player in the gym at doing those 1 or 2 things, and then, every coach who is looking for a player who can do those things will leave with your name circled.
2. Play Hard!
In every game you play at a camp or tournament, there is likely to be a coach watching that will only ever see you play in THIS ONE GAME. Whatever kind of player you are in this game, will define how that coach feels about you. It is very difficult for high school players to understand how much harder college players play than high school players. The speed and intensity of a college practice, a college workout, a college game are on a whole other level from what the typical high school player has ever even seen. And if you can’t play hard for every possession of every game at a camp or tournament, when you’re being watched and so much is on the line, how can any college coach believe that you ever play hard? At the very least, coaches are going to have some concerns about your ability to make it in their program. And at worst, they’ll just cross your name off their list and move on. Don’t disrespect the game or college coaches’ time by playing any other way but HARD.
3. Mind your body language!
The best way to find out about the character of a person is to watch how he carries himself when things are not going well. Basketball is a game of mistakes. Mistakes will happen in every game you ever play. And if you can’t respond in a mature and constructive way to mistakes and adverse situations, you’re going to have a very hard time being successful at the next level.
So, stop dropping your head every time you miss a shot or turn the ball over. Stop fouling the guy who rebounded your missed lay-up. Stop giving “the face” to the teammate who dropped your pass or the ref who missed the call. Stop throwing your hands up in the air with disgust. Stop shaking your head in disbelief. Stop slouching and putting towels over your head when you’re on the bench. And stop ignoring your coach when he’s talking to you. These are all signs of an immature player who doesn’t love or understand the game. Coaches don’t enjoy coaching players like this and they are unlikely to recruit players they wouldn’t enjoy coaching.
There’s only one acceptable way to respond to any mistake – immediately elevate your energy and play harder to make the mistake not matter.
If you’ve ever been to a college practice or played in a pick-up game against college players, you’ve probably noticed how much college players talk when they play. It’s one of the biggest and most noticeable differences between high school players and college players. College players talk on the court…A LOT! When you play at a camp or tournament, it would benefit you to look more like a college player. The easiest way to do this is to talk on the court. Talk so much that coaches trying to watch the game on the next court start looking over at your game. It really doesn’t take any special talent.
5. Be a Winner!
Having a great handle is terrific. Being able to consistently knock down jumpers is wonderful. Having the ability to dunk over defenders is very impressive. But, there’s one skill that stands alone…It can’t really be taught; can’t really be defined; can’t be capture in a formula or described by a statistic, but EVERY coach wants it. That is the ability to WIN! True winners make their teammates play 10% better and 10% harder. They demand the best of themselves on every possession. They’ll set the screen, grab the rebound, dive for the loose ball, or do whatever is required, but they won’t allow their team to not win. Coaches love players like this!
How hard do you compete on every possession? Do you view every play, every cut, every rebound, and every loose ball as a mini battle within the game? And how badly do want to win every one of those mini battles?
You want to separate yourself in a camp or tournament with hundreds of players who are just as good as you?
BE A WINNER!
Recruiting “Turn Offs”
While recruiting, college coaches are attempting to find players who are (at least):
- Talented enough and athletic enough to help them win
- Good enough students to get into school and stay eligible
- Good enough attitudes that they won’t mind coaching you for the next four years
- Good enough character that they don’t have to worry about you embarrassing the school or program
As they make these decisions, they will look at EVERYTHING – and it ALL matters!
If you are guilty of some of the things listed below, at best, you’ll only annoy some coaches; at worst, you’ll get crossed off their recruiting list. Becoming a college player is a competitive journey and it makes sense to avoid anything that can make you less appealing to college coaches.
Here are some things that will turnoff college coaches:
When you play:
- Making wardrobe choices that say “Look at me!”
- Arm sleeves
- Shin pads
- Neon shoes and socks
- Walking, jogging, standing around, and not being in a stance on defense
- Having bad body language in response to mistakes, coaching or referee’s calls
- Playing as if it’s a tryout for Hoopmixtape
- Celebrating every time you make a nice play
- Being disrespectful to coaches, teammates, or referees
Your Public Image:
- Using social media unintelligently
- Posting/reposting sexually explicit, racist, or controversial content
- Using curse words in posts, pictures, or videos
- Posting/reposting pictures of yourself partying or behaving badly
- Posting/reposting videos of sexually explicit, racist, or inappropriate content
- Tweeting every time you workout
- Using immature email addresses or social media handles – firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; @GettnBukkets; @Chozen1; @Wherestheparty
*Most coaches will watch 2 minutes and then decide whether to keep watching or turn it off.
- Bad music (remember who you’re making the video for)
- Cursing or inappropriate content in highlight music
- Special effects
- Showing free throws or individual workouts
During the recruiting process:
- Being a “Big Timer”
- Acting like you’re “too good” to talk to certain coaches
- Having an unrealistic idea of how good you are and where you can play
- Acting like you’re interested in a school when you’re not – “No, thanks” is the 2nd best answer you can give a coach; let them move on to the next recruit
- Not being totally honest about your grades, SAT score, height, or stats
- Communication fails:
- Not responding to a coach’s texts/emails or not returning their phone calls
- Giving one-word answers to questions on the phone or in-person
- Lack of responsibility:
- Setting up a campus visit and then not showing up
- Not sending transcripts or game film when you said you would
- Getting in trouble during a campus visit
- Parent mistakes:
- When your parents coach you from the bleachers
- When your parents scream at coaches or referees
- When your parents talk to the college coach more than you do
- When your parents bad mouth your high school coach in front of a college coach
It is unlikely that doing just one or two of these will get you crossed off of a recruiting list completely, but it will weaken your appeal to college coaches and may get you moved down the list. Why would you ever do anything that could hurt your chances of being recruited?
*BEWARE: inappropriate use of social media is one thing that very well could cause a coach to stop recruiting you altogether.
In Part 1, I discussed how to determine the interest level that a college coaching staff has in you. In Part 2, I will run through what you should be doing during each year of high school to prepare to become a college basketball player. I will also tell you at what point you should expect different recruiting actions to occur, and how to keep a realistic perspective on where you can play. Keep in mind that everybody’s journey is different, but this should give you an idea of the typical timeline.
Freshman & Sophomore Years:
- Build a strong foundation for your GPA by doing as well as you can in school.
- Develop your skills, skills, skills!
- Playing AAU or travel basketball for enjoyment is fine, but be sure to maintain skill development as your top priority; there’s no need to focus on being seen in your freshman or sophomore year.
*It is NOT typical to be recruited during your first two years of high school. Most future college athletes won’t receive any attention from colleges until their junior or senior year.
- You may call college coaches, but D1 and D2 coaches are not permitted to call you back.
- D1 and D2 coaches are not permitted to call, text, or email you until June 15th after your sophomore year; at that point, they can call, text, or email you as often as they want.
- D3 coaches can call, text, and email you as often as they want.
- D1 coaches cannot send you mail until June 15th following your sophomore year.
- D2 and D3 coaches can send you mail anytime.
- D1 coaches cannot speak to you in-person, off their campus.
- D2 coaches cannot speak to you in-person, off their campus until June 15th following your sophomore year; at that point they can speak to you in-person whenever they see you.
- D3 coaches can speak to you in-person anytime in or after your sophomore year.
- Continue to strengthen your GPA and do some SAT or ACT prep.
- If you are ready, register to take the SAT or ACT at the end of your junior year (If you’re not ready, it is fine to wait until your senior year).
- Continue developing your skill; be sure to develop ONE skill you can be GREAT at.
- If you have not done so already, begin working to improve basketball-specific strength and athleticism.
- College Research:
- As long as it does not interfere with school or training, the spring/summer of junior year is a good time to start visiting some college campuses to get an idea of what you like.
- High School:
- If you played varsity and you had a solid season, have your high school coach send a short highlight video to college coaches (parents can also do this, but it will be taken more seriously if it comes from your coach).
- If a coach is intrigued by your highlight tape, he will want to see a full game. Be ready to send a copy of your best game to the coaches who ask for it (if there’s not one complete game that you love, it’s acceptable to send your two best halves from two different games). Work with your high school coach on this.
- If you haven’t played AAU in previous years, it is now time to find an AAU team to play for in the spring and summer. Playing on a team where you will get plenty of playing time is much more important than playing on the top team in the area or the team that gives away shoes. It’s not so important that the team play in a tournament every weekend, but there are certain times in April and July when you should be playing.
- If your talent/skill level warrants it, attend a camp or two. You can either go to elite exposure camps, academic-elite camps, or a prospect camp at a specific college. Whatever you choose, make sure it makes sense for you.
*During or after junior year is when recruiting activity can start picking up for many players. Some players will start to receive mail during their junior year, but remember, mail doesn’t mean you’re being “recruited.” If you are a definite D1 prospect it is probable that you will be receiving phone calls from coaches by your junior year.
- College coaches can call, text, or email you as often as they want.
- You may receive recruiting materials in the mail.
- D1 coaches are only permitted to speak to in-person when they are at your high school.
- D2 coaches can speak to you in-person anytime they see you.
- D3 coaches can speak to you only at your school during the school year, but once your junior year is over, they may speak to you in-person anytime they see you.
- Campus Visits:
- You can visit college campuses at your own expense (unofficial visit) any time you wish.
- D1 schools can offer you an official (expenses paid) visit after January 1st of your junior year.
- D2 and D3 schools cannot offer official visits until you begin classes in your senior year.
- Scholarship Offers:
- D1 scholarships are all full-scholarships (one year, renewable) and most scholarships get offered during the summer following junior year or fall/winter of senior year. Some very promising prospects may receive scholarship offers earlier than this.
- D2 scholarship offers might occur along the same time frame as D1 offers, but many D2 coaches will choose to wait until later in your senior year, especially if they believe you are “stuck” on D1.
- D3 schools cannot offer athletic-based scholarships, but they will usually make it clear that they are interested during the course of your junior and senior years.
- Stay focused on your school work; finish strong.
- Take the SAT/ACT in the fall and again in the winter if necessary.
- Skill development continues to be the key; make sure you have at least ONE GREAT skill.
- Improving strength and athleticism is also important.
- College Research:
- As it starts to become evident what type of colleges are interested in you, take some unofficial visits to those colleges either before the school year starts or during school-breaks in the fall.
- High School:
- Sit down with your high school coach before the season and discuss what level he thinks you can play at. If you aren’t already receiving interest from coaches at that level, come up with a plan of attack. Either your coach (preferable) or you can call or email college coaches in your area that fit your level.
- The coaches who respond will want to see game film so have it ready to send.
*What level you can play at should start to become fairly obvious by the time you are a senior. Not every player (or parent) is always ready to accept this, but the general rule is – You are who’s recruiting you. If you are good enough to play at a particular level, and you’ve taken the steps above to be noticed, coaches from that level will be showing interest. If they’re not…you probably aren’t good enough. There are cases of players being “discovered” late, but these cases are rare. Certainly, by the end of your senior season, you should have a good idea of who wants you and at what level you can play.
- College coaches may call, text, or email you as often as they want.
- If you are truly a college prospect and you have taken the steps that are outlined above, you will probably have received recruiting materials in the mail by your senior year.
- D1 coaches are permitted to speak to you in-person anytime starting on September 9th
- D2 and D3 coaches can speak to you in-person whenever they see you.
- College Visits:
- You are permitted to take official (expenses paid) visits to college campuses in your senior year. If a D1 school has strong interest, they will probably ask you to take an official visit by the fall of your senior year. If they want you to wait, there are probably other recruits ahead of you.
- You get a maximum of 5 official visits to D1 schools (only 1 to each college).
- You get an unlimited number of official visits to D2 and D3 schools (only 1 to each college).
- You may take as many unofficial visits as you like.
- Scholarship Offers:
- If you are a D1 prospect you will probably have received at least one scholarship offer by the time your senior season begins. If you haven’t received an offer by this time, it doesn’t absolutely mean you aren’t a D1 prospect, but it’s becoming less likely. It would be advisable to start paying attention to the D2, D3, and NAIA schools who are showing you interest if you haven’t been doing so already.
- If D2 schools are interested, they will probably make some form of contact with you during your junior summer or fall/winter of your senior year. Many D2’s will wait to offer a scholarship, even if they’re interested, until they feel confident that you are receptive and willing to consider going to a D2 school. Often this means waiting until the spring of senior year.
- If you are a priority for a D3 school, you will probably know it by your senior season. It is not uncommon, however, for solid D3 prospects to be discovered during their senior season. Remember, D3 coaches are adjusting their search as they find out which of their main targets get D1 or D2 offers. Because of this, there is always a chance to be seen late in the process.
*Throughout the process, treat all college coaches with respect. Don’t “big time” a coach because you think you can play above the level he coaches at. Coaches know coaches and they all talk. If you make a bad impression word can spread. And besides, how sure are you that your evaluation of where you can play is accurate? You may be begging that same coach for an opportunity later in your senior year.
**D1 scholarships are not the only way to go to school for free. Division 2 schools can offer full and partial scholarships, as can some NAIA schools and junior colleges. Division 3 schools cannot offer athletic-based scholarships, but many of them can put together very competitive financial aid packages including scholarships, grants and loans based on merit, diversity, and need-based characteristics.
For more information:
Part 1: Gauging Interest
For high school basketball players and their parents, the recruiting process can be very confusing and stressful. It can be very difficult to read the actions of a school or coaching staff and understand how interested they really are. I’ve witnessed players who have received form letters or questionnaires in the mail, then went and bragged to friends that that college is now recruiting them.When I was a young high school coach, I was also very confused by the nuances of the process and I found it difficult to advise my players about how much interest a school really had in them.
Below, I attempt to break down the recruiting actions coaching staff usually take into a scale of interest (1 is low interest; 5 is high interest). Obviously, every coaching staff recruits differently, so this information will not hold true in all cases. This is only meant to give you a general idea of interest level, based on what I’ve seen over the last 14 years. I hope you find it helpful.
Interest Level 1—They know you exist You’re 1 in 1,000+
What does it mean?
Your name is in a computer data base or on a list; most likely, someone (perhaps your coach) gave them your name as a potential recruit; they may or may not have seen you play.
What actions accompany this level?
- They might send you a very general letter and/or questionnaire
- They might send you a brochure to their camp
Interest Level 2—You are on their radar You’re 1 in 50+
What does it mean?
They may or may not have seen you play, but if they haven’t seen you play, they’ve at least heard about you from someone they trust; they aren’t sure if you’re a legitimate prospect yet, but they want to learn more and will stay in touch just in case.
What actions accompany this level?
- They might send you a very general letter and/or questionnaire
- They might invite you to their “elite” or prospect camp
- They might send you a media guide in the mail
- They might talk on the phone to your high school and/or AAU coach about you
Interest Level 3—They’re Interested in you You’re 1 in 20-30 (1 in 6-8 at your position)
What does it mean?
They see you as a potential recruit; they aren’t 100% sure whether you can play at their level yet, or maybe they see 1 or 2 flaws in your game that they want your to improve, or they may have questions about whether you’ll be able to contribute right away; it is also possible they think you’re a good enough player, but they still have questions about your grades or character; in any case, they’re interested, but they’re not sold yet; they will keep an eye on you and give you some attention in case you develop.
What actions accompany this level?
- They will talk on the phone or in person to your high school and/or AAU coach about you
- An assistant coach will come to a workout, practice, or game
- They will invite you to their “elite” or prospect camp
- They might mail you press clippings, motivational quotes, pictures of their team
- An assistant coach might mail you a handwritten note
- An assistant coach might send you emails regularly
- An assistant coach will likely call you on the phone at some point
- An assistant coach might text you occasionally
- An assistant coach might visit your school and talk to you
- They might encourage you to take an unofficial visit to their campus
Interest Level 4—They’re Very Interested in you You’re 1 in 5-10 (1 in 3-4 at your position)
What does it mean?
You are a legitimate recruit in their eyes; they believe you are capable of playing at their level; you may have 1 particular strength that they have a need for or they like your all-around game; they’d be very happy to get you, but they may also be recruiting 1 or 2 other guys who they like just as much or even a little more than you.
What actions accompany this level?
- An assistant coach, or the head coach, will likely mail you a handwritten note
- Either the head coach or an assistant will send you emails regularly
- You will get regular phone calls from an assistant coach beginning on the first allowable day
- An assistant coach will probably text you regularly
- An assistant(s) will come to see you practice or play more than once
- The head coach may come with his assistant to see you play
- They will invite you to take an unofficial visit to their campus
- They might invite you to take an official visit, but late (in winter or spring of senior year)
- They might be willing to talk to you about who else they are recruiting and where you stand
- They might make a visit to your home or meet with you & parents at your school
- They might make a verbal scholarship offer, or a written offer late
Interest Level 5—They’re Committed to you You’re likely their top recruit at your position
What does it mean?
You are a priority player for them; you are either their top recruit at your position or you’re tied for the top spot; they believe you can contribute as a freshman (if they need you to) and they are excited to have you.
What actions accompany this level?
- An assistant coach will call you regularly and the head coach will call you at least occasionally
- An assistant coach will probably text you often
- They will invite you on an official visit to their campus early in your senior year
- They will make a verbal (and written when the time comes) scholarship offer
- They will be willing to talk to you about who else they are recruiting
- The head coach will likely attend a game(s) and/or practice(s)
- They may make a visit to your home or sit down and meet with you & parents at your school
It is important to understand that this is a generalized list. No two recruiting experiences are ever the same. And much of the above list depends on level.
It also needs to be said that just because this process is confusing and very inexact, does NOT mean that college coaches are intentionally making it so. While there are certainly some college coaches who can be unscrupulous and intentionally misleading, the vast majority of college coaches are willing to be as straightforward as they can be about the process. The truth is that it’s hard for coaches to speak with certainty during the process because they’re are so many moving parts and so much uncertainty inherent in the process. College coaches work hard and their job in recruiting is to do what they can within the rules to get the player(s) they believe will help their team win. While most college coaches do a good job of balancing this with the need to treat people fairly and deal in a straightforward manner, college basketball is a business and it isn’t always a clear cut business. It is wise to be as educated as possible about the process.
An overview of the NCAA’s recruiting regulations can be found here.
The following excerpts are from a book entitled, “Red Auerbach: An Autobiography” by Red Auerbach and Joe Fitzgerald © 1977.
Being a coach who wasn’t a great player
- “I had to impress upon them that I knew what I was doing. I know what’s going through their minds. They’re telling themselves that they’re better ball players than I was, and as a result they probably know more about the game than I do.”
- “I know you guys are better players than I was. If I was a better player than you, I’d be out there playing. But I’m not. So my job is coaching, and I work damned hard at it. I spend twenty hours a day at it. All I want you to worry about is staying in shape and playing the game. You’ve got enough to think about between trying to beat the man who’s guarding you and trying to remember the plays. Let me worry about everything else, because I can see the overall picture.”
- “Look,” I said, “my job is to coach you guys, and I’ve made a study out of it. That’s my job—to know what’s going on out there. And I’ve had some experience at it. You can’t see everything while you’re out there, but I can. If you have suggestions, give them to me. If you spot little ways to take advantage of people out there, tell me and I’ll make sure we get the ball to you. Let’s use all the knowledge we’ve got on this team. But remember one thing: I make the moves. All you can make is suggestions.”
Choosing your players
- “The selection of material is more important that the handling of it.”
- “I’ve been to some schools where the athletes acted as if they were doing the school a favor by participating. You’re better off forgetting a guy like that and getting someone else who’s only 50% as good, but will bust his ass for you.”
- “He has to be my type of kid: he can absorb coaching; he will listen to what you’re telling him, and then go out and do it. And he’s a good kid on and off the court…I want a kid who is great, but never stopped being nice. Most of all, I want a kid who’s willing to pay the price, who’s willing to work at winning, who wants to win so badly that he’ll give me everything he’s got.”
- “The thing I was most determined to avoid was cliques. There were going to be no goddamned cliques on the Celtics! That stuff can kill a ball club quicker than anything else I can think of.”
- “The second most important thing to the team way of thinking was convincing guys that their contributions were appreciated—no matter what the fans and writers were saying. On most teams the ‘starting line-up’ is a big deal. If you don’t start, it implies you’re not as good or as valuable as the next guy. Our ‘starters,’ the ones that we made the big deal about, were the 5 guys that finished the game.”
- “This is where my idea of the 6th-man came in. Psychologically, as soon as you pull one of your five starters out of the game, the other team is going to let down just a bit. That’s when I wanted a guy like Ramsey or Havlicek to get out there and run them into the ground. Every other team starts his best. Suppose I don’t start my best. Suppose I start 80% of my best. Now, after 5 or 6 minutes go by, it’s time to substitute. Their 100% is getting tired, and so is my 80%. In goes their sub and in goes my 6th-man. What happens? They’ve decreased their proficiency while I’ve increased mine.”
- “One guy might be a pretty good scorer, but there’s only one ball in the game. So if there are already 1 or 2 guys that can score it better than him, he has to commit himself to boxing out and setting picks and making plays. Who the hell ever writes stories about setting picks? It’s not a glory job, but it’s necessary.”
- “I convinced each of them that his best contribution to winning came through his excellence in certain phases of the game. And if they didn’t go for it, I controlled their salaries and playing time. They knew their salaries and playing time were totally dependent on what I believed were his contribution towards winning.”
- “Players can’t play themselves into shape. Only one person could really get them working hard enough so that it would do some good, and that was me.”
- “To play the kind of ball I wanted, my teams had to be in condition. You’ve got to be in better shape than the next guy. If he gets tired, his game is hurt.”
- “Some refs like to referee the score. Everybody subconsciously roots for the underdog. If my guys were leading by 25 points, I wanted that game officiated the same way as if the lead was one point. For one thing, I wanted my subs to play under proper game conditions too. Get a good lead and some refs will let everything go out there, hoping to make the game close again.”
- “If a referee says to me, ‘I blew it,’ what could I do? I’d have no more argument. But they’d never admit they blew a call. But they are human, so how come they can never be wrong? Rather than admit their mistake they usually just get stubborn.”
- “If the rule is no good, then get it changed. But when you’re out there on the floor, you’ve got to referee the rules we have. You are hired to enforce the rules, not to write them.”
- “I had one very important rule regarding practices. When I came through the door and walked onto the court and blew my whistle, I didn’t want to hear another sound. I didn’t want to hear any balls bouncing, any shots being taken, not even any laughing or joking. I wanted immediate attention. I wanted them to stand there, shut up and listen to me. That wasn’t any big ego thing on my part. They knew I wouldn’t keep them any longer than I had to, so the idea was to get right down to business and then get the hell out of there.”
- “Communication is everything in coaching. It’s not what you say that counts. It’s what they hear and absorb that really matters. It helps to know when to be sarcastic or humorous, mean or tough, calm and soft. You have to employ change of pace to keep them off guard. You don’t want them to know how you’re going to react.”
- “Avoid over-coaching. Make sure you don’t fall in love with the sound of your own voice. Get your point across and then shut up. If you talk too much or for too long after a while the players get turned off. Now your motivation is actually working in reverse. They don’t hear a thing you’re saying.”
- “If you guys are nervous, how the hell do you think they feel, having to play us?”
- “I just want to let you guys know one thing. No matter what happens tomorrow night, you’re still my guys and you always will be. One ball game isn’t going to change the way I feel about you. I think you’re the greatest guys in the world and you’re a great team and I’m going to continue believing that after tomorrow night regardless of the outcome.”
- “Sometimes I’d talk 2 minutes; sometimes I’d talk 8, sometimes 10. I’d change the inflections as I went along. Sometimes I wouldn’t say anything at all and that would motivate them. You’ve got to be able to determine what the team needs at a particular moment. You can get your point across with humor, sarcasm, ridicule, appeals to their pride. One night you’ll yell, the next night you’ll talk softly. Sometimes you’ll get technical, other times you’ll be very general.”
- Comments from his players:
- “Part of his great ability to handle his players was his skill in drawing upon their thoughts and idea. The men in the game have a better feel for the tempo than anyone else. Red was smart enough to recognize that. He never hesitated for a second when it came to asking us our opinion. But 90% of the time he knew what he wanted done out there. And 100% of the time, the final decision was his. There was never any question about that.”
- “We all had great confidence in him. Red would sit down and figure out the odds on every possible situation. Nothing was overlooked. So when we got into a game and a time out was called, especially late in the 4th quarter of a tight ball game, he would know what we should do and we accepted his leadership without question.”
- “1st Rule—my ball players did not sit down! I wanted to show contempt for the other team. THEY had to sit down; THEY were tired; THEY needed rest. But we were in superb physical condition. We weren’t tired. We didn’t need rest. We were ready to run right back out there and chase their asses up and down the court. It was like Muhammad Ali standing in his corner between rounds, just staring at his opponent in disgust because he was so weak he had to sit on a stool. I wanted the other team to look over and see how strong and fresh and confident we were. I wanted them to think about that the whole time out. I wanted it to bother them and distract them and embarrass them.”
I’m always interested to read about different coaches’ experiences in the coaching profession, particularly their story of how they climbed the ladder to get where they are now. I love to read how different coaches dealt with various obstacles on their climb. If you have any misconceptions that the business of college coaching is easy, I urge you to read these stories:
- “From the beginning of my first day of college until the last day of college, any college coach that I met, regardless of title and regardless of classification, from that point forward I wrote them a letter once a week.” -Buzz Williams
- “I just knew that the only chance I had as a non-player, as no one that was connected to anybody associated with anybody in college athletics, was to wake up early, be very hard and diligent and effective and efficient in my work, to always tell the truth and to always try to treat people the right way.” -Buzz Williams
- “I was the first one there, the last one to leave. I was a little crazy back then, I was staying the night at the arena. I had my own office off the weight room with a sleeping bag and pillows…I’d go to sleep on the training table or floor then get up and take a shower.” -Mike Brown
- “Mark, are you sure you want to get into college coaching? This is not an easy business. You could have more stability and make a lot of money quicker if you did something else. Think about it another day and call me tomorrow and let me know what you decide.” -Bruce Pearl