Posted On: 09/6/18 9:00 AM
This is such a broad question, that I am going to be all over the place with this. Hopefully somewhere within the body of this article will be a few points that might be helpful to you as a parent or an athlete. As I always say, recruiting has no magical formula or mathematical equation, so don’t try to make sense out of it. One college coach might prefer things this way, while another might prefer things that way. And I’ve even come across coaches who recruit differently year to year because their style of play changes, and they start looking for different types of kids. At the end of the day, it’s all about the right “fit” for both the college and the prospect, and academics should be at the forefront, so don’t get caught up comparing yourself to another prospect, and don’t try to compare one college’s recruiting methods to another’s, because they’re all different in some aspect. Try to find the “fit” that is best for both you and the school.
The first thing I will tell you about drawing recruiting attention, is that you need someone who will be blunt, unbiased, but fair to dissect your skill and talent, and give you an objective assessment as to what “level” or “levels” you need to be pursuing. This typically can’t be a relative, a friend, or a coach of yours who will be emotionally invested, and it’s probably not good to ask someone you’re paying, like an individual instructor, because they’ll want to keep your business and will avoid being overly critical of you. It needs to be someone with experience in recruiting, like a long-time evaluator or an opposing coach who isn’t trying to get you on their high school or grassroots team. It could even be a college coach you think will be honest with you. You may not always like what they have to say, but assuming they have no ulterior motives, take into consideration their opinions and at least use them as a baseline to get started.
At this point, if the general consensus is that you are a mid to high-major Division I prospect, then I’m guessing you’ll already be receiving good recruiting interest. Just continue playing at a high level for your high school team, continue playing travel ball, and let your game speak for itself. If you still feel like you aren’t getting the interest you should, then have your high school and / or grassroots coach contact colleges of interest to you directly to gauge what those schools might be looking for positionally and stylistically in your graduating class, and whether or not they would be interested in recruiting you. If they are interested, your coaches should know how to send them film and set up a time for you to speak with them, maybe take an unofficial visit, and / or set up a time for them to come to school to watch a workout or an open gym.
If the general consensus is that you are a low-major Division I, Division II, Division III, NAIA, USCAA, or NJCAA prospect, then at times you almost have to recruit schools the way they recruit you. With thousands of prospects across the country playing travel basketball, attending showcase events, and attending camps, your play will absolutely separate you from the pack…if schools are in attendance to see you and are aware of you. But understand these colleges hear from so many different prospects, high school coaches, and grassroots coaches, and they have so many options in terms of events to attend, that you need to be proactive in your recruiting. Yes, it’s work on your part, but if you are aiming towards a college education while having the opportunity to play basketball as well, isn’t it worth the effort? So, how do you go about “recruiting a school”?
Step-1: Every college I know has an athletics website, and each athletics website has a general questionnaire you can fill out online and submit. Sometimes these can be found on the athletics main page under one of the tabs at the top. Other times they are more sport specific, and they can be found on, say, the women’s basketball main page in a column on the side. Regardless, just do a little searching and you should come across it pretty quickly. They make it very easy. Once you submit that questionnaire it typically goes to either a coach on staff, a director of operations, or an administrative assistant. They either do something with it, for example they might contact you or one of your coaches immediately, or they will file it for later use.
Step-2: If a week or so passes after you have filled out the questionnaire, and you have yet to hear from that college, my advice is to have a third party contact that school directly for you. This should be either your high school coach or your travel coach in most cases. There are two ways to do this, and it has to do with the comfort level of your coach. If your coach is familiar with someone on that college staff and has a preexisting relationship with them, then they can probably just call them, talk about you a little bit, and try to get more information as to what their needs are in your graduating class. If your coach is unfamiliar with that staff, then my suggestion is to have your coach assemble a well thought out email that includes primarily facts…links to some film, statistics from your career, your academic information, plus contact information for you, themselves, and your other coaches. It would be okay for your high school or travel coach to throw a little bit of opinionated analysis in there, maybe a couple of sentences, but not to go all-out and turn it into a novel about you.
Step-3: Now, if at this point you still haven’t heard anything from them, I would consider one of three things. (1) First, what time of year is it? If there aren’t students (specifically basketball players) on campus, then there’s a good chance the coaches won’t be around or their office attendance might be sporadic at best. Also, is it during a recruiting period, and might they be on the road? (2) Second, if you’ve filled out the questionnaire, and your coach has emailed the staff, then have your coach call them directly and try to gauge interest. (3) And third, I’d consider moving on at this point as well. You don’t want to try to “fit a square peg into a round hole”, so to speak. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that successful programs will follow-up on inquiries. That might mean they simply Google you and find out information, they might call someone you are unaffiliated with and ask their opinion of you, or they will call you and / or your coaches to gather more information. But if they haven’t responded to you at all, they have either already looked into you and your game and are uninterested, or they just haven’t followed up with your inquiry and likely aren’t a successful program anyway, so it’s time to move on.
Once a college is aware of you, then it becomes a two-way street in terms of your recruitment. They should come watch you play and / or work out at some point, but it’s also vital that if you are sincerely interested in them, you maintain contact, return calls, texts, and emails, and show them that you are interested. Small colleges are especially impatient with this, because they have to recruit sooo many prospects, that if they aren’t hearing back from you on a regular basis, they move on to the assumption you are uninterested. Make sure anytime they ask you to call, any form they ask you to fill out, you get it done at your first availability to show them your interest is genuine. That’s half the battle for most colleges, and if they see you taking the initiative, they are going to like that. As simple as that sounds, there really aren’t many kids doing those things. Once again, though, if there’s a breakdown on the college side of things, if they don’t maintain communication, and if they haven’t been able to come evaluate you at all, then they are either uninterested or probably not a successful program anyway, so why would you want to go play for them?
At the end of the day, the successful programs will chase down leads and put in the leg work. There’s a reason they are successful, and a lot of it is how they recruit. You can be the greatest coach in the world, but if you don’t recruit well, you are going to struggle to win at the collegiate level. The successful programs understand this, and they usually have a proven method that has worked for them to get to the top. You should be able to figure out which programs are which pretty easily, and a lot of it will revolve around how you are treated as a recruit.
I want to finish with a handful of other quick notes that could also help make your recruiting go a lot smoother and more efficiently. Again, these are not specific to any one recruit, but they encompass the broad spectrum of recruiting.
– If you have followed the steps above, you have gotten an assessment from a third party, and you contact several colleges at that “level” but feel like none of them are interested, then maybe you received a poor assessment of your game and you should seek out another one. I know that’s not pleasant to hear, but it might be the truth. It could also simply be that every school you’ve contacted just doesn’t have a need at your position, or your style of play doesn’t “fit” them. I would certainly investigate all avenues though.
– When you or your coaches send video to colleges, PLEASE send two or three full-length games, not highlight clips. Yes, a 2-minute highlight video is going to draw a little interest, but it typically only shows great plays. I can’t tell you how many times a college coach has told me something to the affect of “well, she looks great making layups in her highlight video.” They want to see makes and misses, they want to see if turnovers are passive or aggressive, they want to see defensive possessions, and they want to see your body language and conditioning throughout a game. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a successful program offering a kid a scholarship because of a highlight video. It is a tool to get them interested, but they want to see entire games. Most schools use Hudl or Krossover these days.
– The elite camp tour is another temptation that causes some families to spend a lot of money. I want to be very clear; I am not saying don’t attend elite camps, just make sure you are attending the correct ones. Find elite camps where you “fit”, and try to attend the ones where you already know the coaches have an interest in you, not ones that are outside of your abilities. I see so many kids who haven’t had anyone unbiased assess their game attending elite camp after elite camp, spending unnecessary money to try and impress colleges who won’t be at all interested. Just this summer alone I attended a Division I elite camp, a Division III elite camp, and an NAIA elite camp. If I had to take an educated guess, I probably saw about 250-275 total high school girls between the three camps combined, and I would say maybe 25%, so about 60-70 of those kids, drew the attention of those three schools, and maybe only 30-35 of those kids will actually earn an offer / opportunity to play at those three schools. Ironically enough, most of those kids who earn the offers are encouraged / invited to attend the camps by the college staffs well in advance, and they aren’t just randomly filling out the camp forms online. Colleges use those camps at times as money makers, and you can get some experience there, but it’s incredibly rare that anyone they’ve never heard of shows up and impresses them that much. At the end of the day, the coaches I have talked to about their elite camps would rather see 40 kids there they are interested in watching and possibly recruiting, than 100 kids in attendance who they wouldn’t have any interest in recruiting.
– Social media can be an absolute killer in recruiting. Is it a tool for coaches to get to know you better? Absolutely. But, it’s one of those tools where they are specifically looking to make sure there is nothing negative online…they aren’t looking for funny or creative content. There’s way too much risk, and not enough reward from it. I am not telling you to avoid social media completely, just be extremely careful with it. Also, I would go back a few years and search for any content that might be worth deleting at this point in time. If you are unsure, then it probably needs to be deleted. Be aware of what you are retweeting and liking as well. It may not be you writing the initial tweet, but by retweeting it or liking it, you are supporting the content. Be cautious about what you put out there in terms of your recruiting, and it’s vital that parents are aware of their content as well. Parents shouldn’t say anything negative about the team or coach, and they should even highlight the team and other individuals when they do well, not just their own kids. Support the team, not just an individual player. Be careful of what you do with your child’s recruiting as well. The following example is true and current. There is a boy who had zero going on with his recruiting until July. During the first July tournament he earned a couple of Division II offers. During the second July tournament he earned a few low-major Division I offers. During the third July tournament he played well enough to start gaining serious mid-major Division I interest. Immediately after July, one of his parents tweeted some stats and highlight videos of him. In that tweet, that parent tagged colleges who had NOT offered him yet, and they did not tag colleges who HAD offered him. One of the low-major Division I schools took it as that parent saying they weren’t good enough for their son and the parent was looking for “bigger and better”, so the Division I school pulled their offer because of it.
– DON’T BURN BRIDGES WITH ANYONE!!! I don’t care if you are getting recruited by UConn and a Division II school contacts you. Be respectful, and always at least take their information. Yes, you can definitely say something to the affect of “I appreciate your interest in me, but based on my current offers, I’m just not interested in your university at this time.” That’s perfectly okay, but do so in such a manner that they feel respected and they appreciate your honesty and sincerity. There is so much turnover in college coaching, that the person who was an assistant one place, might be a head coach somewhere else, or vice versa. Additionally, these college coaches are one big network, and as soon as you gain a reputation for something, good or bad, it will spread like a wildfire because they talk. They especially talk a lot during the live periods, because they’re seeing each other at every tournament, but they will also call each other about kids, because they have preexisting relationships from their playing days, or maybe they coached on the same staff together at one time. I just don’t think prospects understand what a small world the college coaching community is.
– Lastly, and I cannot reiterate this enough, but you MUST maintain contact with schools. I get it, sometimes they lose touch with you as well, but think about it this way…you might have six, ten, maybe as many as 15-20 schools to stay in contact with if you’re lucky (or really good), but they are likely recruiting two, three, or sometimes even four graduating classes at once, so they are trying to stay in contact with well over 100 prospects at a time. It really is a two-way street…they have the roster spot you crave, and you are the basketball player they want on their roster. Idealistically, communication should be 50-50, but I would settle for 60-40 as a prospect, or maybe even 70-30 at times.
Header photo courtesy of hypebot.com. Evaluation photo courtesy of ubisafe.org. Teen writing photo courtesy of expocar.info. Hudl logo courtesy of Hudl.com. Burning bridge photo courtesy of addisonindependent.com.