Throughout the course of the high school season, I am posting this weekly column on our boys’ website on Wednesdays discussing various topics as they concern recruiting. I figure they are applicable to girls as well, so I will repost them on the girls’ site at various times as well. These articles will be a mixture of fact and opinion, and hopefully they will either help provide advice or dispel any misconceptions as it relates to recruiting in general.
I would like to think I have a unique background when it comes to this. I am currently in my 23rd year of coaching. I spent the first 15 years as a boys’ grassroots head coach, spending time on the circuit coaching approximately 200 kids who played at all levels in college (NCAA Divisions I, II, and III, NAIA Divisions I and II, and NJCAA). Close to half of them spent time playing overseas, and a handful of them played in the G-League (formerly the NBA Developmental League) and even saw time on NBA Summer League rosters. I have also been a high school assistant for three years and a Varsity Head Coach for nine years. Additionally, I have been involved in evaluating / scouting for more than 20 years. Simply put, I have been in and around recruiting for my entire coaching life.
This first article will focus on understanding why specific schools (or specific ‘levels’ of schools) aren’t showing an interest. This happens every year, with regard to multiple prospects, and there are usually unique and different reasons for this, depending on the college or university.
I am a big believer in two things: (1) you are what your offers say you are, and (2) you usually get what you earn. These are both fluid to some extent, especially #1, and you are able to change / affect both of these items. They are not permanent results unless you let them be. I will go into more detail on each below, and offer reasons someone may not be recruiting you, as well as suggestions on how to enhance your recruiting.
YOU ARE WHAT YOUR OFFERS SAY YOU ARE
This is always a touchy subject, but at the end of the day, you can only play basketball at schools who offer you a roster spot. If NAIA schools are the only ones offering you a roster spot, then you ‘are’ an NAIA prospect at that point in time. As a coach, I understand that we want the best for our kids, and we want them to achieve their goals / dreams more than anyone. At the same time, we must have a realistic perspective, remove emotion and bias as much as possible (I realize it’s terribly difficult), and do the best we can to be honest with them along the way.
How do we do this? The best idea is to find a neutral 3rd party to evaluate the prospect, give honest, unbiased feedback, and point out strengths and weaknesses in their game. The problem here is, everyone enjoys hearing compliments and praise, but it’s very tough for most competitors to take constructive criticism. If you go to friends of the family or coaches of the prospect, they are likely going to have some bias and emotion, and there is a better than good chance they may withhold some critical feedback because they want to maintain the positive relationship they already have with the prospect. If you approach someone you pay about evaluating a prospect (i.e. a personal trainer, etc.), there is a good chance they may withhold critical feedback as well, because they want to continue earning your business. While they may do a great job of individual workouts, and they may know the game well, they don’t want to offend their clientele.
YOU USUALLY GET WHAT YOU EARN
Society today is tremendously different than it was even ten years ago, let alone 15-20. For some reason we all want the ‘quick fix’ and immediate results, instead of remaining patient and working for things. The combination of technology and convenience in our daily routines has had an effect on every aspect of our lives. Recruiting tends to favor those who do work at it, and it still takes discipline and dedication to earn a college scholarship. But I always point to five things that directly affect your recruiting.
1. Talent – You are either talented or you aren’t. This isn’t something you can greatly affect, but you can increase your speed / quickness or your vertical with more work / training.
2. Skill – This is an area that you can affect a great deal. Now, some people are naturally going to grasp concepts and drills faster because of their talent, eye / hand coordination, etc., but with work, you can increase your skillset and be a better ball-handler, shooter, etc. It just might take some people more work than others.
3. Understanding – Some people have a natural ‘feel’ for the game, while others take time to learn / see situations better. Again, some of it has to do with a person’s cognitive skills and recognition, but it can be learned through repetition and work.
4. Attitude / Effort – Are you coachable? This is probably the simplest aspect of recruiting for the prospect to control, and subsequently it’s the area that causes college coaches to cross prospects off their recruiting lists the fastest. Do you play hard every possession, at both ends of the floor? Are you a good teammate? Are you willing to take on a role needed instead of a role desired?
5. Productivity – At the end of the day, you can have any or all of the first four items on this list, but if you aren’t productive when it’s game time, then your recruitment will suffer. I’ve seen people who only have #4 on this list get recruited better than people who have #1, #2, and / or #3 because #4 resulted in them having #5. I’ve also seen people who’ve had #1 through #4 at the same time, but they were not productive when it came to games.
If you can look through the above list and have someone objectively critique your game, then I am almost certain you will figure out you are getting recruited at the level you’ve earned.
QUICK TIPS TO BETTER UNDERSTAND RECRUITING
– There are ALWAYS exceptions. Recruiting is not a science, and there is no magical formula for understanding it. Abi Haynes (Vincennes Lincoln 2018 / Ball State University) is a great example of patience and perseverance. In June of 2017, she had zero Division-I offers. That same month she severely injured her knee and was limited to just seven games at the end of last season. Ball State had a late need for a guard in 2018, they saw her, liked her, and now she is averaging around 18 minutes per game as a Freshman and has even started a game this season.
– Some prospects just develop late physically and / or skillfully. Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans) is probably the best example of late physical development in ANY sport. He grew eight inches over his last two years of high school, and he went from being a 6-2 guard to a 6-10 forward with guard skills.
– Sometimes it comes down to a need or ‘fit’ by a college program. They could be limited on scholarships in a particular recruiting class, and while a prospect might be talented enough, they may not ‘fit’ the need for that year. There could also be an issue with a schematic ‘fit’. A school might want a face-up post player instead of a true back-to-the-basket post player. Sometimes in needing to fill a specific role, schools are willing to sacrifice talent / skill to simply fill that role. The other thing I don’t think people regularly notice, is sometimes a school has someone decide to transfer, so they start recruiting prospects later in the process who they haven’t shown much interest in early on because they didn’t have that ‘need’ until the player transferred.
– There are relationships created between college coaches and either high school coaches or grassroots coaches. While colleges are open to recruiting anyone from anywhere, they often start with people they know and trust. They will most likely seek out their associates first to ask about prospects, before they start recruiting in uncharted territory. It’s nothing personal, but they have a limited time to get to know prospects and their families, so they go to the people they trust first.
– You can’t compare one graduating class to another. Just because one graduating class may have 50 Division-I prospects doesn’t mean the next one will. Sometimes the talent just isn’t there. Sometimes other states have more or less talent, and that affects recruiting in Indiana. Sometimes colleges don’t have the same needs from year to year, and unfortunately in some years, multiple colleges are all looking for one type of player and don’t have a need for another type of player, or they have a limited number of scholarships available.
QUICK TIPS FOR IMPROVING YOUR RECRUITING
– Get in the gym and continue working on your game. We all want things to improve in every facet of our lives, but if we don’t put forth the effort in improving, things almost certainly won’t change.
– Make sure the people around you are truly offering you advice to benefit you, not just to make you feel better. You have to be able to handle the criticism along with the compliments, and the people who are willing to offer you both are likely much more genuine than the person who is just hyping you up at every moment.
– Even with social media and all of the promotion out there, you still to some extent have to recruit colleges like they are recruiting you. You can’t rely on people to just find you. I hear the statement, “if you can play, they’ll find you”, a lot. While that rings true, it only rings true to a certain point. If you can play, and you don’t play in front of anyone, or they don’t see you because of a location, then you need to help yourself and make sure they are aware of who you are and where you are. Fill out online questionnaires. Follow up with emails to assistant coaches. Do the work yourself so there is no excuse for them to not know who you are.
– Make sure that you respect your high school coaches. You may not like your high school coach, and the system may not always benefit you to showcase your full ability, but if you don’t respect your high school coach, you are going to have a hard time convincing college coaches that you’ll respect them in a structured academic environment.
– Find the right ‘fit’ for a grassroots situation. Once again, you need someone who is going to be honest with you. You need someone who is going to work for you and contact schools regularly. It isn’t always about the best team or the best tour. Find a situation where you are going to play, you are going to play in tournaments where coaches who are recruiting you will attend, and play for a coach who has an outstanding relationship with many of the coaches who are recruiting you. You don’t have to score 30 ppg on a subpar team, but you also don’t want to play 5 minutes per game just to be on the National Championship team.
– Don’t bounce around. With all of the grad transfers, and regular transfers for that matter, college coaches are looking for prospects who are going to be stable and committed to their programs. If you have a history of changing high schools or grassroots teams, for whatever reason, justified or not, it’s all about how it’s perceived by college coaches. They want to see kids who have gone through the good and the bad in one location, to know that they can handle adversity and uncomfortable situations.
Header photo of Abi Haynes; photo courtesy of sullivan-times.com.