Posted On: 06/6/19 7:22 PM

Earlier this week I was involved in a social media exchange discussing the different perceptions members of the general public have to the word “interest” as it relates to college recruiting.  Whether it’s an athlete, family member, travel coach, or high school coach, there are a variety of understandings when someone says a prospect has “interest” from a school and/or conference.  Some of it is genuine, some of it is misunderstood, and honestly, a little of it is simply just attention-seeking.  I will state that whenever you see me write in an article that an athlete has “interest” from a specific level of school, I am getting that information directly from college coaches at that level who tell me they are actively recruiting that prospect.

Now, as I have said before on this platform, there is no mathematical equation or chemical formula that provides us with an exact answer to these questions, so if you surveyed 100 college coaches about each topic below, you’d probably get a variation of about seven different answers from those 100 coaches.  I will do my best to explain these topics from my perspective on how I feel the majority of colleges operate, based on my 20+ years of coaching “recruitable” athletes.  Again, I am painting this with a broad brush, so there will be exceptions from time to time; please don’t be offended if I don’t hit on the small percentages of happenings.

 

THE LETTER

Just about every high school athlete has received a letter (or several letters) from different colleges about their program.  It is usually very general and friendly, it invites you to some type of event or activity, maybe a home game, maybe a football game, maybe a camp, and they often include a season schedule in there.  This usually happens with younger prospects like incoming Freshmen or rising Sophomores.  THIS DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE ACTIVELY RECRUITING YOU.  All it means is that you made it onto their mailing list…just like 100+ other kids in your grade did.  Maybe they HAVE seen you, or they’ve heard about you from someone they trust, so they put you on that list.  If you play for a prominent travel program in which they have recruited a number of prospects from before, they will often mail those entire rosters.  If you play for a prominent high school team that has turned out other talented athletes in years past, they will sometimes mail that entire Varsity roster…or at least anyone the Head Coach recommends.

Colleges are permitted to send you x-number of letters at a certain time in your basketball career, so they do it to have as much contact as possible.  I understand that at first those letters are pretty cool…someone considers you good enough to be on that list.  That’s great, and I truly mean that because I have experienced that with kids I have coached.  Just please understand perspective, and know that there are probably 100 other kids in your grade opening that same exact letter on that same exact day.

If and when you ever receive a letter directly from the Head Coach that has their real signature on it, to the point where the area on the back of the paper is textured from where they pressed down to sign, and the body of the letter speaks directly to you about you specifically and isn’t something they could just substitute out your name and substitute in another athlete’s name, then that’s real.  In most cases, though, they will handwrite a personal letter to you, not just type it and sign it at the bottom.

 

THE ELITE CAMP

The elite camps today can be misconstrued as serious interest from colleges.  In some cases, the prospects there are being strongly evaluated, but several kids are not.  When elite camps first came about, colleges would make them known ONLY to kids they wanted to see on campus.  They would keep numbers down around 20, 30, or 40 at most.  But the NCAA implemented a rule that colleges had to post their camp dates on their school website for a certain period of time before the event, and they had to accept anyone who registered on time.  What you’ll oftentimes see now, is colleges will first contact the kids they definitely want to see there to try to get them signed up early, then they’ll put the registration on their school websites for the mandatory time the NCAA requires, and they’ll end up with a bigger group, but only about 10-15 kids they are legitimately recruiting hard, maybe another 10-15 kids they want to watch to see if they are worth recruiting, and then about another 40 kids who were open enrollees that they haven’t been recruiting.  Here are a few things to consider about elite camps:

–  If the college contacts you directly or contacts your travel/high school coach first and specifically asks them to invite you to camp, they either (1) have already been actively recruiting you and want to judge how serious you are about them by whether or not you take the time to attend, or (2) they do want to see you there to evaluate whether or not you are good enough to end up on their top recruit list.

–  If your travel/high school coach contacts the college first and then presents you with the opportunity to attend an elite camp, then you can thank your coach for the opportunity, but please consider the college didn’t specifically invite you first, so either (1) they are not terribly aware of you or your game, or (2) they have already evaluated you and don’t think you are good enough to help their program.  If it’s (1), then maybe you show up, impress them, and they do recruit you.  The odds of that are very slim, but there is always an outside chance.  If it’s (2), then the college is still going to be polite to you, thank you for coming, and you’ll go through all of the same activities as everyone else.  Either way, please take notice as to who the staff is consistently interacting with (as well as their parents), and be aware of who the Head Coach is specifically interacting with throughout camp.  Have you noticed any players/families getting 1-on-1 time with the Head Coach?  Has someone maybe disappeared for a portion of the camp?  They are likely having a sit-down with the Head Coach (or at least the recruiting assistant), discussing more serious matters in recruiting than just the camp itself.

–  Who coaches you at elite camp?  Some colleges are good about their coaching staff being involved in some capacity with every aspect of elite camp.  That is actually the goal of several coaching staffs.  But others oftentimes “thin the herd”.  They’ll take a group of 70-80 and maybe split them into three groups.  One group will go in one area with the coaching staff, while the other two groups go into different areas with players from the team.  Or they might have the Head Coach take one group with the better prospects, while the other coaches take the other groups.  If they have you line up and count off, they are probably splitting you pretty evenly, but they might still move kids around later.  If they separate you in groups by name from a predetermined list, then they are sorting you by “recruitability”.

Basically, if you attend elite camp and you don’t end up in the top group(s) all day, or at least by the end of the day, you don’t get much facetime with the coaches, especially the Head Coach, and they don’t spend some time speaking with you and your parents, then you likely aren’t a priority to them.  Just because you attend elite camp, even if you are invited to elite camp, it doesn’t mean they are actively recruiting you.

 

THE PHONE CALL

Just like with letters, colleges are permitted to call you at a certain point in your high school career.  But, before they are allowed to call you, they oftentimes call your travel/high school coach and ask you to return their call.  You can always call a college coach, so if they are genuinely interested and actively recruiting you, they can always ask someone close to you to have you call them.  Now, there are times when it’s considered a “dead” period, so they might not be allowed to answer.  But if you call and leave a message, they might text your coach and let them know they can’t answer that day/week.

Phone calls are a step up from letters, absolutely.  When you’re early in your high school career, they’ve taken that massive list of people they’ve mailed and whittled it down to maybe 20 or 30 prospects in your class, depending on the school.  Sometimes it might be as low as 10, sometimes as many as 50, it just depends on how good a class is or how many scholarships they have.  Also consider they aren’t just talking to kids from Indiana…there are good players in other states too.  Some other things to consider as well when you talk to colleges.

–  What is the frequency in which you are talking to a specific school?  I would keep a journal.  Is it once a week, once a month, or every couple of months?  Are they calling you (they are more interested if so) or are you having to call them because you haven’t heard from them in a while?

–  Are you talking to the same assistant coach?  Are you talking to multiple assistant coaches because they all want to get to know you?  Are you talking to the Head Coach at all?  Usually if a college is “actively” recruiting you and serious about you, they will try to get you on with the Head Coach early in the process.  An assistant might make the first contact (or even 3-4 calls), but they will do their best to find a time early on that you and the Head Coach can connect for at least a little bit.  That in itself will tell you how serious the Head Coach is about you and how serious they are about you when it comes to their program.

–  What are you discussing on the phone?  After the first couple of phone calls, are you having real conversations, talking about things going on, as if they are truly trying to get to know you and build a relationship?  Or does it seem like a “business” phone call, short and sweet, in which they sound like they are reading from a script?

With as little facetime as college coaches get with you, the phone calls can be an important way to build relationships with prospects.  Sometimes prospects aren’t very engaging and aren’t good conversationalists, but college coaches will typically do their best to get to know you IF they are serious about recruiting you.  Also, once again, if you are getting on the phone with the Head Coach early and often, that’s a big indicator they are serious about you.

 

THE UNOFFICIAL VISIT

To be blunt, an “unofficial visit” simply means that you transported yourself to a college campus and paid for your own meals, transportation, and hotel accommodations.  The college did not pay for any of it.  An elite camp is an example of an unofficial visit.  Attending a football game you are invited to, a basketball game you are invited to, a practice you are invited to, or just a tour and sit-down with the staff you are invited to are all examples of unofficial visits.  But so is calling them and sort of inviting yourself to come to those aforementioned events (or having your travel/high school coach make the call) is considered an unofficial visit.  Even just showing up and popping in unannounced is considered an unofficial visit.  And I’ve heard some funny stories of kids who have done that in the past.

In one situation, a kid stopped by the basketball office and introduced themselves.  When they said where they were from (Indiana), I received a text asking if they were any good.  It turned out they were simply on campus because they were helping an older sibling move into their dorm, but they had Tweeted out they were on an “unofficial visit” to that school, as if they had been invited by the basketball program.

In another situation, I saw a social media post that a kid was on an “unofficial visit” to a prominent university.  I was a little surprised, so I texted an assistant I knew there.  They had never heard of the prospect, nor did they ever have contact with them before or after.  The kid was returning home from Spring Break, just happened to stop by for some souvenirs, and posted the message as if that school was recruiting them, trying to spur interest from other schools.

Unofficial visits carry a similar tone to them as elite camps…were you specifically singled out and invited, or did your travel/high school coach set it up for you and then invite you?  When you got there, were there other prospects or just you?  How much 1-on-1 time did other prospects have with the Head Coach and the rest of the staff, versus how much time did you and your family receive?

When I was coaching boys’ travel ball, I went to the same Big Ten school three different times for football games.  I sat high up in the nosebleed section, I sat in the front row at the 40-yard line, and I sat in the President’s box…it all depended on the caliber of prospect I had with me.  I have been to another Big Ten school for a women’s basketball game.  Throughout the game itself, I noticed the section we were in was littered with about 20-25 recruits and their families.  Once the game was over, it was easy to tell who was a priority, because they handpicked 4 or 5 girls specifically to go into the locker room and listen to the postgame speech by the Head Coach.  They simply said “goodbye” or “thanks for coming” to the rest of the girls.  It’s really easy to figure out how much they value you as a prospect, because getting invited for an unofficial visit isn’t the measuring stick; you have to look at how you are treated compared to other prospects there.

It’s really easy to get caught up in the “cool” factor of an elite camp, football game, or basketball game.  But if it’s me, I would see if they would host me on a non-event weekend when I can come and get alone time with the coaching staff.  If they are up for that, there’s a good chance they value you as a prospect.  Once you are there, again alone with the staff, are you always with an assistant, or does the Head Coach take time out of their day, maybe spend lunch with you, take you on a tour, and talk to you about what they see in your game that they like or what you could improve upon?

 

THE OFFER

Obviously this means there is interest and they are actively recruiting you if you have a real offer, but there are a lot of misunderstood “offers” out there.  I know several cases where a prospect claims to have offers, I have contacted those colleges, and they have either never heard of the prospect or the college simply knows them because they were at elite camp or on an unofficial visit in a big group.  When I went back and asked the prospects who told them they had offers, they say their travel/high school coaches told them they did.

THE HEAD COACH AT THE COLLEGE WILL BE THE ONE TO TELL YOU IF YOU HAVE AN OFFER!!!

If you haven’t heard those words from the Head Coach, you don’t have an offer.  They are usually pretty forthcoming and blunt about it, and sometimes there are parameters as well.  They either ask you to keep it quiet, or they tell you it’s okay to post on social media.  They usually talk to you about how many scholarships they have, and specifically at your position, and they might even mention how many kids they have offered in your class so far.  But there will usually be in-depth dialogue about where you stand, what they want to see out of you, and whether or not they are holding you to a timeline or letting you have all the time you want.  Sometimes that timeline is simply determined by a “whoever commits first” approach.

Now, if I’m wrong and an assistant coach has offered you a spot at a school, or the Head Coach has approached your travel/high school coach and said you have an offer, but either way you have yet to hear from the Head Coach directly, why would you want to go there?  If they are THAT interested in you, and you are THAT important to them they want to offer you, why aren’t you worth the time for the Head Coach to contact you directly?

Now a few other things about offers…

–  If a school tells you or your coach “we’ll offer if you visit”, please don’t be offended by this.  They likely know they have a small chance of ever getting you to commit because (1) you have a lot of offers, (2) they feel like you have “too good” of offers already, or (3) they feel like they are “too far” for you to even consider at this point.  Basically what they are telling you, in not so many words, is “if you make the effort to come visit us, then you are showing us you are genuinely interested in our school/program.  We think you are absolutely talented enough, but with everything you already have going on, we just want to see if you truly are interested in us as a school/program.”  At the same time, please don’t visit a college just to get another offer.  There isn’t much worse than “offer collectors”…kids who travel around simply to pick up more and more offers.  It’s not about an abundance of offers, because you can only go to one school, and it’s ultimately about the “right fit”.

–  Sometimes when you’re on campus, a Head Coach will say “we’ll offer you if you commit right now”.  It’s not common practice, but I’ve heard it has been uttered by a few Head Coaches.  There are several different angles for this thought process, none of which I’m a big fan of, but don’t feel pressured into making a commitment without KNOWING 100% you want to be there.  It’s better to leave without an offer than to be pressured into a commitment.

–  On the flipside, if a Head Coach tells you they are offering you a spot on their team and you aren’t sure about the sincerity of it, you can always ask “so if I committed right now, you’d be thrilled about having me?”  Their response will tell you how much they value that offer and roster spot.

–  Pay attention to social media and how many offers a school is putting out there.  If you know that a school only has 3 scholarships to give in your class, and there are 15 kids out there in your class claiming to have an offer from that school, are they really serious about you, or are they just casting a wide net, hoping to “catch 3 fish” as quickly as possible?  It’s normal practice to see a college offer a couple of kids per position, so 6 offers for 3 spots isn’t shocking.  7 or 8 isn’t too bad either.  But when you start seeing more than 3 offers per open scholarship in a given class, that starts to get dicey.

 

IN CONCLUSION

“The Letter”, “The Elite Camp”, and “The Phone Call” can apply for all levels of college basketball, but once you get to “The Unofficial Visit” and “The Offer” in the above article, my descriptions are more specific to Division-I basketball, and small colleges can be very different in those two categories.

Listen, at the end of the day I am not trying to be a dream-crusher, but I want to be honest and real with you about the recruiting process.  This can and should be a fun time for prospects, but it can also be very disheartening, especially when they are getting misinformation from people around them, either because those people are naïve, or because those people have selfish interests.  You don’t need to approach everything with pessimism, but please approach recruiting with cautious optimism.  There are way too many uncertainties in recruiting, and it’s a very fluid process.

I am always willing to answer recruiting questions, and I often call college coaches myself to try to understand things that don’t make sense.  I directly work with over 200 colleges and more than 500 coaches, so I’m very fortunate to have those resources at my disposal.