Updated: May 22, 2020
Rewind to 10 years ago, and I was attending Southeastern as a normal student working on my degree to become a teacher with a dream of coaching high school basketball. Like many Louisiana "basketball heads," I truly had no idea of the ins and outs of the college game. What did it take to get to that level? What is the best route to give me or my players an opportunity to even get a chance? The questions can go on and on..... All I knew was the small bubble of basketball I was in from Livingston Parish. Little did I know about how much better basketball truly is outside our state, let alone the small city I grew up in.
When you're filling out job applications for college coaching positions, one of the major check boxes that tends to come up is "experience," and with that you tend to see at least five years experience. It never really made sense to me why that was so important until I had been out of the game for over a year, and reflected back on what I'd learned literally through my day-to-day experiences. Over the length of five years, you get a grasp of the college game and only through the countless interactions and situations you encounter, you start to understand what it takes to make it at that level.
With all that being said through LGR, it's my new hope and dream to help educate as many of OUR girls about this process and share as much knowledge as I can. Our state is unique with a lot of small towns, and several of us are in that bubble of what we think is GREAT basketball, but we truly don't know how to advise our girls and give them the best opportunity to be successful to get a shot at that next level.
Five Years Experience & Five Tips
1) Play Club Basketball
Playing Club basketball is the single most important thing!!! Did you know we have over 400 high school girls basketball teams in the state of Louisiana? It is not possible for ANY college program to have a grasp on even a fraction of that many high school programs and check in with them on a regular basic for players etc. In addition to a large number of high schools, we as a state have a lot of poor basketball and this makes it extremely difficult to evaluate if a player can play at the next level when she's not on the floor with other potential college prospects (This is not to say several of our top half teams don't have several college prospects, and these games can be great evaluations of talent. You'll find several college coaches in attendance but these games are few and far between).
College Coach's mindset - I'm in season during the winter months just like high school teams so that alone makes it difficult to get out and evaluate high school games. During the summer months or the NCAA live periods (April, May, July) there are 18 days marked on the calendar where PSAs (potential student athletes) can be evaluated by Division 1 coaches. At these events you can watch hundreds and even thousands of PSAs during this short window. It's at these events you can get a much better evaluation on a player because she is on the court with other potential college prospects and you'll be able to more easily identify whether her game will translate to the next level. This way makes more sense than watching her score 40 points against a high school team that has 5 wins on the season.
As a player with dreams playing at the next level, you HAVE to play club ball to give yourself the best chance. You also need to do your research on the team that best fits you since your looking to play in events that get you in front of college coaches and gives you an OPPORTUNITY to showcase your skillset versus other college prospects.
2) Dream School
We all dream of playing at a specific school when we grow up playing this game of basketball, but very few end up with an opportunity to play for that school! As a coach at the college level, time is so valuable. My advice would be to treat EVERY school that spends time recruiting you as if that’s your dream school. Word travels fast if your impression says that you think you're to good for a school and you believe someone bigger than said school should be recruiting you.... Not only is it a bad look, but as the famous quote goes, "I don't know what the future holds but I know who holds the future." You have no clue where you'll be at the end of your recruitment, let alone if a coach that really likes you gets a BIGGER job at your "dream school." Just like word travels fast in this game, so do coaches! So imagine now that assistant coach who really liked you at the lower school just got a new job at the big time school but you crushed that relationship prior to this by having the mindset that you're "too good." That's just one simple example to go along with countless more, like injuries, assuming something better will come along, grade trouble, etc. Moral of the story is to treat everyone that takes time recruiting you with as much respect as you possibly can. Time is one of the most important things for a college coach and for you... don't waste each other's time!
3) Levels - Are You Getting Recruited?
There are major differences between the levels of recruitment. As the NCAA rules are ever changing, you should also do some research on your own regarding the below topics.
Freshmen/Sophomore = Letter, questionnaire, camp information, etc.
*You may contact a D1 coach & speak to them, but they can't reach out to you at this time.
September 1st of Junior year = Direct contact is allowed from D1 coaches, as they can text and call you directly. Official visit can begin, although most are taken during your senior year.
So now that we have covered the guidelines per NCAA rules, how do you understand the different levels of recruitment? Again, this is just from my own experience, and there are may be many different factors that go into recruitment at other institutions.
Letters Level 1 - Early in your high school years as a freshmen/sophomore or even sometimes junior year, you may receive a questionnaire or camp information from a school. In my experience and my opinion, this has very little, if anything, to do with your recruitment. I never personally sent out a questionnaire to a PSA. This is normally done by a graduate assistant coach or just someone who is working in the women's basketball office. It could come from a college coach circling your name in a college book because they liked you and thought you had potential, or it could be the other end of the spectrum and they sent a questionnaire to every player on your team or even every player at that tournament. If the letter has come with some communication from your high school or club coach through an assistant coach at the college, then it garners more weight, but I think this is the most over-hyped part of a PSA's recruitment, a questionnaire.
Letters Level 2 - after September 1st of your junior year - One thing I personally loved to do was take time and hand-write letters to all our top recruits. In the age of technology, I don't believe this is something that happens as much as it did in the past, but again with time being such an important part of the college life, when a coach takes the time to send you a hand-written letter... that to me is a true sign that they are heavily recruiting you and you're high up on the list of prospects they are interested in.
Phone Calls Level 1 - What generally happens first is an assistant coach will call to inquire about a PSA. At this point the college coach is trying to gather more information about you and if they would like to spend more time evaluating you based on what your coach is saying about your grades, character, work ethic, etc. This in my opinion has not started the recruitment process, as the college coach is just calling and inquiring from the coach.
Phone Calls Level 2 - Once you as a PSA (potential student athlete) make contact with a college coach, then this, in my opinion, has officially started your being recruited by that school. Typically this phone call is a brief introduction of getting a feel for each other and complementing your style of play, as well as giving you a brief background on the college they are representing and on themselves.
***If this conversation is happening before September 1st of your junior year, this college coach has gone through extra steps to get you on the phone and they really think highly of you.
Phone Calls Level 3 - Once you've spoken with the assistant coach or coaches, the next step is speaking with the head coach. If you're not yet speaking with the head coach, you've still got a ways to go down this "recruitment" and evaluation process before you see a scholarship offer come. Again, lets focus on the word time. If you're speaking with the head coach and he/she is taking time to contact you, then you are fairly high on the school's recruitment board, and if you don't have an offer yet, you're much closer than when you are only speaking with the assistant coaches.
Phone Calls Level 4 - Your parents will also be in on phone calls throughout your recruitment and I believe this is also a big sign of where you stand in your recruitment. If you parents are talking with the head coach or even the assistant coach, they are again trying to find out more information about you, but they have also fully started the sales pitch of why you should attend their university. This will normally come right before or after an offer, as the school is really trying to convince you they are the right choice and they really want you!
***The key to phone call/text message communication is that when you're talking with the head coach, THEN you are one of the top prospects on their board. If you're only talking to an assistant coach, that coach is trying to keep you ready for IF they can't get the top tier recruit who the head coach is spending time speaking to!
Official offers - Once you've "officially" received a verbal offer from a school this doesn't mean it will stay on the table until you make a choice on a school. This is where the business side of things comes into play. If a school has three scholarships to fill this year they are going to offer WAY more than just three PSAs. Think about it: if a college would only offer scholarships to three students and then two decide to attend other schools, they are stuck with only filling one of those positions. Most parents and athletes don't understand the business part of college basketball, and while having all these offers are great, once you find your home or a school you really like, it's important you choose in a timely manner. If someone else pulls the trigger first you could be left without an opportunity at that school. If you need a point guard for the 2020 class as a college coach, you're going to offer several of your top point guards, and you'll give them a time table to make a choice.
Official Visits / Unofficial Visits - You can take up to five official visits but the majority of the time student athletes don't get to that full number of five. While you can't take officials visits until your junior year and most people take them during their senior year your allowed to take as many unofficial visits as you'd like and at anytime of your high school career. During unofficial visits the university is not allowed to pay for any of your expenses versus an official they are allowed to pay for travel, room and board etc. My advice would be to take as many unofficial visits to any school that is interested in you and your interested in them as early and often as possible.
4) Sell Yourself
From my experience as an assistant coach, one of the most important things a student athlete could do was sell me on how badly she wanted to be at my school. This can be done with your passion for the game, your personality, work ethic and overall your willingness and want to be at the college I'm currently at! If you're talking to an assistant coach during the recruitment process and you have not received an official verbal offer, then the assistant coach still has to sell you to the head coach. You have to convince that coach you want to be at their school and you have the ability to play there and make an impact both on and off the court. With all that being said, there were several times where I had developed a strong relationship with a student athlete and went to bat for them to get an official verbal offer from us. Sometimes we agreed as a staff and offered the student athlete and sometimes we didn't.... but for those that did get an offer, because of the relationship we had built, the student athlete generally committed shortly after the offer was made.
5) Film & Camps
Film - I couldn't decide on which one was more important so I'm going to combine this last topic. Film is one of the most important things to help your recruitment and not only just highlights but game film. While I think highlights are very important they are just the initial handshake of your first interview. If you have a bad handshake you could possibly not have a shot at a job, but if you have a good handshake then the person may be interested in continuing the interview. Following up with your highlight tape, you need to have full game film and preferably against other college prospects. This will allow college coaches to determine if you pass the "eye test," and if they would like to go any further in the recruitment/evaluation process.
Camps - Being invited to an elite camp was our way of saying we really wanted you and you were high on our recruitment board. I was at a low major school and we needed student athletes who wanted to be at our school, so it was also a way for us to feel out where we stood with the student athlete. Overall during my time in college I would say over half our signees attended our elite camp. If you are invited or given information on an elite camp from a college coach, I would highly suggest planning to attend! This gives you the opportunity to compete against other college prospects and build a relationship with the coaches at the college. You can find out a lot about the school and the team while you're on campus, around the coaches, and the team's players who often help run the camp so you can interact with them as well.
There is no right or wrong answer to this recruitment process and as we like to put it... "recruiting is like taste buds, we all like something a little different". Hopefully you learned something you didn't know, and the more we can continue to educate each other from our own experiences, the better chance we have to give OUR girls a shot at the next level. They deserve it!
Check out my All State Sugar Bowl tournament recap