Cornell College, Assistant Coach, Division III
Most kids who grow up playing basketball from a young age have some aspirations or dreams of playing Division 1 basketball or playing professionally. Given the number of high school athletes who are recruited to the college level, the chances are slim. More than 480,000 compete as NCAA athletes, and just a select few within each sport move on to compete at the professional or Olympic level. The NCAA stats show that 551,373 play at the high school level, 18,816 play in the NCAA. Overall % HS to NCAA is 3.4%. This does not, in any way, mean that it is impossible. If you have dreams of playing college hoops and are willing to put in the work, you will increase your chances of being recruited by NCAA and NAIA colleges.
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The first important step, although obvious, is to become the best and most talented basketball player that you can be. In most cases, this means playing for your high school varsity team is not nearly enough. For many players, the key to improving their skills by competing at the highest level is playing in the Amateur Athletic Union. The AAU is an organization that focuses entirely on grooming and developing young, amateur athletes for high-level competition. Their basketball leagues, in particular, are famous for producing some of the best high school players in the nation who later go on to play in all divisions of the NCAA and NAIA. As this applies to both men’s and women’s basketball, many Division 1 players believe the best way to get recruited out of high school is to play on a good AAU team. A team that plays in tournaments that coaches will be attending.
One reason AAU is so helpful for building and expanding your skills as a player is the prestigious coaching it provides in the high-level leagues. Top college prospects across the nation have accrued much of their success on the court to their coaches. This is because you can start playing at a young age and the variety of coaching styles you are exposed to gives you different perspectives that you can carry with you as you move forward and mature into your true basketball style.
Besides playing for an AAU team, attending basketball camps where many coaches from an array of Universities can attend plays a crucial role in getting recruited. Players go through different drills and skills set up by the coaches to evaluate player potential. The camps also will usually have live gameplay between the players to see how they execute within regulation game circumstances. EXACT Sports is one company that hosts multiple basketball camps every summer to help high school level basketball players be seen by many different coaches from Divisions 2, 3, and NAIA. The camps are designed to focus not only on the athletic ability and exposure of the athlete, but enlighten them of the essential mental tools used by top college players and professionals around the world.
As far as the actual recruiting process for colleges interested in players goes, the timeline is as follows; initial contact from a coach or by a player to the coach, base evaluations, and a campus visit.
- Initial contact from a coach or by the player: Coaches typically send form letters to hundreds of players as a “first sweep” to assess interest among recipients and introduce their program to prospective recruits. These letters often include basic questionnaires for athletes to fill out and send back. These also can come in the form of an email. Just because you receive one of these letters or emails, does not mean that the college is offering you a roster spot in any way, at least not yet. Although college coaches do aggressively seek out the top athletes on competitive high school and club teams, there is still much success that can be had by players that make the first contact to coaches via email, and then follow-up. In fact, that is how the majority of student athletes get recruited.
- Base evaluations: If a coach continues to be interested in an athlete after initial contact is made, he/she will follow-up with additional desk research. The coach will search online for additional information about the athlete such as their academic portfolio, test scores, game statistics, and video. The coach will review video footage to examine the athlete’s strengths and weaknesses. At this point, the coach might begin to rank the player according to factors such as estimated ability, potential, and academic eligibility. Coaches also make their rounds at AAU tournaments and basketball camps hosted by companies such as EXACT Sports.
- Campus visit: After a series of personal interactions, the typical next step in the recruiting process is a campus visit. At this stage in the process, the coach is looking to ensure that the athlete is comfortable with the school and team. The coach also has a chance to interact with the athlete in a new environment and expose the athlete to the college life. If the campus visit goes well, the next step in the process is usually the extension of an offer.
Although getting recruited for basketball is competitive, it is also exciting. Finding a good fit on an AAU team and attending college ID camps will help you with exposure. Your skills are your most important asset, but your ability to convincingly package your accomplishments together with your grades, test scores, stats, coaches’ recommendations, and video helps you make a good impression on college coaches, and makes it easy for them to choose you over others.