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The higher you move in the levels of basketball, the smaller the door gets for everyone to walk through — envision a funnel: large entrance, small exit. 100,000 players play in college, 10,000 play professionally.
Not every college player will play in the pros. Not every high school player will play in college. For those high schoolers who want to play college ball but have no scholarship offers, no invites, and nowhere to turn, this post’s objective is to give you some idea of the actions you can take — read those bold words again, please — to get yourself closer to what you want.
1. If you’re walking on, let the coaching staff know that you exist. Call the basketball office ahead of your arrival and speak to someone on the staff — it may be an assistant coach (note: assistant coaches usually are in charge of walk-on tryouts, hiring team managers, and all the small jobs the head coach can’t get to, so connecting with an assistant coach is essential for you). Be brief with th
e coach’s time: Who are you, what you want to do, and what can you do currently to position yourself to make it happen? Maybe throw in something extra in your pitch on top of that info that differentiates you from the other 30 walk-on hopefuls that this coach may hear from. Why you, over all of them? Remember, though, that you’re not going to make the team form this conversation, you just want the coach to remember who you were if you see her 24 hours later. Think about this, before you approach a coach.
2. Find the returning players, the leaders on the team, and make yourself known — on the court. Coaches listen to the players who are in leadership positions. When those players talk to the coaching staff in the fall leading up to October 15th — the official first day of allowed practice in the NCAA — and the coach asks who looks good, having your name mentioned could be the biggest coup of your basketball career. Play pickup games with the team — how do you find the players? Relatively easy — football & basketball players are not hard to find on a college campus, and a few inquiries will lead you right to them. Approaching, on the other hand, will take some cajones. How you get into those games? Not as easy. Use your brain, be creative and remember what your goal is. If you are good enough to hang with them, you’ll find a way to find them. And when you show how good you are, important people will hear about it. And you will be on your way.
3. Make sure your academics (and everything else) are in order, or none of this matters. College coaches are busy people with lots of responsibility. As such, things must be prioritized. Assistant coaches handle a lot of the smaller jobs — like you, the walk-on, trying to make the team. If the star recruit has eligibility issues or doesn’t practice hard, the head coach may handle it personally to make sure that player gets on the court. If you, on the other hand, have issues with academics, few coaches will go the extra mile chasing down paperwork for some walk-on she had never heard of in the first place. Maybe you think that’s fucked up. Oh well, that thought won’t get you on the basketball team. What it is, is reality. You are not a priority. Any little inconvenience presented on your part — late to practice, bad body language, not getting along with others, weak academics — is a reason for a coach to get rid of you, and she will, happily. Don’t make it easy for her.
4. As a walk-on, you are living on borrowed time. Always remember that. You don’t have a scholarship, so there is nothing invested in you, literally. You are the lucky one out of 50 or maybe even 100 that wanted to be that last man on the bench. And if you slip up in any area, one of those 100 unlucky guys will gladly take your spot and wave a towel. You are not owed playing time, the attention of any coach, practice reps, or anything else that you think comes gift-wrapped with the uniform. Your spot on the team is on the line every day — every team meal, every practice, every timeout during games. Do anything that conveys that you might not want to be there — even if you happen to be having a terrible day — and you may find yourself on the outside looking in.