When I was in high school, trying and failing to make the basketball team for 3 years straight, the last thing I was concerned with was contacting a college coach.
What the hell for? I had no resume, no stats, and no (proven) game — though I knew I could play. I knew I would make an opportunity if I just had a chance to show myself.
I finally got to that point of being good — i.e., the feeling that no matter where you dropped me off, I could play with anyone on the court — in the spring/summer after my senior basketball season (I did make the team that year) and had a high level of confidence heading into college.
Long story short, I walked on at a 2-year (athletically) school and was clearly the most talented player on the roster (though not the best performer — big distinction), was recruited to an NCAA D3 school, and, uh, “finished” my college career there. Then I played pro ball overseas for 9 years. You can read about all of that (up through college) in my book “Buy A Game” which is free.
But this post isn’t about me. It’s about you, high school player, and how/when you should start contacting colleges. Maybe you’re better than I was in high school — good chance you are, and if you’ve ever scored more than 4 points in a varsity game, you definitely are — maybe you’re worse, maybe you’re about the same level as I was, struggling without any results to speak of. Doesn’t matter, because I’m going to tell you how to go about approaching the prospect of college basketball from each of these positions.
Intersted? Read on.
[Note: read each section, even if it doesn’t apply to you. Some sections will be cross-referenced.]
High School Seniors
Position 0: You are an all-star, best player on your club, and have been receiving recruiting letters/scholarship offers. Congrats on your accomplishments thus far! Don’t let up.
What You Need To Do: Maintain (or acquire) your solid academic standing. Don’t do anything stupid on social media. Keep improving your game the way you have to this point. Keep your nose clean off the court. Stay in the gym over the summer when school is out — temptation will be everywhere else. Look into the courses you’ll be taking in college and possibly get a jump on that first college semester’s course load over the summer. Talk to your high school counselors about what you can do to prepare academically. Find people who are already playing college ball and hang with them. All day.
When: Get these things about college and your game on your mind now. All the stuff about being smart and not doing anything dumb to ruin your opportunities? Those apply forever.
Position A: You play on your HS team, have some solid-to-impressive stats & film, but no offers or scouts coming your way — at least not the ones you want.
What You Need To Do: Talk to your varsity and AAU coaches about your situation — letting them know that college basketball in in your plans — and see what advice they have to offer. Past that, do the following:
Gather all the game film you have — if you don’t have any, find a friend who has a 64 or 128gb smartphone (it will hold entire games and then some in its memory) and have him/her film your game for you (pay them, it will be a worthy investment). Or hire a video person. Have a family member do it. You get the point. You’re a good player, and you want colleges to know this — the video completes this equation. Get someone to film your games. Just get it done.
Put together this package:
- A highlight reel (1-2 minutes). Lose the loud rap background music
- Longer reel (5-10 minutes). Ditto on the rap music.
- 3 full game films. Again, the music (NO).
- AAU program you’re a part of (if any)
- Contact info of AAU & HS coaches
- High school grades and test scores
- Short bio on you (name, school, location, academic standing/college eligibility, AAU affiliation, I’m interested in playing at your school or something similar in one sentence)
Identify the schools you’d like to play for. I know there are a lot of them; this is called decision making. It will be one of your main tasks as an adult. Get used to it.
Find these schools online — there’s no limit to how many you choose at this point; best to cast a wide net in my opinion — and look up their coaching staffs. Identify their assistant coaches (head coaches are too busy). Look for the one who has the duty of “recruiting” in his/her bio. Email them your short reels with your stats and bio. Include your phone number or that of your coach/parents. Follow up your email with a call 1-2 weeks later (or your parent/coach can, depending on the rules) asking if they received your info. Be brief professional, and respectful of their time.
Ask if they have any possible interest, and if so what they would need from you. Listen to their response. Thank them for their time. All of this stuff matters and could be the difference between being on a team and not being on one next year.
Position B: You’re on the varsity basketball team in HS, but you’re not a factor. You don’t play much, don’t have anything impressive on your resume, and there aren’t many people expecting you to become much — at least when it comes to basketball. This was me.
What You Need To Do: Keep working on your game. Don’t fool yourself into believe you belong in Position A — you’re exactly where you belong — and accept that improved skills and game experience are necessary and will help your cause.
Get your academics all the way in order. You may be a walk-on at your college — don’t let your grades get in the way as no coach will bend over backwards to help a walk-on get eligible. This is your job and will continue to be.
You don’t have impressive film, so don’t waste your (or their) time contacting coaches who would want to see something about you worth noting. If — IF — you are going be getting some playing time somewhere (rec league, AAU etc), make sure you film it (see above filming info).
Talk to your varsity coach. Let him/her know that you want to play college ball and see what advice they have for you. Worst-case, they say they don’t believe and have none for you. Cost you nothing but 2 minutes of time.
Chose your college. Again, no need to email or call coaches — you have nothing to show them. You work hard? Just need a chance? Know you can play at that level? Great — so does every other player your age in America. Again, let;s not waste time. D1, D2 or D3? Your decision. Anywhere you go, you will have to prove yourself and earn your spot form zero. Again, choose your college.
Contact the assistant coach AFTER you are accepted into the school (Coaches don’t care about prospective walk-ons. Would you?). Let them know you’re interested in making the team as a walk-on and if there is anything they can advise on. Read this post about walking on in full, TWICE. Be brief and professional. This contact is key — having someone on the staff who knows your name can work wonders.
Now make sure you don’t show up and be a damn bum on the court…
Keep working on your game over the off-season. Join rec leagues and play as much as possible, You need both skills and game experience. Get it.
When: The woking on you game part? Now. Decide on your colleges to apply to ASAP and do it.
Position C: You’re not even on the varsity basketball team in high school. You’re looking towards college or the pros, but you have no stats, video, or seasoning. College is necessary (because you know you’re not going to go from no-high-school to the pros) but you don’t know how or what or where or when…
What You Need To Do: Stephen Jackson. Steve Francis. This has happened before; you can be next. But it aint gonna be easy. And the odds are against you. Very against you.
Still interested? Ok.
You better have some game. This should go unsaid by this point.
Find teams to play for. Rec, AAU (if you can), Pro-Ams, etc. Find them. Get film (see above). Play. Shake hands, make friends, make yourself known. Let your intentions — playing college ball — be known. The right person may be right there in the stands watching the player you’re facing one day.
Look into JuCos and community colleges to make sure your grades are right (or can get right). Contact the coaching staffs as mentioned above; at the CC or JuCo level you can reach out to them before being accepted as they are more inclined to work with players in your situation (again, having something to show is pivotal. GET FILM). Be ready to explain your situation and paint yourself in your best light — while still keeping it real as to why your circumstance is your circumstance. Don’t leave any of the bad stuff out. The last thing you want is a college coach to be interested in you, and then find out something that you neglected to share that changes everything.
Pitfalls: Things To NOT Do
The following will kill your college career before it even begins. Stay away from these.
- Have no game once you do get your chance
- Have bad academics — test scores, school grades etc
- Do anything stupid off the court – classroom, social media, opposite sex, partying, hanging with the wrong crowd
Outside Of The USA
Depending on your standing on your current team (if any), use the actionable steps for the correlating position. If you’re not playing at all, understand that without any film or co-sign from someone close to a coach, you’re a student first — so choose your college. Then follow the walk-on tips. If you don’t know anything about NCAA basketball, eligibility, or how to come to the USA, look it up and read. All of that info is free and online. Getting and knowing this information is your job.
High school player, understand that everything mentioned in this post is YOUR job to do. Not mine. Not your coaches. Not your parents’. Only yours. College is your trial run into the “real world”, where you make and live with your decisions (or lack thereof).
If you are a parent reading this, send it to your son/daughter and leave them alone. Don’t ask if they read it or see what they did with the info. It’s time to let go. If your kid wants this, you’ll know by their actions. No actions? No desire. It is what it is. You did your part.
Finally, player, understand that what you’re doing here is simply Sales.
Everything you do in life where you are persuading or influencing another person to do something he/she may not otherwise have done is a sale. Look at every material object you own: all were sold to you. Getting a prom date? Sale. Boyfriend/GF? Sale. Getting a job, or selling products/services at your business? Sales.
Making a basketball team (12-15 people) on a college campus with thousands of people? That’s a sale. Getting a college coach interested in you out of millions of high school athletes? Sale.
These are life skills your developing. And the fact is, most high school and college athletes will go pro in something other than sports. We know this to be true. Even if and when you do go pro, you’ll be 40 with 50-60 more years of life not live — what skills will you bring to the second half of your life? This is something you need to think about. I know your heard the broke-athlete stories. It;s not always about money; it’s the mentality behind the money. Start considering now the life skills you want to have later — it matters.
Good luck! Email me if there’s anything here I haven’t covered.