The Basketball Off-Season: What Now?

The question posted recently on a local message board asked:

Now that high school ball is over, what are my best options for my daughter? She is a sophomore this year. She has DII or NAIA potential since she is only 5’5″. What options? Pay 2,000 to 3,000k to play in viewing tournaments and practice once a week? Play with her high school teammates and find good/fun local tournaments? Attend Clinics and work on private lessons as well as practice at the gym? How important are the exposure tournaments as a sophomore?

Club basketball is the proverbial out of control 800 pound gorilla. Nobody likes it (except those that profit from it), yet nobody knows anything different. Parents spend thousands pursuing club basketball opportunities to showcase their son or daughter’s skills, yet little attention is paid to developing those skills.

Giant club tournaments and exposure events during the NCAA-approved viewing periods draw college coaches; these are the most convenient events for college coaches to attend, so they do so en masse, and this convenience fuels the system.

However, the NCAA viewing periods extend for only one week in the spring and three weeks during July; therefore, in terms of exposure, the other tournaments are a waste because there is no exposure.

Second, for players who are high DI prospects, most schools already know about them; the players who really need the increased exposure are the other players, the ones like the poster’s daughter who are more likely to attend a DII or NAIA institution. Unfortunately, DII and NAIA universities lack the financial resources to attend numerous showcase events and travel throughout the country chasing players; therefore, most DII and NAIA programs recruit local players.

So, what to do?

1) Train. Whether with a team or individually, train; practice basketball skills like ball handling and shooting and train quickness, speed and strength. Anybody who is willing to put in the time can become a better player; there are hundreds of resources on the Internet offering different exercises or drills or teaching points. Most important is shooting consistency, effective ball handling, lateral quickness and acceleration. The Basketball Training Center offers individualized workouts for interested players.

2) Play. Training only takes a player part of the way; to become a better player, players have to play. However, this does not mean one must pay thousands to join a team. Find local open gyms, adult recreation leagues, parks, etc. When I was at UCLA, smart high school kids bought a UCLA Recreation pass, or talked UCLA students into getting them in as a guest for the day, and played pick-up games with the college kids at Wooden Center. When I coached at the JC level, we opened the gym every Friday for any high school players who wanted to play. Do the research and find an environment to play with and against better players. An informal environment offers players freedom to explore and develop away from the glare of a coach. If one only plays with a coach or in environments designed for evaluation or exposure purposes, the player never expands his/her game because he/she focuses on playing well in that moment. One needs to try new things to expand, develop and improve and informal games offer the perfect opportunity to try new moves in a competitive situation, but one devoid of consequences.

3) Market. As a DII/NAIA recruit, aggressiveness is rewarded. Most schools see a very limited number of players and rely heavily on coaches and players contacting them. As a high school player, attend local college games and get a sense of the competition level and where you might fit; if possible, have an unbiased observer evaluate your game. Research schools that meet your academic and personal interests. When you find a school that meets your needs that has athletic programs at your level of play, contact the coach. Offer to send a tape; when you send a tape, send a full game tape and identify yourself clearly by number and color (blue #21); send a short resume with the tape. Also, send a schedule if you are playing in tournaments during the evaluation period and be sure to send a game schedule as next season approaches.

4) Study. The first question a college coach asks is grades; can they get into our school? If you meet the academic criteria, then they move on to other questions about size, skill level, position, etc. The better your grades, the more options. Many DIII schools are elite academic institutions that offer competitive financial aid packages and a great playing experience; and because of the competitive academic requirements, the recruiting is very limited. A 4.0 and good SAT score can open a number of playing opportunities; a girl who thinks she is a DII level player may get a DI look if she has grades to get into an Ivy League school.

5) Have Fun. For many players, high school is the end of their playing careers. Too many players play for a college scholarship as opposed to playing for all the right reasons: fun, activity, exercise, pride, self-confidence, school spirit, team camaraderie, love of the game, etc. A college scholarship is a reward and should not be the impetus. If the only reason for playing is a college scholarship, there are other sports where the scholarship quest is slightly less competitive because of the number of high school players versus the number of scholarships available. Basketball is one of, if not the most intense competitions for scholarships. Enjoy playing the game, competing and working hard toward a goal; however, playing basketball should not feel like a burden or too much.

If you’re good enough, a DI school will find you. Very few players with DI talent fall through the cracks. However, at the non-DI levels, marketing is important because the staffs and budgets are smaller and there are far more players available with similar talent. The aggressive players are often rewarded because they make it easy on the college coaches, if they have the talent to help the program and the grades to get admitted. For more information, visit former high school coach Ray Lokar’s valuable site: Do It Yourself Guide to College Athletics Recruiting.

For more information on coaching, recruiting, playing, training and basketball, visit the Basketball Player Development & Human Performance Enhancement message board.

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