Behind the curtain to the amazing benefits for athletes and educational institutions...
Updated: Apr 13
About this blog article
This blog article provides a discourse on stronger integration between educational institutions and sporting pathways (specifically basketball). We do this by highlighting:
What Coach Janx observed on a recent tour to the United States
What is in it for athlete development with better integration between sporting pathways and educational institutions
Likewise what is in it for the educational institutions with an improved integration paradigm.
How this could also be applied to Australian High Schools using examples and real life experiences.
This is a great read for anyone involved with educational institutions, working in Australia's high performance system at any level, from Aussie Hoops through to National teams, be it as a volunteer or a paid capacity, also gives youth athletes and parents excellent insights into the opportunity and benefits to becoming a high level student-athlete in the United States.
We hope the discourse below generates discussion and helps continue to align various stakeholders that are interested in the holistic development of elite, youth basketball talent.
In short we urge all stakeholders in athlete development be it high performance managers, educational institutions, coaches, players, parents and other supporters to think REALLY BIG, and together, when it comes to developing our sport in our country. Is this thought process missing now? If it is that pattern should not dictate future thought processes. THINK BIG! Our main stakeholders, the youth athletes certainly do and our thinking should not be what holds them back.
The study tour
I recently headed over to the United States on a personal basketball pilgrimage. Primarily it was to see featured athlete Isaac White (Class of 2017 Stanford Freshman) really get into the big games, kicking off his collegiate career. This included Isaac participating in the biggest ever preseason tournament in the history of college sports. A solid feat for the skilled, tough, smart guard, "with some moxy", who had won and dominated Aussie U20 National Championships and National Schools championships, Premier League and club basketball, from the Sturt Sabres of South Australia.
VIDEO: The PK80. The most powerful collection of teams in College basketball ever at one event.
Whilst in the region I also wanted to really peel back the curtain on college basketball, meet the coaches, see their practices, deep dive into checking out the facilities and catch some games. Many of these coaches have been out here to Australia see us, recruit South Aussie kids, checkout our programs, including meeting people such as SA High Performance Director David Ingham, Sturt Director of Coaching Scott Butler. Many also attended the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence combine, held in July 2016, to checkout South Australian athletes (Blog article on the combine here: Basketball Australia's College Prospects Combine). I wanted to return the favor by seeing them in their program, meet with them again, checkout their practice.
Through this journey I was constantly thinking about something that I’ve always wondered –
Why can’t Australian basketball clubs, associations and high performance programs, work with educational institutions at all levels, to operate in an integrated fashion as it does in the United States?
I became envious at the level of resources and support division 1 colleges can extend to athletes. I am not necessarily saying the exact American model will ever be applied here. What I am saying is that if the United States is one end of the extreme of integrating elite, youth sports pathways and educational institutions together, and the case for that extreme is presented in our Australian context, then hopefully educational and basketball leaders in this country will begin to consider which parts of the American system we should be implementing within Australia. We have been gradually moving to that integration in pockets in Australia over the years, but there is much more scope for stronger, more formal integration, and I hope this article will help secondary, tertiary education leaders and those working as leaders in our nation's sporting pathways to consider the potential.
During 2 and a bit weeks on this tour I saw 12 games of basketball, 10 division 1 college games and 2 Utah Jazz, NBA games. The college games included Stanford playing the powerhouse programs like North Carolina Tarheels, Florida Gators, Ohio State Buckeyes. I saw the Aussie dominated mid-major power school of St Marys (where featured athlete Alex Mudronja has committed for the 2018/19 season) play San Jose State. The massive, rivalry game of Utah Valley vs BYU. The new home of NBL great John Rillie's rapidly rising UCSB play University of San Diego and more. Front row seats were the norm, behind the team benches, having the opportunity to see the action up close also being afforded the opportunity of interacting heavily with coaching staff pre and post games.
I also sat in on 10 team practices. These were all division 1 programs from the Pac12, ACC, West Coast Conference, Big West conferences. This included seeing coaches from mid majors that heavily recruit Australia. The high majors included household names in basketball circles like Stanford Cardinal, Utah Utes, Oregon Ducks, North Carolina Tarheels. On these visits I normally had a "back stage" pass to sealed practices, tour facilities, meet the staff and players and often to sit in on video sessions.
I also had a range of meetings from the Philly 76ers, ESPN, to breakfast or coffee college coaches at the PK80, after their games in cities etc.
Over the past decade I've had many kids I have coached play college basketball and obviously currently heavily involved in a few over there now at high levels. Many conversations, questions and learning in conversations with them also contributed to the ideas presented in this article.
Conversations and insights gained through many good friendships and working relationships across the coaching profession at all levels of Division 1 college basketball also contributing.
On a side note it is fair to say South Australian basketball (I assume it is simlar across Australia) is truly on the map in the US college system. There is an unprecedented level of awareness of our work in South Australia, hopefully soon Western Australia, the fact there is some good talent coming out of South Australia (and WA too), and all families should be considering these facts when planning their future goals and aspirations. So youth athletes, their families and supporters should also be thinking and planning BIG when it comes to their basketball goals and aspirations. If you're a young athlete, or parent of one reading this, you will enjoy reading about some of the exciting benefits of being a student athlete in a high level college.
When I talk about integration, what am I referring to?
Very broadly I am talking about educational institutions truly valuing and understanding the returns they receive when they invest resources, expertise and facilities into high level basketball development.
I am suggesting they develop an understandig of the value that top athletes and coaches in our nation's formal, high performance pathways can give to the institution's mission. This might one day be further enriched if institutions provide a competitive platform for athletes to compete in, representing the school, with direct links into district/rep clubs, state programs and national programs. Broadly speaking this will ultimately add value to the school with;
and growth in numbers and quality of enrollments.
Problems and opportunities in Australian basketball
The problems for basketball in Australia that better integration and working relationships with educational institutions would overcome include:
Inconsistent teaching between school and high performance programs leading to confusion for young athletes
Insufficient knowledge of, and lack of experience in, proven successful youth pathways by those people that schools employ. This will often lead to poor advice, goal setting and decision making by athletes at those schools in regards to their pathways
Lack of competent, fulltime resources committed to athlete development in all sectors due to lack of financial resources to pay competent experts.
Lack of easy access to facilities at the times elite, youth players need them most (early mornings and school holidays) for workouts
Inefficient for time poor athletes, their families, as they have to travel between high perfromance program's workout, strength and conditioning facilities to their schools.
We have all heard the nightmare stories of schools forcing elite athletes to put school sport first, above all outside sports, effectively denting their progress through the sport's elite pathways. On a personal level, I have had good experiences with top private secondary schools when it comes to issues such as clashes between club or state practices and school trainings and games. There has been some “assertive conversations” at times but most people working in basketball programs in schools have visibility of what I do with athletes, have had some kind of relationship with me in the past, and therefore are more than willing to listen and vice versa. These conversations are normally informal in nature and driven by personal relationships and trust rather than any formal, paradigm based relationships and consideration of the organisations I work for in my roles per se. Not every coach working at clubs or in high performance programs would have these relationships and more formal arrangements would help. Alan McAughtry, a leading coach in Melbourne, also recently discussed his own examples of positive, athlete wellbeing and development focused collaboration with school programs in his blog (Blog here: By Alan McAughtry | Collaboration, working together and communication; when assisting elite athletes in their development journey in today's era).
The main issue I see most prevalently are that emerging elite youth athletes grapple with is access to facilities at the times they need. For the athlete, being able to have a key to the training facility at their High School or University and get in there and shoot when they want is a massive help. Being able to have their trusted coaches (workout/state/club) come and work them out with some other elite athletes is the IDEAL recipe for success. Success that will put that school into the global spotlight in coming years when the athlete is all over US social media, playing in globally televised games, their bio on their college site states which school they went to and stories are told about their high school team and program (EG: Isaac White from Sacred Heart HS, Lat Mayen from Concordia College, Jacob Rigoni from Mercedes College). Over time if these coaches and player's development can come from within the school environment like we are seeing at Trinity College, through working with Central Districts Lions, the Northern Region Sports Academy integrated in, then even better for the school. The story we can tell about that athlete's journey would include their school as having a more meaningful, impactful role in their journey and of course other parents will take an interest in sending their child to that school too.
Here is an example of the type of problem I am talking about. Previously a club I know well was using the High School gym they were based at for early morning (6:30 AM) workouts. Kids that would go onto be high profile division 1 college commits, regular attendees, along with other future state and national players. This has recently been shutdown by that school and will hamper the development of the next crop of youth talent. What makes this situation even more strange is this school markets itself as having a basketball program. Isn't the fact these guys spent time training and working out in the school facility a great marketing position for the school to be in??
Similar issue, a Western Suburbs, private school (at least they were not pretending to be basketball school though), had a venue we were able to access for early mornings but this has now been shutdown with a staff member’s departure, our contact there. If there were more formal arrangements in place between peak basketball bodies or clubs to support these athletes in this way these flimsy arrangements could be much more firmer.
In the case of schools with specific basketball development programs in their curriculum the point is being missed here and we are not close to the mark. What I mean is that some schools are wanting to reap the benefits of being a "basketball program", more enrollments and prestige when they recruit already good players. However, if they are not willing to make investment or understanding in what it takes to produce and develop elite talent with potential to forge career in the sport, and if that is the case, then what is the point in the program?
Many of my views on the real integration and closer working between educational institutions and basketball programs were developed during my time working as the Director of Coaching at Central Districts Lions. Working with others in both Trinity College and Centrals to build a much more integrated partnership than had existed between the 2 organisations. This thought process was also initially heavily swayed by a Basketball Australia review into high performance programs which stated many ideas about this integration including:
“In short the DTE is defined for the AIS program and within the curriculum of the NITCP. It is not defined for the entire athlete pathway and therefore the development of an athlete throughout that pathway. Nor is it optimally linked to the competition pathway. Further, BA does not currently have the resources or the influence to provide it as broadly as is desired. Unless an athlete is in ‘the right’ program(s) throughout his or her development, their day to day development and link with competition experience is unstructured and ad hoc. There is a clear need to support, enhance and expand on the models of the NITCP and AIS programs to create a National Player Development Framework for entry level through to elite players, male and female. This will more clearly identify athlete needs and then form the basis of what and how to deliver optimal athlete development and support right throughout the pathway. The aim is to build on the current strengths of the pathway, engaging partners to spread the reach of the many effective elements of the pathway so that development can be delivered more thoroughly, effectively and efficiently.” Ref: Review of High Performance Pathways in Australian Basketball Innovation and Best Practice January (2008) .
How have we progressed in Australia in this regard? Is there still illogical, haphazard development and facility and resource utilisation going on? What formal parternships, initiatives and programs are in place, driven by peak bodies, that help clubs and athletes maximise the use of resources and facilities for athlete development? Can you imagine the kind of look I get from US Coaches when I explain how it works down under? Lack of facilities and athlete development resources are a prevalent issue (in conversations I describe it is a joke) for club's stadium coordinators, high performance programs, as well SA club and skill development coaches.
Imagine the shock on their face when they see the talent being produced out of our state under the current circumstances.
PICTURED :Pridham Hall. New UniSA basketball, sports complex right in the heart of the CBD. Seems to be an inefficient use of resources and opportunities if District Clubs and our peak sporting body (Basketball SA) were not consulted in the development of this resource. If Government funds were allocated to this facility and the peak body were not involved then it could even be described as a travesty. Bringing district clubs along is a great promotion for the facility and University. Bring them in to train there for a discounted rate, provide elite youth and senior players with gym and court access for workouts, maybe even play a Premier League or div 1 youth league game there. Call it a partnership, to promote the game amongst the University community, and work together for greater Government and Corporate funding and support for even more seating.
What is in it for athlete development?
Athlete development is first and foremost about the athlete but it is also in the interest of peak bodies in the sport both on the state and national scale, as well as the W/NBL (Australia’s pro-league). SO when we speak in terms of the significant athlete development opportunities by integrating the educational and high performance basketball pathways, the benefits for the athlete, we are also talking about the flow on benefits to peak sporting bodies and the W/NBL too.
In this section are the key things I noticed when talking to coaches, seeing their practices, talking regularly to the athletes in the system and peeling back the curtain to checkout the facilities and resources they have at their disposal in the United States.
The whole recruiting process
Schools vie for student athletes just like occasionally a post graduate school may do in Australia this happens for student athletes in the United States. In the recruiting process the school informs students of their school, the ins and outs of what they can offer both from an educational and athletic standpoint. By going on an official visit (all travel, accommodation and food costs covered by the school for the visit) to the program the student athletes can make a very smart decision as to the program that best meets their needs, hopefully making an informed decision that is best for their success both athletically and from an education perspective.
Here in Australia a Student Athlete would mostly be left to their own devices to find out about the school, schools are not as desperate to recruit them and give them “the sell” like over in the United States.
PICTURED: Hannah Hank's official visit. Official visits are often an amazing experience for the family. Here we see a goodies basket placed in Hannah's Hotel room, handwritten letter from the coaching staff, with a jampacked 48 hour itinerary of meeting coaches, faculty, team members, viewing practices, games, facilities, residential accommodation etc. This clearly helps the athlete and family make a very informed decision, right or them.
Because of the level of interest in college sports, the games are televised all over the world. The exposure and visibility puts athletes on the world stage significant and of course provides the opportunity for them to be followed by family, friends and fans. The chance to be exposed to playing "when the cameras are on" is a part of the preparation for life as a professional athlete. Can you perform when the cameras are rolling? When 100,000s are watching you play? You can find out in college.
VIDEO: "I like the toughness of White, for Stanford". Isaac White getting acknowledgement on globally broadcast ESPN games against a college powerhouse in North Carolina for his qualities.
VIDEO: "I tell you what he's good". "He's got some moxy to him". Isaac White getting acknowledgement in the UNC game.
School admission departments, faculty leadership and the NCAA insist on the academic achievements of student athletes. Student athletes falling below certain GPAs will not be able to compete for the basketball team. The value of education and learning to the development of athletes is valued in the United States to the point where the NBA insists athletes complete at least 1 year of college before entering the NBA draft even if they are good enough to play at that level. Schools provide student athletes with significant academic support and holistic development.
Study hall exists in institutions. For example, and typical of a program, the UCSB basketball team must spend set periods in study hall each week. A tutor sits in the room with the team whenever they are there and athletes falling behind must spend extra time in the study hall. In high majors (and I guess other levels too) athletes can get access to faculty that are often amongst global leaders in their fields to help mentor and assist them with studies. Stanford, for example, is considered the leading educational institution in the world. Student athletes are effectively “paid” with their education as the main component and the schools that value education more, the schools with higher academic reputation, which have students reach academic success more often are able to use these successes to add value and weight to their degree, effectively making the “payment” for the student more valuable. A great recruiting tool.
PICTURED: Jim and Cheryl Barber study centre. Setup for student athletes to achieve academic excellence, whilst managing their demanding schedules, at UC Santa Barbara.
PICTURED: Jim and Cheryl Barber study centre. Setup for student athletes to achieve academic excellence, whilst managing their demanding schedules, at UC Santa Barbara.
Salaries of coaches
Generally speaking, in any industry, the more you can pay the more likely you are to attract talent. It is fair to say Head Coaches in the United States are paid way more significantly than in Australia, especially in the educational context. Friends of mine in Australia who coach High School basketball, and are teachers, will receive a bonus payment of a few $1,000. In the Australian University system it is mostly volunteers coaching the basketball teams. There is little benefit in providing support to student athletes beyond the couple of hours of oncourt practice per week. Over in the States division 1 college coaches at high majors typically are in the multi-million dollars range, with many additional opportunities to earn additional money for coaches in camps, book authoring, speaking engagements, direct sponsorships from shoe companies for example. When you consider that for a coach to be earning this kind of money, along with relatively significant salaries of his 3-4 Assistant Coaches, and their role is to primarily look after the wellbeing, success and development of 13 young, scholarship athletes and normally a few walkons, they are going be willing to put in much more time and effort than coaches back here, pursuing these roles and developing their coaching skill for many years. That is their whole professional job and with the kind of money they can command they put in the hours to develop themselves much more readily than the lowly paid and volunteer coaches in Australia, and it attracts outstanding candidates, also retaining them for much longer in the industry than coaches at amateur levels can retained for in Australia.
PICTURED: Coach Dana Altman's salary is reported to be around US$18.5 million over 7 years, ending in April 2023. Taken at Oregon Ducks semi-final day practice at the PK80.
Division 1 athletes travel across America for games, especially in the non-conference schedule. All travel costs (flights and accommodation etc) are covered by the school. For high major schools this normally involves almost a high level pro-sports team type travel, with the team catching private, chartered jets. No cues, check ins or hassles.
In addition division 1 schools can take their teams on an international trip every 4 years. This means that teams are able to experience overseas culture, basketball and for coaches it means they can start their training early than normal, under NCAA rules.
PICTURED: Our friends from Oklahoma on Aussies shores. Shoutout Sooners! Picture from: Sooners down under.
Some schools, depending on level and conference, also cover travel costs to and from home when the athletes are not required to be on campus for school or for their team commitments.
PICTURED: Travel like a rockstar. Stanford men's basketball on their trip to Portland for the PK80. They are taken to a small runway strip in San Jose. Their team bus takes straight to their jet for boarding, on they get and off they go. Efficient, safe and fast.
Managers, Graduate Assistants
Schools have a range of Graduate Assistants working in their programs. They are typically on scholarship doing Graduate Degrees or Team Managers on undergraduate degrees. These guys are there to support the athletes and coaches in any way they can. This is normally somewhat mundane but needed tasks at trainings like running water to players, rebounding for players, taking stats, taping practice, helping with logistical issues such as with potential recruits on official visits. Our featured athletes a great example of maximising the use of team managers. With renowned ethics they are regularly calling on managers at all hours of the day to come and rebound for them whilst they work on their games getting shots up. It seems small but for a complete service to athletes these guys are a massive help, they really make sure the dirty, mundane work is done in order to support the athlete’s and coaches’ success.
The best way for schools to attract top student athletes is through both coaches and also facilities. The facilities provided to college athletes are just extremely good (NBL level) at the division 1 level, ranging up to amazing (NBA level) in high major programs. Typical facilities include things like:
Private weights room for the basketball team
Basketball lounge for athletes
PICTURED: John M. Huntsman Centre is an amazing venue. State of the art building with a 15,000 seating capacity! Here is a pic taken of the men's team training on Coach Janx' visit to the school.
PICTURED: The Women's team film room at Utah. The men's team has a separate film room.
PICTURED: The players lounge and facilities area. Amazing, massive space with video games room, entertainment, meals area, locker room and recovery centre etc.
PICTURED: The Stanford men's basketball practice facility. All attached to the main arena. The practice facility is a 2 court complex with 6 spring loaded rims on glass backboards. All the modcons such as shooting machine, sound system whatever else a baller could need.
PICTURED: Another angle of the Stanford practice facility. Americans are big into their slogans, tradition, history and this is all over the facilities. Creates a great culture, respect and vibe at the institution.
PICTURED: even some kind of high tech basketball game at the facility at Stanford. Stand in front of the camera and the machine gives you pictures and voice commands of skills you need to correctly complete against the clock.
The Faculty in many schools are experts and leaders in their field. These members of the school community often get behind the sport's program in a big way and can offer specialised support for the athletes and coaching staff.
At UCSB I sat in a group that included a well published Professor who was focussed on educational, leadership and motivation of learners. He was very interesting indeed and had many great ideas on teaching athletes that were emerging into adulthood, and in the regular workplace for that matter. He was not all that into basketball but he told me had been acting as an advisor to a few of the athletes and coaches and so had gotten into the basketball as a result. What was impressive was the fact that these athletic programs can access so many experts in their field from the faculty for support be it in leadership, statistical analysis, media production, medical, strength and conditioning etc etc.
Alumni and booster networks
The opportunity for athletes to build extensive networks with the Alumni and Booster community for life after basketball is amazing. You have everyone from wealthy business leaders, politicians and professional managers to network with at games, functions etc. One athlete recently mentioned to me that at a school event he met a man that runs a company in a certain industry. The school had setup a function for the basketball team to present a brief presentation on their future goals and aspirations to boosters and alumni. Upon further questioning I realised the athlete had had a 10 minute conversation with one of the most famous and wealthiest business men in the world. An extreme example but the power and potential of that kind of network down the track might just lead to something dreams are made of.
Clothing and shoes
Of course athletes are provided with all the clothing, shoes, travel gear related to their school program they could possibly need. For a young athlete this is a great part of their scholarship.
So that is a brief summary as to what it is in it for the student athlete and how resources are provided to them. Oh! Did I mentioned they often also get tuition, food, housing, clothing (shoes, all the school-branded gear they could ever need to play, train, workout, walk around the school in), cost of attendance (a cold hard cheque paid to the student athlete at regular intervals), flights home and medical insurance. This is typically going to equate to between $70 - $100K Australian per year.
What is in it for the school
Sports are seen as an important part of the educaiton framework in the Uniteed States.
Ultimately sport mirrors life, the higher the competitive levels and striving for excellence the better the life lessons. So many educational and life lessons can come from sport and striving for excellence on the sporting field that are hard to deliver, in a practical, real life sense, in the classroom.
Cold, hard cash
A lot of the above outcomes to benefit athletes also benefit the wider school community and ultimately should lead to more enrollments, facilities, better student engagement and delivering more holistic educational outcomes. These can all be somewhat difficult to measure.
However, in the United States basketball programs often directly generate profit. This comes from corporate support and sponsorship, ticket sales, advertising, basketball camps, booster donations and the big one. TV rights. TV rights pours in over US$1 billion each year into the College system. Be it locally based syndication deals made with the schools or conferences, or national deals such as those that exist during the globally broadcast NCAA Tournament, also called March Madness. There are rivers of money flowing from TV providers, including online providers, into the NCAA system (External Article: Business Insider | The 25 schools that make the most money in college sports)
Despite all the revenue college basketball brings into the school up to US$45.8 Million in 2016 for the Louisville basketball team for example (External Reference: Forbes Magazine | College Basketball's Most Valuable Teams 2016) athletes cannot be paid. The best way to attract the best athletes is to build better education, facilities, school culture, crowd support and of course this also contributes to the complete student body in various ways as well.
The pie chart below indicates where the revenue comes from for a typical, basketball or football, high major sports team:
The facilities that the money sports like basketball and football provide the school are often used by other sports. Volleyball is one sport that typically access the basketball arenas too, even though Volleyball is not going to be profitable, contributing funding to the facility development.
Schools build great facilities to help attract basketball recruits that are often also accessible by the rest of the student population these might include residential housing, gyms, shooting courts even some of the medical support provided.
Basketball and other sports at Colleges are almost supported with a cult-like fervour from the student population. This is nothing like professional sports. The reason for this was described to me by Aussie Coach at UC Santa Barbara John Rillie as being due to the fact the students have a much closer alignment and emotional investment to their school teams as opposed to professional teams. Their school teams represent them, the environment they study, live in and invest in through their various school fees. Think about it, very different to fans of a professional team.
The Utah Valley vs BYU game atmosphere and culture was awesome (see video from the game further down).
Smart sport team’s leaders, Athletic Directors, coaching stuff and such, try to come up with culture and values that align with the wider school community. Using sport that will help build the culture and spirit within the school community.
Advertising and brand equity
When your school name, logo, brand and students are beamed across the world to millions of viewers there is maybe no better advertising. Why are Universities like Duke, Villanova, Gonzaga, St Marys, Louisville such well known brands, in basketball circles, in Australia, on the other side of the world? It is because of their basketball programs. Pure and simple
It is the same for High School programs. Division 1 college athletes out of Australia often have a big following back home. Most of the 1000s that follow the progress of Isaac White would know he went to Sacred Heart College in Adelaide, likewise for Ben Simmons (albeit on a much bigger scale) went to Montverde in the United States.
Further evidence of the brand equity that sports program build was observed at the PK80. University of Florida went to maybe the height of arrogance during the PK80 taking out a number of billboards across Portland for the event. They clearly see the marketing value in this investment and the brand equity their basketball team gives their advertising campaign to invest the amount that would have been required to purchase this advertising, which has nothing to do with the University, and everything to do with the basketball team.
PICTURED: Florida Gators took out a billboard advert in the heart of Portland during the PK80 tournament. Maybe the height of arrogance? Or maybe a smart advertising move! The power of sports team based advertising for your school……
PICTURED: Florida Gators took out a billboard advert on the highway driving out of Portland Airport during the PK80 tournament. Maybe the height of arrogance? Or maybe a smart advertising move! The power of sports team based advertising for your school……
Contribute to the culture of excellence
We had 3 Academic All American candidates last year in our basketball team. Our GPAs amongst student athletes are in the top 10 in the country. Schools DO value and believe in excellence on and off the floor. They recognise and reward this amongst their athletic teams. These achievements and role models contribute the culture of excellence across the student body.
Entertainment for student body
Many students at institutions live on campus. Being able to provide those students with entertainment based around the school team, the school brand, pride in the school is massive benefit for the school. It helps schools attract and retain students.
The opportunity for Australian Universities vying to attract international students and also interstate students here cannot be understated.
VIDEO: Student section at Maples Pavilion, home of Stanford Men's Basketball, during the University of North Carolina game. Great entertainment for the student body to really get involved with and to support their fellow students.
VIDEO: One of the biggest events in the school's history was the Utah Valley Vs BYU game. The atmosphere and entertainment value were amazing. Up there with NBA games in terms of pre game, half time entertainment. A great show by Utah Valley University for the student body and fans.
Why can't it happen in Australia?
Universities are too small?
Well that is simply not the case. Our Universities compare in size to the biggest Universities in the United States in many cases. Here are the largest Univerities:
Universities cannot afford it?
Universities have massive revenues. They are willing to invest money into programs, facilities and services that will add value to their student experience. If a return on that investment can be generated from new revenue sources (TV rights, sponsorships, gate takings, merchandise sales) then they would find the funds.
It is merely about Universities understanding the value that will come from investing into these programs. The direct revenue returns, the value add to their student's experience would be significant. Then it is a matter of developing a competitive platform for their teams to play in, against each other, expanding the SEABL or even in the existing NBL or WNBL.
The University of Sydney model
I recently had the opportunity to catchup with the President of University of Sydney Basketball Club Josh Collier to ask some questions to help us understand the potential of a stronger integration approach. Josh believes that there is amazing potential to setup a US Division 1 College-like situation in Australia (crowds, national competition, coach salaries, stadium size, facilities, shoe and other sponsorship, TV and web streaming deals etc), stating:
"I think there is amazing potential for Australia to be active in that space, however, we do have a long way to go. There is definitely an interest in the NCAA and college basketball and with the regular visits from top-tier college basketball programs that interest will only grow. Basketball is rising in popularity in Australia and the influx of talented Australian players both in the US college system and the NBA has created interest from US scouts and coaches to look at Australian talent. This is evident through the NBA’s launching of a global academy in Canberra and the success of the players in Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence program. I believe that universities in Australia have the ability to really compete at this level with the right framework in place, attracting some of the brightest prospects from Australia to stay in Australia, continuing their development whilst not losing out exposure to professional scouts and pathways."
Talking to Josh I feel that University of Sydney could get going very quickly to develop a US Division 1 college-like environment for student-athletes. I asked him about the facilities and was really taken aback by the level of facilities student-athletes at the Unviersity can access. Josh informs us:
"Sydney University has a range of recently constructued state of the art sporting facilities, with basketball on campus having benefited greatly from these developments. In 2013, a new $15 million extension to the Sydney Uni Sports and Aquatic Centre was opened. This facility features Brydens Stadium, the home court of the only professional women’s basketball franchise in NSW, the Sydney Uni Flames. This facility boasts a 730-seat grandstand and has featured games with some of the best basketball players in the world. Since 2015, Bryden’s stadium has hosted several top US college programs including UCLA, LSU and Washington. These teams have featured top tier NBA draft picks including Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz from the Philadelphia 76ers, and Lonzo Ball from the Los Angeles Lakers.
In 2016, The TAG Family Foundation Grandstand was opened on the University of Sydney's Oval No. 2 which is home to Sydney Uni Football Club (SUFC) and Sydney Uni Soccer Football Club (SUSFC). The $13 million facility is a state-of-the-art structure that provides seating to 1,100 spectators atop Oval No. 2, also features a suite of facilities underneath and around the grandstand. The site boasts an impressive two-level, high-performance strength and conditioning gym, three indoor cricket nets and, as well as four spacious change rooms. It hosts an array of club offices, a meeting room, a grounds storage area, and a purpose-built medical room. In 2017, this facility played host to Arsenal Football Club ahead of their July 2017 game against SFC.
Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness offers:
4 full-size Basketball Courts with stadium seating
2 Health & Fitness Centres
65+ group fitness classes per week, including the full suite of Les Mills' classes plus Aqua, Yoga, Pilates, Kickboxing and Aeroboxing.
220+ cardio machines and pin-loaded resistance equipment, with the latest Life Fitness internet enabled cardio equipment
6 synthetic grass tennis courts
7 squash courts
8-lane indoor heated Olympic swimming pool
8m high, 300m² indoor climbing centre
Martial Arts Dojo
For basketball athletes the facilities and resources at their disposal at the University of Sydney is a far greater than any SEABL or State League can provide. Obviously in creating a US College-like environment in Australia it would mean student-athletes at University of Sydney would have free access to these facilities.
The other consideration in building a US Division 1 college-like environment for student-athletes is what kind of access they have to services:
"Academic Advice & Advocacy - Elite Athlete Program staff, in conjunction with university academic and administrative staff, work closely with members to provide knowledgeable advice across several areas including, study load, effective study skills and degree and subject choice. Importantly, guidance and representation may be available for members when flexibility is needed for university attendance and assessment tasks.
Career Services - With the support of a designated Academic Counsellor, CareerHQ and our distinguished community of alumni and friends; members may access mentoring, internship and employment opportunities, or assistance with negotiating degree and career direction.
Tutoring - Limited complimentary tutoring is offered to members across a broad range of subjects. This service is helpful for those experiencing difficulties with unit of study content or who have missed classes due to sporting commitments.
Chaplaincy - Regardless of faith or creed, members may access pastoral care and support when dealing with life issues, including grief and critical incidents. Our chaplains are the ‘go to’ people for general assistance and reliable referrals to services such as counselling and personal development.
SUSF Facilities - Members may receive complimentary access to a range of quality sporting facilities. This includes: state-of-the-art high performance facilities in the new TAG Family Foundation Grandstand; cardio and weights at the Arena Sports Centre; and a 50m indoor heated Olympic pool at the University Sports & Aquatic Centre. Access to sport-specific facilities (e.g. boxing gym, tennis courts, etc.), as well as group fitness classes, may be granted on approved request.
High Performance Services - To assist with reaching their athletic performance goals, members may access professional and convenient high performance services including: •
Strength and conditioning
Sports performance psychology
Discounted Rates on Sports Medicine Services - At The Sports Clinic located on the University’s main campus, members may receive concessions on often-needed services such as: physiotherapy; podiatry; remedial massage; and acupuncture.", Josh explained.
In addition to the facilities, services Uniiversity of Sydney provides student athletes it also operates maybe the best example of integration between elite basketball pathways. The University Sydney offering a compelling case for the best young female athletes in the country to join their program through this partnership:
Currently, the main way that top tier student athletes are recruited to come to the University of Sydney is through the Sydney Uni Flames and Sydney Uni Sparks programs. This is an extremely attractive opportunity for talented young female basketball players to engage with as these programs provide student athletes with an opportunity to play at the highest level available in Australia. SUSF’s Elite Athlete Program is also a motivating factor for talented athletes and provides fantastic support, however, as the university basketball community is still developing in relation to intervarsity competition, basketball is still very much a secondary consideration for students wishing to study and play basketball in Australia.
Is there community support amongst students and others for large scale sporting events and are Universities capable of running them? Recent games at the Uni between the Uni's basketball team and UCLA then University of Washington a few weeks after that provide these answers.
When UCLA and Washington played University of Sydney how many were in the crowd?
Both games were sell outs, with over 1100 present at each game (730 seated in general admission, 400+ standing). Free Sydney Uni Basketball Club T-Shirts were distributed to all fans sitting in general admission, with additional shirts being available for purchase by fans with reduced cost standing tickets. Tickets were in high demand with many fans unfortunately missing out on the opportunity due to limited space and tickets selling out quickly online. The live stream of each game reached approximately 20k live viewers, with further highlights and mixtapes reaching hundreds of thousands of views on social media, and YouTube.
How much of the crowd would you say were current and former students at the school?
According to our tickets sales data, approximately 30% of all tickets sold were current University of Sydney students, with another 20% being purchased by alumni/staff.
Can you ever see a US College division 1 college like situation in Australia (Crowds, National competition, Coach salaries, Stadium size, Facilities, Shoe sponsorships, other sponsorships , TV even web streaming deals etc)?
I think there is amazing potential for Australia to be active in that space, however, we do have a long way to go. There is definitely an interest in the NCAA and college basketball and with the regular visits from top-tier college basketball programs that interest will only grow. Basketball is rising in popularity in Australia and the influx of talented Australian players both in the US college system and the NBA has created interest from US scouts and coaches to look at Australian talent. This is evident through the NBA’s launching of a global academy in Canberra and the success of the players in Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence program. I believe that universities in Australia have the ability to really compete at this level with the right framework in place, attracting some of the brightest prospects from Australia to stay in Australia, continuing their development whilst not losing out exposure to scouting and professional pathways.
Do you plan to have more elite, high major college teams come and play University of Sydney in coming years?
We would love to host more games in the future, both at the elite D1 level, but also with touring D2/3 and JuCo teams. Playing teams from these differing levels will help our program develop, allowing us to compete with teams from all over the US and develop relationships with programs for potential US trips in the future.
VIDEO: University of Sydney vs U of Washington. U of W not exactly one of the the huge names in America was sold out. In this highlights package you can see the crowd for yourself.
What about High School basketball?
Could 1,500 seat facilities, strength and conditioning centres, athletic scholarships, shoe and uniform sponsorships and even TV Coverage (or internet streams) become the norm one day for Aussie High School hoops? Is this crazy? Probably not, some schools in the Eastern States are getting there.
The BER travesty for our sport and wider community and future Government funding
A great example of the problems of schools and basketball programs, pathways and peak bodies not working together is the BER travesty.
Probably one of the greatest travesties and lost opportunities in the history of our sport is the $16.2 Billion investment made into the building education revolution (BER). A large part of this funding was allocated to building sports halls (what a stupid name - they were basketball courts) in 1000s of schools around Australia. The problem is these stadiums are mostly unworkable for high performance representative and district competitions, and most schools have hampered access for community groups, skills coaches and clubs. This resulted in 1000s of poorly constructed, heavily underutilised tax payer facilities, very little commercial return and little community benefit (despite the investment by taxpayers). In many cases these courts are not even proper sizes for basketball and flooring is poor. If these venues had been consolidated into bigger venues, accessible by the community for training and competitions it would have been the biggest change in the history of our sport in Australia. If schools would have been required to partner with peak sporting bodies and community groups to win their application, minimum standards placed on size of construction then we would have had 100s of large multi-court facilities, with lots of seating, generating revenue for the schools, ideal to support the growth of the sport in Australia. Attach a requirement to include a strength and conditioning facility, accessible by the public (for a fee) and now you truly have the dream. In addition you would probably many working partnerships between schools and our high performance pathways too. Time to move on, but lets not let this kind of wasted misguided, mis-allocated, inefficient use of tax payer funds happen again.
I feel that going forward that school facility grant applications should be granted on their ability to show partnerships with peak sporting body and community clubs. No more clubs begging schools to hire facilities for practices. Likewise corporate sponsorship for peak sporting bodies, community clubs should require partnership with educational institutions.
Let's look at the first steps though. The first step is for top private schools to truly value and understand what relationships with our nation's sporting pathways will bring.
The same principles, benefits, endeavours of this integration between sports and US academic institutions work can be applied in a smaller scale to Australian schools and their sporting programs. Schools developing an inherent understanding of what basketball success brings to their mission, enrollments, culture and student experience will lead to greater investment into sports programs attracting better coaches, building better facilities. Always on show, always looking to develop facilities, processes and cultures to attract elite youth athletes which flow into day to day life at the school, benefiting the whole student population.
A case study
Trinity College's STARplex is very unique in South Australia. It is utilised in a very open and accessible way with the community.............
Here is an extract of a note I sent to high level Trinity College staff member some years ago explaining what I felt the benefits would be of a tighter working relationship between Trinity College and Central Districts Basketball Club.
Increased exposure, leading to new enrolments – The opportunity for STARplex to host a Basketball Australia/SA affiliated club gives STARplex/Trinity the opportunity for exposure and events, they wouldn’t otherwise get. The exposure that the Lions give to Trinity College to 1000s of kids across South Australia is significant. Be it through the National Championships the Lions have hosted at STARplex, District games played at STARplex on a Friday night, ABL Games/WNBL/NBL games played at STARplex the exposure is significant.
Success of Trinity Basketball – A large number of Trinity students are exposed to top coaching through the Lions, but more importantly train and compete against the best talent in the state week in week out and this is a key component to their basketball development flowing back into the success of Trinity Basketball.
Providing a pathway for Trinity kids – Trinity students like Dan Carlin, Jordan Centenera, Andrew Bolton, Dave Humphries have been in elite programs and Centrals provides a significant number of Trinity Basketballers with a pathway to strive towards in club, state and national programs.
When I was at Central Districts Lions the symbiotic relationship between Trinity College (the largest school in the Southern Hemisphere) and Centrals really ramped up. Nick Hately (Head of Trinity) had just joined the school, our Club President Sean Carlin was also an important member of Trinity College’s staff and former NBL player Rupert Sapwell had just joined Trinity as the Director of Sports.
It was well known in the decades prior many top kids in the north, who went onto National teams, top college scholarships and professional ranks drove past Central Districts on their way to an inner city club. As Centrals strengthened its players, new players such as the Brent Hank (University at Albany freshman), Jasmine Simmons (Oregon State University 2018 commit), Demi Skinner (former CoE Scholarship holder) and many more began to play for the club and quite often these kids moved into the area for their basketball and, of course, schooling at Trinity. This resulted in quality enrollments and a stronger basketball program at both Centrals AND Trinity College.
From a financial point of view if Centrals gets a new recruit that is worth around $800 per year in revenue to the club. The club has little ability to generate revenue per player therefore we could only invest limited funds in building a program to attract elite talent. However, if Centrals and Trinity have a partnership, Centrals has a quality program, supported by this relationship then a new recruit, non-current Trinity Student that joins Centrals, likes the facilities, loves the culture of this community, gets to know fellow students at Trinity, gets to know Trinity staff who happen to be coaching and/or on the board at Centrals, wants to join their Centrals team mates on the Trinity Basketball program, and as a result enrols into Trinity then that enrolment is worth around $10,000 per year. It makes sense to me that the return on investment for building quality Centrals and Trinity basketball programs exists at a greater level for the school within the school in this situation. If Centrals is a poor product then Trinity basketball does not have the same level of success and there is less conversion to enrollments in my opinion.
For Head of Trinity, Nick Hately, the model and benefits it provides is simple and goes beyond just basketball for Trinity College, stating to us;
"Trinity is dedicated to partnering with families, external sporting bodies and the wider to community to sharing resources for mutual benefit. We believe school resources should be made readily available to the broader community and are committed to doing so.”
The linkage was even more apparent when Centrals wanted to recruit elite regional prospects. Often these athletes would start off with Centrals flying in for the weekend and heading home for school. Not workable for the athlete or Centrals in the longer term. Education is a a big consideration for families moving to Adelaide, albeit primarily for basketball. A letter from the club to the student, highlighting the informal and formal ways Trinity College and Centrals work together, from a basketball development perspective, and we were able to provide a comprehensive package of services for the High School aged student athlete wanting to move to a school in Adelaide for their basketball development. We would then have Rupert, a former NBL player, and Premier League winning coach, with a profile in the state's basketball community, and Director of Sport at Trinity, lead the tour for the perspective student.
During this time Centrals had its greatest growth and development phase in history in terms of player number growth, growth in players being selected for state programs and players making higher level national squads, CoE, division 1 and 2 college scholarships. I don’t take the credit for all of that. It was definitely a team effort, we had the Northern Region Sports Academy, a STARplex initiative, running skill development academies, Trinity College basketball who helped us recruit kids from the country and put in place some excellent resources to help us attract athletes to the region. The relationship was not hierarchical. It was one that Centrals were leasing the Trinity College owned STARplex. It was in Centrals interest to get kids in our club into the Trinity College and into the basketball programs there so we did that. It was in Trinity College’s interest for Centrals to provide an excellent program in higher level competitions and so they supported us. It wasn’t formal. It was 2 organisations working together for mutual success.
Even after I left, Centrals is continuing to produce some great talent on a consistent basis. This is also a great catchment area for our great Sudanese immigrant community in the area and country based athletes. The tradition continues with youth athletes from these communities joining CEntrals, then often transferring into Trinity as a result. These athletes no longer driving past the club, but moving to the region to study at Trinity and play for Centrals. People like Rupert Sapwell (Director of Sport at Trinity College, Central Districts Coach and parent), Sean Carlin (Trinity College staff member, Head of Junior Basketball at Trinity, Centrals President) , Kevin Fischer (Trinity College parent, community leader, Central Districts former President), Ricky Simpson (Head of Northern Region Sports Academy, Head of Courts at STARplex, Centrals Junior Coach, Centrals Premier League Coach) and many others should take a bulk of the credit for the value this integration piece provides STARplex, Trinity College and Central Districts Basketball, and subsequently our elite pathways to this day. I could not be more proud of this, my involvement and want to see it continue throughout other programs in Australia.
Last year Centrals was the number 1 boys club at our State Junior Championships. Trinity College is easily the most successful college (HS) basketball program in South Australia overall if you consider all their age groups. Infact I doubt a school has ever had a program as dominant in basketball as Trinity is at the moment across all age groups.
PAC and St Peters Intercol games bring in massive benefits for these schools. Everyone in basketball circles tends to know when these games are on and footage and updates are shared on social media by the 1000s in attendance. Games are sold out to the public normally and if these were televised via online web media viewership would be significant, sponsors and advertisers would be interested in that.
VIDEO : This video, by Uche Dibiamaka (2018 University of Texas Rio Grande Valley commit), shows his highlights from the 2015 Intercol where St Peters beat PAC. Probably the greatest spectacle, in terms of crowd support, in youth basketball, in South Australia.
Clearly both schools are anteing up with building their basketball programs now. For the past few years St Peters has had former Premier League player and well known local basketball identity Todd Matthews running their program. We saw Todd employ a range of district coaches and players to bolster their program and it worked with a whole lot of district players being attracted into the school and basketball over the ensuing years. Todd knows he has an open line to me as the U18 State coach to highlight player progress, extra work etc. St Peters quickly has become a strong school in school basketball in South Australia and in recent years has been consistently winning the Intercol events.
Given the success of St Peters College it is likely that it is a matter of time before PAC is going to want to find a way to compete and build a similar program. If PAC basketball makes such a commitment, and becomes successful, then more local, exclusive private schools with great facilities and resources will see the costs vs benefits of investing in and valuing elite basketball. Other schools will increasingly value high performance programs, seeing value to their students and therefore, of a successful basketball program, offering links to elite pathways for their students, and seek to better align with our sport's national, recognised high performance programs. This will reap significant benefits for those schools and their student body.
This blog article focuses largely on the possibilities, the opportunities of this integration and the problems it would overcome. How would this happen? In terms of building a better integration paradigm, what would success look like in our country? From a University perspective, certainly in the case of Sydney University it appears they are in a good position to develop a US Division 1 College like environment for athletes. They have the facilities, experience in elite athlete integration into their institution and existing scholarships. What would need to happen next is for the University to have a national competition to compete in. This competition would include other similarly resourced Universities, from a basketball perspective.
How can High Schools build better relationships with clubs, peak bodies that will help the school achieve their vision. Vice versa. We have done so much with limited resources here. The youth talent out of South Australia that is able to go to the Division 1 college level is really globally significant for our population base. Likewise I am sure across other parts of Australia. Imagine what we call ALL do together with more access to facilities and better allocation of resources for athlete development??
This is for another discussion, probably many discussions across many people but it is time to discuss it and the opportunities that can come of that are great.
From BOTH a High School and University perspective, here are some initiatives institutions may consider for quick wins:
Engaging with State High Performance Managers and working to manage athlete schedules, daily training environment, teaching points and gamestyles
Offering high performance athletes and coaches access to facilities at times they need them
Finding ways to offer high performance athletes strength and conditioning in school gyms
Offering athletic scholarships to high performance athletes
Specialised programs for high performance basketball athletes
Promoting athletes to the school community as the benchmarks educationally and athletically
Putting in programs to attract high performance basketball athlete's enrollments
I have more ideas on the practicalities of implementing these ideas and I am happy to assist and advise any clubs, secondary or tertiary institutions in making this happen.
Amendment to standard disclaimer: Thanks to all that contributed to this article. I have had a few proof readers, interviews and just everyone that have been involved my experiences in these areas that has helped my knowledge grow. There are some views and ideas put forward in this article and these represent Andrew Jantke's views unless otherwise stated, any other contributors should not be seen as endorsing any views or opinions in this article merely because of their contribution.