By Kelvin Taylor | Navigating the college recruiting minefield
Preface by Janx.....
Kelvin Taylor is one of the people that are in the business of Hoops for the right reason and goes about it in the right way. His objective is to help others and to support Australian basketball development, growth with good ethics, transparency and honesty. He is VERY good at it too.
He has been incredibly helpful in offering insights and advice to me since I started on this journey, along with the featured athletes on this site, and also to help me support all the athletes I work with. His networks have been outstanding and the people he has introduced me to have been excellent to work with too and in turn have offered more insights, advice and opened more doors for the guys I coach. Infact one of the men he introduced me to (who shall remain nameless) at a high major D1 program (one of the most famous in the business) was instrumental in having a coach recruit one of the featured athletes who recently committed to the D1 school of that coach.
All our featured athletes are introduced to Kelvin and I believe all have registered themselves on his database. A number of leads for them has been generated via this listing in some great programs and that is only the schools that have actually advised us they found the athletes on his database. There may well be some leads that came from the database we don’t know about. I know he has helped many kids in Australia get to Division 1 schools and I’m intrigued to hear more about any lessons along the way.
Kelvin is someone I trust because of his experience, insights and knowledge on college basketball. In recent years he has been organising tours for colleges to come to Australia to play Australian club teams. These services I feel are part of the next wave of opportunities. The chance for D1 schools to actually play against prospects could open up more opportunities. Featured athlete, Isaac White, playing against UCLA and University of Washington in Sydney for example gave him a great test to see if he could play in the Pac-12 (where he will play for Stanford from this season).
When we started our relationship I did some research on Kelvin and reference checking. The process was extremely positive. He, or “Showtime” as some refer to him as, has a great reputation. He has been in the business for about 15 years now and run almost 100 tours to the United States. During this journey he coached against schools like St Marys, Washington State, Indiana, Minnesota, San Diego State and others. He regularly emails or messages me from many schools in America and I would guess he has visited almost half of the division 1 schools in America. I avoid telling athletes which school they should go to, that is not my skillset but I do uncover quantifiable facts on coaches and programs. I do do a lot of research. Kelvin has been a great help in this space providing me with research and factual, quantifiable insights on more than a couple occasions.
I can’t wait to read Kelvin’s insights on this matter, which I hope will help all readers in selecting a great college program and fit.
Over to Kelvin.....
Pictured: Kelvin with one of his teams at "The Barn", University of Minnesota's home venue.
Thanks Janx, hoops is life for me – I am lucky enough work in the ‘basketball industry’, I love getting up going to work each day, something I don’t take for granted. I live by the rule nobody is bigger than the game, if there is something I can do to help a player/coach or anybody with something I’ll do what I can to help.
A little bit of background info on me, I’ve coached juniors in Melbourne for 20 years or so and taken a few groups to the USA on tours which and built a pretty solid network of coaches across the USA. In the early 2000’s I was watching an Under 18 Nationals and noticed a couple of college coaches. I went up and introduced myself to them (one who is now one of my best friends) and they wanted help getting access to aussie kids – and so I started Showtime Basketball.
I grew up in the 80’s/90’s basketball culture of Lakers v Celtics, I wasn’t much of a player, I relied on hard work and being smart to get by in any team I played on. I would have loved to just be able to play high octane offense and just out score the other team…. like the Lakers ‘Showtime’. We all know defense is no fun, who doesn’t want to play offense and have the ball in their hands 100% of the time right!!
A couple of years ago a coach in the US asked me if I could link them up with a coach in each state who could help him out. For South Australia it was an easy decision to contact Janx and see if he was interested in helping out – which of course he was happy to do. Janx is like me, a guy in it for the right reason and happy to help anybody if he can. So when Janx asked me to write a piece for www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com I was happy to help and share some of my knowledge and experience of dealing with US college coaches. In my blog piece below I have mentioned a few players as examples of different pathways taken, some of these players I have worked with, some I have not.
So what the best pathway for players to get to the highest level?
Plenty of people (players, coaches and parents) ask me and most expect me to say head to the US and play college ball --- as that is what I have helped players do for over a decade. What time has told me is there is no right answer, it is different for everyone.
The pathways in Australia are reasonably well-known, the US college pathway, while reasonably popular is still an unknown for many players and their families. The questions – is college for me? What level college? How much court time will I get? How do I know if I’ll get a scholarship? Are just some of the questions I am commonly asked. I don’t have all the answers, but hopefully some of the things I’ve learnt over the past 15 years will help you decipher ‘college recruiting’ if you decide that pathway is for you.
Some of the aspects to consider if you’re considering heading to a US college are –
Can I live away from my family? Life at college is like living at the CoE. Except, at the CoE your family is usually a couple of hours away if you need them, at college they are a DAY away.
Can you look after yourself? Colleges are well structured and take care of your meals, accommodation, etc for the most part. But at the end of the day your responsible for yourself – what you eat, managing your time, everyday tasks – washing dishes, buying clothes, etc. This is a big change for some people and something some can’t handle.
Do you like studying? If you don’t like going to class now, you’re probably not going to start enjoying it at college. I’m not saying you need to want to read a book every night, but if skip a couple of class and miss a few assignments college probably isn’t for you.
At college you’ll be a student-athlete – student comes first. If you’re not going to class you won’t get to play. You don’t need to love studying, but you need to be able to go to class and complete the necessary work.
Do you have the talent? In the USA they say that 3.5% of high school basketball players will move onto the college level. That’s not 3.5% of high school students, that’s high school basketball players. Last year there was around 70 Australians playing NCAA Division I basketball, spread out over 4 years it works out to around 15-20 players a year from Australia are good enough to play Division I basketball. That’s not a huge number, if you’re not making state teams, and doing well at junior nationals you're probably not good enough to play Division I. There are exceptions to the rule – i.e. Jacob Epperson who never made a state team but signed at a top 25 college. But don’t plan on being the exception – it’s rare, really rare.
Pictured: Jacob Epperson an Aussie born athlete that went the US High School path and onto play division 1 basketball. This is the exception rather than the standard for our elite players . In my (Janx) recent experience, ideally for Aussie born, elite division 1 prospects, pursuing Aussie pathways at High School ages will ensure BOTH your basketball development and exposure.
What are the levels of college?
Colleges can basically be broken into four levels, three that offer scholarships.
NCAA Division I – almost all well-known colleges are Division I colleges. Duke, Kentucky, St Marys…… there’s 350 or so of them. A basketball scholarship to a Division I college MUST be a full scholarship. You might need to pay for your flights to and from college and personal expenses but that’s generally it.
NCAA Division II and NAIA – this is still a very good level of basketball and many players have come back from D2 colleges and played in the NBL. Mark Worthington, David Barlow and Ben Magden all played D2. Division II doesn’t mean not as good as Division I, colleges are in Division II as they don’t offer as many sports as Division I colleges. Many college basketball experts say each year the top 20-40 Division II colleges are better (would beat) the bottom 20-40 Division I schools. This goes for NAIA colleges as well, it’s a similar level to Division II – just run by different administration.
Scholarships at Division II DO NOT need to be full scholarships. D2 colleges can offer partial scholarships, they can also combine athletic and academic scholarships. Even if you have good school marks - this cannot be done at D1. If you’re a D2 level player, it pays to have good grades at school, it makes you much more recruitable.
NCAA Division III – these colleges do not offer athletic scholarships for any sport including basketball. They can however offer academic scholarships.
Junior College – this is a two year college option similar to TAFE in Australia. The main junior college association is the NJCAA, many of these schools offer athletic scholarships. The level of play can be as good as low NCAA Division I at the top end and not as good as poor Division III on the other end. The main purpose for junior college basketball is for student-athletes who haven’t met the academic requirements of a 4 year college. Some players who have played junior college are – Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Dennis Rodman.
Which college is best for me?
This is the toughest question of all, everybody is different so you need to consider what is important to you. Colleges all offer different things and recruit differently based on their budget, prestige, number of staff, academic requirements, playing style and other factors. Schools like Duke and Kentucky pretty much have their pick of players, where as other schools often need to find a niche to help them be successful – i.e. St Mary’s are well known for recruiting Aussies.
Pictured: Kelvin does not like appearing in pics :( but here is the back of him at the University of Kansas.
First the Don’ts -
Facilities – don’t commit/sign with a college just because it has great facilities. If you don’t like the coach, don’t like what your studying and hate the weather those facilities mean nothing.
Location – don’t pick a school JUST because of where it is. Saying you’re going to school in southern California so you can go to the beach every day isn’t a reality. During the season expect to be in class 15 hours a week, practice/games for 20 hours a week, travel can be as much as 15 hours a week and study between 5 and 20 hours a week – add of this up and it can be a 70 hour week.
Assistant Coach – don’t sign with a college because you love the assistant coach. An assistant coach is usually a good extension of a head coach, but remember their key responsibility is recruiting. Their jobs is to make you love their school and get you to sign. An assistant coach doesn’t control your playing time – it’s the head coach. If you don’t have a good rapport with the head coach, a good relationship with an assistant coach probably won’t help you. Once you’re signed up and playing for the team quite often their responsibility is recruiting for the next year.
These following three considerations are all important, if you think a certain college offers what you want in all three of these, that college might be a good fit for you. Don’t judge a college on just one of these aspects – there a multiple things to consider.
What to consider when selecting a college
1. What playing experience do you want from the college experience
Aussies are used to playing more than practicing, high school players in the US are used to practicing four or five times a week for one or two games. Most Aussies are used to three or four practices for three or four games a week. With this said, it seems most Aussies that have college success prefer to put immediate playing time ahead of playing at a higher level.
With all the volume of development you can do through training in the College system, something you need to consider when picking a college is will you develop better as a player with more playing time at a lower level or less playing time at a higher level with potentially better facilities and better coaching. This can also correlate to would you prefer to play and lose or sit and win? There is no right decision, its what’s best for you
A few examples of players who took different college routes –
Anthony Drmic signed with Boise State and had a chance to play immediate. He was a focal point of their offensive for a large part of his career and won several All Mountain-West Conference Awards throughout his career. He helped Boise to 3x 20-win seasons and 2x NCAA Tournament berths while on the roster and returned to the NBL and took out the league’s Rookie of the Year award last year.
Nathan Sobey had just one year of major playing time at the NCAA Div I level, his career started at the junior college level where he had a solid career and earned All Region awards. He then moved to Wyoming for his junior year where he averaged just 3.5 ppg. In Sobey’s senior year he had his chance to showcase his game with over 30 mins a game helping the team to 18 wins. Since graduation Sobey has improved each year of his NBL career earning the Most Improved Award and All-NBL Second team honours this past year
Mitchell McCarron went to a Division II school in Metro State, not the glory of Division I, but good basketball none the less. Metro State is a top Division II program that offered Mitch a chance to play immediately. During his three years at Metro they went to two Final Fours, he won Div II Player of the Year and in a four game stretch in 2013-14 against Div I opponents averaged 28 pts @ 73% from the floor and 9 reb where the team went 3-1. His strong career at Metro lead to NBA draft work outs and a solid NBL rookie campaign.
Pictured: Mitch McCarron playing for metro state in Denver. A great example of playing Division 2 College basketball, succeeding, and going onto a promising professional career.
Dexter Kernich-Drew played his college career at Washington State in the prestigious Pac-12 Conference. Kernick-Drew struggled for playing time in his freshman year averaging just 2.3 ppg, his playing gradually increased over his career but he never averaged more than 7 ppg for a season. After college Kernich-Drew spent one year as a development player with the Perth Wildcats before signing a long term deal with the team this year and helping them take home the NBL Championship.
2. Why are you going to college?
Aussies go to college in the US for many reasons – to improve their game, get a good education that they don’t have to pay for or simply life experience. All of these are valid reasons to play college basketball in the USA if you are lucky enough to get a scholarship offer, but make sure you know what is your primary reason for going to college and select a college based on this.
For 99.9% of people who go to college, playing basketball will not be their full time job when they finish at college. With that said you need to think past basketball and work out how you can use a basketball scholarship to set you up for life after basketball.
A couple of success stories you probably don’t know about as their success is off the court, but was facilitated by playing college basketball –
Gabrielle Fage played at Arizona State where the team was very successful and reach the Elite 8 twice, since graduating she has played a season of SEABL while working in a successful management role with MainFreight.
Samuel Rowley was a two year team captain and major player for Albany during a very successful period for the school. Since graduating he has taken up a role with Deliotte in Washington DC where he is very successful. Check out this link about what Sam is now doing - http://www.albany.edu/admissions/sam-rowley.php
3. Rapport with head coach
For me this is the #1 criteria for any player looking to head to college in the States. If you don’t get a good vibe from the head coach it’s probably not a good fit. While you’re at college ---- on the other side of the globe --- the head coach is like one of your parents. The Head Coach controls how much time you need to spend at study hall, if and when you have a curfew and even what and when you eat in some cases. Your head coach also controls your happiness (to an extent), you’re there on a ‘basketball scholarship’ so basketball is a big part of your life while at college. The coach can make training hell and how much you play which can be huge factors on your happiness.
Typically Aussies will be popular with their teammates --- Aussies are a novelty for the most part --- so making friends should be too much of an issue. Obviously you’ll gel better with some teams than others, but the players don’t have control over what you do – the coach does. Think of it as the coach being your mum/dad, and they can make your life a nightmare and the team as your brothers/sisters. You’re there for hoops, if you’re not enjoying your hoops, you’re probably not enjoying your time at college.
These are the three factors I think are the key to picking the right college for you. If you know why you want to go to college – on and off the court, what is best for your game and find a head coach that suits you as a person you’ll love your college experience. There are loads of options out there, it’s a matter of finding the right fit for you. Don’t let the name of a program or a coach suck you in, fit the right fit for you.
What to look out for when being recruited.
There’s lots of good people coaching at colleges, but there’s also plenty of people who will do anything to get themselves to the next level – this is why you might hear assistant college basketball coaches being compared to sleazy used car salesmen!! Here’s some things I’ve learnt from dealing working with college coaches almost daily for over a decade.
1. Signing Early
As you might know there are only two official periods you can sign (a letter of intent – NLI – link the NLI text to www.nationalletter.org/) with a college. The early period (Nov) and late period (April/May). If a college is really interested in you they will be eager to have you sign in the early period. Depending on what position you play this can be good or bad – as a post player, my rule is if you’re not 100% satisfied with a college offer don’t sign. Bigs always get offers, wait until it’s the right offer for you. Guards – there are lots of guards, if you don’t take an offer to sign early it might not be there later. If you like the offer and you don’t think there is anything better – take it.
2. What does the all the communication from colleges mean
Several college coaches I have spoken to have said players they recruit are placed in one of three categories – A List, B List or C List. Depending on the college and their level this list could be as few as 30 players or as big as 200 players.
List A is their top line players, players they will offer a scholarship to straight away. List B is exactly that – plan B players, if somebody on their A list says no to a scholarship offer they will move to ‘Plan B’. Plan C is players they are interested in if nothing goes to plan – they keep recruiting these players incase they miss out on all the A and B list players they are recruiting. So how do you know which list you are on at each college? If you’re on their A list they’ll generally tell you as they’ll offer you a scholarship. As for B and C list – some college coaches will give you an idea of where you’re at, but the lists are constantly changing and besides, it might not be in their best interests to tell you you’re on their B or C list as you might go elsewhere.
Here’s a few ways to help you figure out where you sit –
Look at a colleges coaching staff – i.e some Division I colleges can have 10 plus staff, others will have just four total staff. If you’re getting four emails a month from a college with 10+ staff and one email a month from a college with four staff you could be on both colleges ‘B List’. The college with 10+ staff obviously have more resources to contact you more often.
Some D2, NAIA and Junior Colleges only have a full time head coach and a part time assistant coach. In these cases the head coach has to take care of all administration tasks, travel bookings, academics, practice, scouting and recruiting. You could be an A List recruit but they might only have time to call each of their A List recruits once every two weeks.
Don’t just judge a college by how often the contact you, there are plenty of factors that affect how often you are contacted.
Head Coaches – if a College Head Coach calls you it’s usually a big deal. If they do call you, you’re an A List or B List recruit. Head Coaches don’t have time to call C List recruits. At a Division I level Head Coaches have so many media, fan, fundraising and administration commitments they often only call and email recruits they are asked to by their assistant coaches.
Getting college exposure
The hardest thing for aussie kids is to be seen ‘play live’ by a college coach. There are a couple of ways to be seen by college coaches –
Take a tour to the USA - this can be costly (if you’re interested in running or joining a tour let me know – my 9 to 5 job is coordinating basketball tours between Australia and the USA and vice versa);
Attend a workout in front of college coaches here in Australia – I’ve arranged a few of these and had schools with plenty of success but they can be few and far between and not always publicized.
An option not to discount is to play junior college basketball. This has been a successful route for many young Australians, its also a little known fact that if you are deemed a qualifier by the NCAA, you can transfer to a Division I or II college after just one year at a junior college, giving you three years at an NCAA college. For players who have Division I talent but aren’t getting scholarship offers this can be a great option as you’ll be playing high level basketball right under the nose of NCAA college coaches.
(This part added by Janx) I would add that World Championships and other international events are heavily attended and looked at by lots of college coaches. Nationals championships in today’s era are also looked at closely by schools that heavily recruit Aussies. They have an indepth understanding of the talent at the championships, quite a few observers there, and this gives them some good comparisons to look at between players. Quite a number of mid and high majors will recruit guys from full game tape in my experience, more than in the past as long as the level is high. Guys playing SEABL, Premier League or other state leagues against Div 1 graduates at a young age will get looked at too. Of our 4 featured athletes at www.highperformancehoopsnetwork.com Isaac White (Stanford commit 2017), Lat Mayen (TCU Commit 2017) are yet to play a game on US soil. Brent Hank (Albany commit 2017) did but ended up signing to Albany who were recruiting him hard well before he played over there. Jacob Rigoni (Quinnipiac commit 2017) played against Junior Colleges in the States as a 15 year old, well before he even imagined going to play Div 1 College basketball and definitely received no recruiting exposure through this. It takes a lot of work and you need to be dominating over here to get recruited without playing over there but in my experience we can get it done. If you can afford it, have the opportunity, and the time window, then going over to the States to play AAU basketball or similar does not do any harm, that is forsure.
Pictured: Featured athletes, Isaac White and Jacob Rigoni, who had a busy time playing in our Australian National programs, yr 12 studies, the South Australian state team, the Sturt Sabres Premier League team could not squeeze in a trip to get exposure in the United States. They both did a couple of trips over there for official visits and some of these included workouts. They committed to Division 1 schools without being recruited by playing on US soil.
The road to a college basketball scholarship can be a mine field. College basketball isn’t for everyone, for those that it does suit it can be a very rewarding pathway – on and off the court. In the past 15 years I have seen plenty of success stories and plenty of players who have come home with negative experiences. Hopefully some of my insights that I have learnt from experiences with coaches from across the USA assist you on this pathway. I am one of the lucky people who get to make a living off this great game, I am always happy to help a young player take their game to the next level – I owe it to the game which has given me so much. If you’re looking to play college basketball in the USA I operate a free database that is accessed by some 200 college coaches across the USA. To sign up simply head our webpage and enter your details in our system.
Thanks again Janx for this opportunity to share some of my knowledge with your blog and hopefully it leads to less aussie kids leaving college programs in the USA due to bad situations.
Pictured: The basketball film room at Louisville. Another one from Kelvin's collection on one of his visits. Still no sign of Kelvin though.