By Andrew Jantke | Behind the curtain to the amazing benefits for athletes and educational instituti

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;

  • holistic education,

  • culturally,

  • facilities development

  • 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.

Television coverage

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.

Educational support

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.

Athlete travel

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.

Facilities

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

  • Shooting courts

  • Show court

  • Film room

  • Recovery centre

  • Locker room

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.

Faculty support

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.

The rest

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:

Facilities

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.

Cultural

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