By Marcus Shockley
When watching the documentary Gunnin’ for That No. 1 Spot, directed by Adam Yauch (forever known to me as MCA of the Beastie Boys), one statement from the movie made me cringe and has stuck with me ever since. It wasn’t because I haven’t heard similar statements before, but because it so perfectly encapsulates the myth behind college basketball recruiting.
As the players are walking out on the court for the first time at the Elite 24, the emcee announces “these players will all be millionaires in a few years”. Make no mistake about it; in high profile college basketball recruiting, these players are in demand and many of the stories people think happen are true, such as the current “Player X” story on ESPN from our man Jason Jordan. This is not to say Jason’s story isn’t true. The type of things listed in his article do happen, just like the way that some big time colleges use the “unofficial visit” as a way to funnel money to a recruit. But that’s only a few cases, and the reality for the vast majority of high school basketball players is much different.
I know there are some great articles available from people who I know and recommend like Tim Ryerson of Student Athlete Word like College Recruiting Myths which break down many of the misconceptions of how high school players get noticed and recruited by colleges, and our pal Al Woods of Woods Recruiting has many articles on the subject as well. So I’m not going to delve into those aspects. What I’m going to cover are some of the myths about high school basketball players and the difference between reality and people’s perception.
1. Not all D1 athletes are going to the NBA.
There are so many basketball players who want to go to a D1 school, and it makes sense on some levels; pride in being able to say you were a D1 athlete, the possibility of more exposure for some programs, and the ability to network with former players/coaches. Players also want to show they can play against D1 talent, because D1 talent is overall closer to pro talent.
But the reality is that almost none of the Division 1 basketball players playing today have a future playing in the NBA, and very few even have a future playing overseas. So even if you land a D1 scholarship, there’s very little chance it will turn you into a lottery pick. The types of players who go from unknown to NBA picks include Jimmer Fredette, Steph Curry and Kemba Walker. In other words, players who started for schools that made the NCAA tournament, were considered possibly the best player in the nation, and had incredible performances in front of national television audiences during the NCAA tournament.
And the kids from the movie? They did all make the NBA, but two weren’t drafted until the second round, hardly equal to the brash guarantee made about their games.
Many players who could start for Division 2 programs will go to a D1 school and rarely even see the floor, because they think that they have to be D1 in order to play pro ball. John Thompson, legendary coach of the Georgetown Hoyas, used to keep a deflated basketball on his desk as a reminder that it was worthless without ‘9 pounds of air’…”If you live your whole life based on nine or 10 pounds of air in the ball and your life has no other importance or significance than that, excuse me, you’re a damn fool,” he says, constantly reminding players that an education is more reliable than that 9 pounds of air.
Even all of the players on UNC, Kentucky, Syracuse and Duke don’t have futures as pro players. This is not to say you shouldn’t have dreams, and yes, sometimes players do make the pros from lesser known schools. But parents and players think that D1=NBA, means millions of dollars, and they completely ignore some of their best options.
2. Not all college recruiting is sordid.
Yes, there is truth to some of the rumors and stereotypes of big time athletics. Not all players take money, but there are all of the things people hear about: runners, handlers, cash payments, “perks”, jobs for parents, jobs for handlers, and so on.
But that’s not the norm – that’s only a situation that has to be navigated for the top athletes, the ones who can help a college team compete for a national title and probably will be in the NBA before long. For the vast majority of players, college recruiting is about trying to figure out where they can get a scholarship, where they will see the most playing time, where they will feel comfortable and what type of degree they can get while in school.
For most colleges, they don’t have million dollar budgets and the coaches are certainly not flying around the country in private jets. For many college coaches, they are desperately looking for athletes who can help them win, and who can actually get into, and stay in, school. A lot of players and parents have a complete misconception about the college recruiting process – they think if only their child were to get seen by the right college, they’d get offered right away. The reality is that most players have to work like crazy to get even a single offer from any school. That is a far cry from the glamour of the top athletes and top programs.
3. You cannot “talk” or “promote” a player into a scholarship.
I love grassroots basketball. I love driving way out into the middle of nowhere, finding my way to a gym in the dark, walking in and suddenly seeing a 6’8″ kid no one has ever heard of who can really play. But there are parents – and media – who constantly promote players beyond their abilities.
I don’t scout players in the sixth grade. No serious scout would. Sure, you can keep an eye on him if he looks like he has skill, but beyond that it’s pointless.
I’m not saying parents shouldn’t communicate how their child is doing, but the reality is that the only things that will get a player into college on an athletic scholarship is his ability and his grades, and he has to be able to play against other big time players. Nothing else. So when you tell everyone who will listen that Big State U and Giant University are all recruiting your kid, honestly, it’s obvious when that’s a line being tossed around in hopes of generating false interest.
And I love highlight films and mixtapes, after all, I’m a huge basketball fan. But a mixtape is not a scouting video, because every mixtape makes the players look like NBA all-stars. You also have to remember that any highlight video has two components: the player being featured and the competition of the event. There have been many times I’ve seen player video and the kid looks like a superstar, shooting from outside, passing, dunking, dominating. Often, seeing the player in person is a very different story.