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How to Get Recruited for College Basketball

Men's basketball player from IMG

Playing college basketball is the dream for thousands of student-athletes across the country. But many families are often unsure of how to go about getting recruited by coaches. To be successful, recruits need to research their best college fit and actively market themselves to these coaches by creating an online profile and highlight video that showcases their athletic ability and leadership qualities. This section will answer the most common questions families have on how to get recruited for college basketball.

How does college basketball recruiting work? 

Basketball recruits who are successful in their recruiting journey do the leg work: they build a list of realistic schools, create an online profile and highlight film, contact college coaches and compete in front of coaches at tournaments and camps. From a coach’s perspective, here’s a quick overview of how they find student-athletes:

How to get recruited to play men’s college basketball

Recruiting isn’t a linear, clear-cut process. You could be nearing the end of your conversations with one coach, while simultaneously just beginning with another. But knowing what steps you can take to create a communication strategy and market yourself will help you secure a scholarship offer.

  1. Research and build a target list. Student-athletes should visit college rosters and look at the players in their position (are they seniors who are graduating?), athletic stats (how do they measure up?) and backgrounds (does the coach recruit from a particular region or tournament?).
  2. Compete at the highest level possible: To accurately assess a recruit’s ability to compete in college, coaches want to see them play against high-ranked athletes.
  3. Compete in the summer during live periods: Scheduling conflicts make it difficult for college coaches to watch recruits play in-person during the regular season. So, they turn to live periods. These stretches in the offseason allow college basketball scouts and coaches to hit the road and scout several players at once. Attend elite or exposure camps as well.
  4. Excel academically. The NCAA Eligibility Center determines the academic eligibility and amateur status for all NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 athletes. Understand the requirements to stay on track.
  5. Create a highlight film. The best way to secure an in-depth and in-person evaluation is by sending coaches a highlight video and a full game film. It’s a quick way to show a snapshot of the recruit’s skill set.
  6. Be proactive. Start by sending an introductory email that includes your online profile, highlight video, academic information, outstanding athletic achievements and personal interest in the program. Then follow up with a phone call. 
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What do college basketball scouts look for in recruits?

College coaches consider a few factors when determining an athlete’s ability. 

Of course, what coaches look for also depends on their program’s specific needs. Connecting with a college coach is the best way to understand what kind of recruit they need. Another quick way is to visit the team’s website and analyze their roster.

What percentage of high school basketball players play in college?

There are 551,373 high school men’s basketball players. Of that number, 18,540 —or 3.4 percent—go on to compete in the NCAA and less than one percent move on to the NAIA. Just less than one percent compete in NCAA Division 1 where there are 353 teams; one percent compete at the NCAA Division 2 level, which has 313 programs; and 1.4 percent compete at NCAA Division 3 with 109 teams. There are 430 JUCO programs rostering 6,352 basketball players. 

How important is club basketball in the college basketball recruiting process? 

AAU, which stands for the Amateur Athletic Union, can be a valuable tool in gaining exposure to college coaches. It allows recruits to compete against top tier athletes and offers coaches an extended look into their abilities. Elite Division 1 basketball players are often recognized in middle school through their AAU experience. But even though AAU provides several competitive opportunities, it isn’t a requirement to obtain a college basketball scholarship. Several prospects have foregone the AAU circuit and moved on to successful college and professional careers.

How to join a AAU basketball team. How does AAU basketball work? 

AAU is a youth sports organization and stands for the Amateur Athletic Union. Athletes form independent teams and compete in AAU tournaments against other teams. Teams are assigned based on geography. To find out which district you belong to and which team is best for you, you can visit the AAU website.

Many athletes value AAU as it provides an opportunity to compete against top-level talent that you typically wouldn’t find by solely playing locally. There are various levels of competition within AAU and as players develop and get better, they’ll switch to a higher competitive team. As a result, many AAU tournaments, especially NCAA-certified tournaments, often attract scouts, giving athletes a chance to play in front of college coaches. However, participating in these events can be costly. The AAU membership fee is $14 per year, but families can end up paying $400 to $4,000 dollars per year depending on how many tournaments they travel to. Many programs, however, offer financial assistance to help cut the high price tag associated with AAU.

Do college coaches recruit at AAU or high school games? The answer is, both. But joining an AAU program and competing during the off-season gives recruits the advantage to be seen by college scouts year round. It can be difficult for college coaches to attend many high school games during the regular season because of their competing schedules. AAU tournaments provide college coaches the opportunity to evaluate many recruits at one time. 

To get a membership or start a club, you can visit AAU’s website.

What to know about college basketball walk ons and how to walk onto a college basketball team

The first thing you should know about becoming a college basketball walk-on is that it is rare. Basketball rosters are not that big—there’s an average of 17 players per team across the divisions. Coaches aren’t going to give up spots to walk-ons if they don’t have to. Some student-athletes, though, are recruited as a preferred walk-on. These athletes go through the recruiting process and are offered a roster spot, but they don’t receive any athletic aid as the coach doesn’t have any scholarship opportunities available. 

Student-athletes have a better chance of walking on to a college team as a preferred walk-on compared to going to a tryout and making the team. Preferred walk-ons take all the necessary steps in the recruiting process to capture a coach’s attention: they proactively contact coaches and send their online resume; they attend camps and tournaments to gain exposure; they reach out to schools that are the right academic and athletic fit for them; and they take unofficial visits to the college.

Learn more about becoming a walk-on versus getting a scholarship offer

What is a preferred walk on in college basketball? 

After college coaches have handed out all of their scholarship opportunities, they may still continue to recruit student-athletes. In this scenario, a student-athlete is guaranteed a roster spot without receiving any athletic aid. These are known as preferred walk-ons. The recruit still goes through the recruiting process and joins the team—the coach just doesn’t have an athletic scholarship available for them.

Being a preferred walk-on means something different depending on the division and program, though. In NCAA Division 1, walk-ons typically don’t see much playing time and are less likely to receive an athletic scholarship in subsequent years. At the NCAA Division 2 and JUCO levels, however, some walk-ons earn playing time and a scholarship going into their second season. It is best to have clear communication with the college coach to understand playing and scholarship opportunities.

Do college basketball teams have tryouts? 

While NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 programs are allowed to conduct basketball tryouts, Division 3 cannot do so. Tryouts are limited to prospective student-athletes who are seniors in high school, junior college transfers or four-year transfers who have completed their basketball season. Tryout participants also must be on an official or unofficial visit to the campus. 

Typically college coaches only recruit one to two players as walk-ons. In Division 1, walk-on athletes don’t receive athletic aid and usually don’t get any playing time. Division 2 and JUCO programs more commonly give walk-ons a chance at competing for a roster spot and because these divisions offer partial scholarships, there’s also a chance to earn athletic aid after the first year.

How to prepare for basketball tryouts and what coaches look for in basketball tryouts 

When making roster decisions, college coaches consider a recruit’s physical characteristics, like height and body frame, athleticism, ability to execute the fundamentals and basketball IQ, which showcases the athlete’s ability to interpret what is happening at game speed, as well as their ability to make the right decision based on instinct and experience. These players can anticipate what will happen next, making their game more automatic. 

Securing a roster spot at a tryout is extremely rare. Student-athletes will improve their chances of walking on to a college team by establishing a relationship with the college coach ahead of time. Send them an introductory email with highlight film, game film, academic information, and contact information.

Attend basketball recruiting camps to get noticed by college coaches 

Here are a few factors to consider when choosing the right camp: 

If you want to get recruited at a college basketball camp, remember that most coaches attend events only to see players with whom they’ve already made some kind of connection.

Find the best basketball camps here.

What does redshirt mean in college basketball?

The term “redshirt” is used to describe a student-athlete who does not participate in outside competition for an academic year. They’re allowed to practice and train with the team, but they don’t see any playing time. By doing this, they gain an additional year of eligibility, so technically they play four seasons in five years. Some coaches offer redshirt scholarships to freshmen who don’t meet the academic eligibility requirements coming out of high school, or as a chance to physically grow and prepare to compete as a collegiate athlete. In some cases, student-athletes redshirt for a year as they recover from an injury.

Learn how to make a college recruiting video for basketball

Creating a basketball highlight video is essential to garnering coach interest. Follow these straight-forward tips to put together a video that truly stands out: 

  1. Choose games against your best competition, such as varsity level, high-level AAU games or any nationwide tournaments.
  2. Focus the camera from mid-court while making sure the student-athlete is easily recognizable.
  3. Use a tripod to avoid a shaky camera.
  4. Don’t zoom in and out.
  5. Make sure the person filming the match isn’t cheering. If there is excessive and distracting background noise, mute the video completely. Don’t add music to the video either.
  6. Put a title card at the front of your basketball highlight video that includes your name and graduation year, such as “John Doe Basketball Recruiting Video Class of 2021.”
  7. Stack your best clips first. Typically you’ll start your video by highlighting your shooting ability.
  8. Focus on three or four strengths and organize your clips to highlight them. For example, if you’re an excellent three-point shooter, highlighting six straight threes is much more effective than showcasing one three-pointer, a pass, then a free throw, and then maybe another three, etc. 
  9. Know what coaches are looking for in your position. In short, post players should showcase their shooting ability, quickness, ability to finish at the rim, rebounding, shot blocking, footwork and overall basketball awareness. Perimeter players should focus on scoring ability, quickness, ability to penetrate and finish at the rim, athleticism, basketball awareness and court vision. 
  10. Cap your video with your best 20 to 30 clips and keep it under four minutes.
  11. Send college coaches your highlight video, as well as one unedited full game video. If they’re interested in a recruit after watching their highlight film, they will want to evaluate the full game next. 

See the full list of tips for creating a basketball highlight video.

Research schools and create your target list 

The very first step in the recruiting journey is often the one most overlooked—research. Here are the most important factors to keep in mind:

As families start to find programs they’re interested in, we recommend sorting them into three categories: target schools, dream schools and safety schools. Most of the schools on a student-athlete’s list should fall into the target category.

Get a head start on your list by viewing NCSA’s list of Best Colleges for Student-Athletes.

Contact coaches on your target list

Once a recruit has done the research and built a realistic target list of colleges, they’re ready to contact coaches. Remember—never wait for a coach to reach out. Be proactive to get on their radar. Here are a few steps to take:   

  1. Send an introductory email: An introductory email serves two purposes—to get an initial evaluation and establish a relationship with the coach. Make sure this email includes highlight film, academic information, contact information and key stats. Student-athletes should also personalize their email and explain their interest in that specific program. Never copy and paste—it’s almost guaranteed to get skipped over.
  2. Tailor the subject line: Avoid generic subject lines, such as “Top basketball recruit,” and tailor the subject line to the school instead. For example, a recruit might want to include their GPA and test score in the subject line for high academic colleges, while highlighting key stats or awards to Division 1 schools.
  3. Call coaches. Basketball coaches are allowed to talk to athletes on the phone when the recruits are the ones initiating contact. In other words, if a recruit calls an NCAA Division 1 coach, the coach is allowed to talk to them. Typically, they’ll want to email them letting them know what time they plan on calling so the coach can be prepared
  4. Follow up. Whenever there is a noteworthy update to share, like a new ACT or SAT score or athletic achievement, email the college coach again to touch base. Because if they missed the first email (and coaches tend to be pretty busy), following up can help keep you top of mind.

See the full list of tips on contacting coaches.

How your high school coach can help you in your recruiting process

High school or club coaches are there to support student-athletes along their recruiting journey—and help them connect with college coaches. Here are a few ways: