Less than one percent of high school athletes will go on to play NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball—but we already knew the competition was tough. Even though the odds of landing a scholarship are slim, it isn’t impossible. There are several competitive opportunities, from NCAA Division 1 to JUCO programs, where athletic scholarships are available. Division 1 college coaches offer headcount scholarships, meaning each player gets a full ride. NCAA Division 2, NAIA and JUCO programs, on the other hand, award equivalency scholarships. Coaches at these levels have a pool of athletic aid and they can distribute it to as many athletes as they want, so student-athletes could get partial scholarships. And while Division 3 college coaches can’t offer athletic scholarships, they still provide appealing financial packages that can cover a bulk of college costs.
|Division Level||Number of Teams||Total Athletes||Average Team Size||Scholarships Limit Per Team||Scholarship Limit Type|
|Other 4 year||92||1,394||15||–||N/A|
|Other 2 year||145||1,988||14||–||N/A|
When it comes to basketball scholarships, it’s important to understand the difference between a headcount scholarship and an equivalency scholarship. In NCAA Division 1, student-athletes receive headcount scholarships, which are full rides. In other words, coaches award exactly 13 full ride scholarships to 13 athletes, and they can’t distribute that money any other way. At the Division 2, NAIA and JUCO levels, college coaches offer equivalency scholarships. Coaches are given a pool of scholarship funds and they can distribute it to as many athletes as they want. Therefore, depending on the program, some athletes will receive partial scholarships at these levels.
Every coach has a specific set of criteria they look for when recruiting student-athletes. Here are the most important aspects you should keep in mind as you search for scholarships:
In short: It isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible either. From NCAA Division 1 to JUCO, there are 32,890 men’s basketball athletes across 2,009 programs. The odds of a high school basketball player making a Division 1 basketball roster is 105:1, and the odds of a high school basketball player making any college roster is 18:1.
Division 1 basketball is a headcount sport—so coaches have exactly 13 full-ride scholarships that they can award to 13 players. Division 2 is an equivalency sport, so coaches can award full scholarships or divide their funds and offer partial scholarships across athletes. If we break it down to these two NCAA divisions, it comes out to 10,773 athletes competing for 7,719 scholarships. From an NAIA perspective, we’re talking 4,616 athletes competing for 1,845 basketball scholarships. JUCO offers the most opportunity as these programs can award a maximum of 15 scholarships per team and the average team size is 15 players.
Yes, but it is very unlikely. Basketball players on NCAA Division 1 teams who aren’t on a scholarship are called walk-ons. Some Division 1 schools hold tryouts where they bring on one to two walk-ons. But these players typically never see any actual playing time. Plus, recruits could be competing against an athlete who already has an established relationship with the college coach—some coaches will recruit walk-ons for their team, known as a “preferred walk-on.”
NCAA Division 2, NAIA programs and JUCO colleges are more willing to allow walk-ons to compete for roster spots—and even earn a scholarship. For example, a student-athlete could walk on to a Division 2 program their freshman year and then earn a scholarship the next year and year after as these coaches award partial scholarships and renew them on a yearly basis.
NCAA Division 1 scholarships are hard to come by. Less than one percent of high school athletes will compete at this level. Each Division 1 men’s basketball program can award 13 full athletic scholarships. These scholarships, called headcount scholarships, cover all college costs, including tuition, housing, books, etc. After the 13 scholarships have been handed out, additional athletes can walk on to the team, but aren’t eligible for athletic aid.
The first thing you need to know about NCAA Division 1 scholarships is that coaches recruit early. And we mean early—in some cases middle school. So, if a student-athlete is looking to land a Division 1 scholarship, they need to be on a coach’s radar before their junior year. Then, obviously, they need to be good. These are the best collegiate basketball players across the country and coaches are extremely selective when offering athletic scholarships. Elite Division 1 athletes rank nationally, such as making the ESPN Top 150 list. Less than one percent of high school athletes go on to play Division 1 basketball.
Division 1 coaches typically find top recruits through AAU club teams as they roster top talent and compete nationally. But AAU ball is by no means the required path to competing in college outside of Division 1. Playing in tournaments over the summer is an important way to getting coach exposure. Another option is to attend an elite camp hosted by the college. In this case, families want to make sure they’re picking camps where the student-athlete is a good fit athletically and academically to maximize their chances of being evaluated. Remember that academics do matter to college coaches. The higher a recruit’s GPA and test scores, the more doors that will open for them.
Most importantly, student-athletes need to be proactive. They should create a highlight film, obtain game film and create an online profile showcasing their stats and academic information. Then—and we can’t reiterate this enough—they need to contact college coaches. Send them an introductory email, follow up when it’s relevant and let coaches know when they’ll be calling. Basketball is unique in that student-athletes and coaches can talk via phone when the recruit initiates the contact. So, coaches aren’t allowed to call recruits, but if the student-athlete puts the work in and reaches out to them by phone, coaches can talk to them. If student-athletes aren’t hearing back, they might be reaching out to programs that aren’t an athletic fit. This is when families can lean on their high school or club coach to help them build a list of realistic target schools.
NCAA Division 2 coaches are allowed to award a maximum of 10 men’s basketball scholarships per team. Unlike NCAA Division 1, these are equivalency scholarships: college coaches receive a pool of athletic aid and they decide how many athletes receive athletic scholarships. Therefore, some players will be offered partial scholarships instead of full rides.
It’s true that NCAA Division 3 schools can’t offer athletic scholarships. However, they do leverage other types of aid the recruit might qualify for, such as academic scholarships, merit-based aid and grants, to create a competitive scholarship package. Division 3 is mostly made up of small private schools, so they tend to have these kinds of funds readily available. In fact, 82 percent of all Division 3 athletes receive some form of aid. Student-athletes with high test scores and a strong GPA will benefit the most from Division 3 scholarships.
There are currently two basketball divisions within NAIA and they each award their own maximum number of scholarships. NAIA Division 1 offers 11 scholarships per team, while NAIA Division 2 offers six per team. However, the NAIA is set to combine these two divisions beginning with the 2020-21 school year, and at this time, each team can award up to eight scholarships. Furthermore, the NAIA will continue using the equivalency model where coaches receive athletic funds and decide how to distribute scholarships among athletes. Typically, to make the most of their recruiting efforts, coaches award multiple athletes on their team with partial scholarships. That does mean, however, that some student-athletes need to supplement with other types of aid, such as academic scholarships and need-based aid.
Junior college is not as cut and dry when it comes to men’s basketball scholarships. First, it depends on the division. There are three divisions within the NJCAA, and only Division 1 and 2 can offer athletic scholarships to basketball players. Even more, Division 1 is the only division that can offer a full ride. Division 2 is allowed to cover tuition, fees and books, but they can’t pay for housing. In addition to an athletic scholarship, both divisions will pay for an athlete’s transportation costs to and from the college by direct route once per year.
Every potential NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 college-athlete is required to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center and submit their transcripts and SAT/ACT test scores and answer questions pertaining to their amateur status. In order to secure a roster spot and athletic scholarship, student-athletes must meet the academic requirements and be cleared by the Eligibility Center.
While the requirements differ slightly between Division 1 and Division 2, the overall method for determining eligibility is the same: student-athletes must pass 16 core courses throughout high school, maintain a minimum GPA in these core courses and pass the NCAA Sliding Scale. Learn more about the specific Eligibility Center requirements to better understand the GPA and test scores you need to qualify.
The key to securing a basketball scholarship is finding college programs that are the best athletic fit. Think about it this way—coaches are going to prioritize scholarships to their strongest players, so student-athletes need to find programs where they can make an impact right away. If a recruit’s athletic ability doesn’t quite match up, the coach is less inclined to offer a scholarship opportunity.
To help you in your search, we’ve compiled a list of the best colleges for basketball scholarships across all the division levels. Recruits interested in these programs should visit the team’s roster to determine if they’re an athletic fit and learn more about the coach’s recruiting method, such as which areas they recruit in. Here’s a look into the best colleges within each level:
In NCAA Division 1 basketball, coaches can offer a maximum of 13 scholarships per team. These are called headcount scholarships, also known as full-ride scholarships. The average NCAA Division 1 team rosters 16 athletes, so there might be three players on the team who walked on and don’t qualify for athletic aid.
At the Division 2, NAIA and JUCO levels, college coaches award equivalency scholarships. This means they can distribute their allocated athletic aid to as many players as they wish. Therefore, you’ll often find student-athletes on partial scholarships, especially at the D2 and NAIA levels. Even though JUCO programs offer equivalency scholarships, they receive a maximum 15 per team, which usually means athletes receive close to full-ride scholarships here.
However, not all college basketball programs are fully funded. For example, a Division 2 coach is allowed to offer a maximum of 10 scholarships per team, but their budget may only allow for seven. So the best way to fully understand your financial aid package opportunities is to connect directly with a college coach at a program you’re interested in—and the same goes for Division 3. Even though D3 coaches can’t award athletic scholarships, they can still work with the admissions department to create appealing aid packages for student-athletes.