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A Guide to College Basketball Scholarships for High School Students

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.        

NCAA basketball scholarships by division level

Division Level Number of Teams Total Athletes Average Team Size Scholarships Limit Per Team Scholarship Limit Type
NCAA D1 353 5,522 16 13 Headcount
NCAA D2 313 5,251 17 10 Equivalency
NCAA D3 446 7,767 18 - N/A
NAIA D1 93 1,864 20 11 Equivalency
NAIA D2 137 2,752 21 6 Equivalency
Other 4 year 92 1,394 15 - N/A
JUCO 430 6,352 15 15 Equivalency
Other 2 year 145 1,988 14 - N/A
Totals 2,009 32,890 17    

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. 

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How to get a basketball scholarship 

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:

  1. 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 recruits from across the country. That’s why AAU is so popular among top-tier programs—it provides recruits with a chance to play at the national level. However, this level of AAU is the most expensive as recruits are often required to travel to several tournaments. While club basketball can help, it isn’t a necessary requirement to securing a scholarship. Varsity high school teams can also offer great competitive opportunities.
  2. 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 coaches to hit the road and scout several players at once. Bottom line: playing in front of college coaches in the summer is essential.
  3. Attend elite camps: In addition to tournaments, college coaches also evaluate recruits at elite camps. These events, which can be invitation only, attract top talent and college coaches from across the country. There’s one caveat—camps at a Division 1 school tend to invite Division 2 or 3 coaches to attend, as well, but more likely than not, no other Division 1 programs will be in attendance. Make sure to attend camps at schools that are at the top of the target list.
  4. Excel academically. Grades and test scores matter to college coaches. First, for divisions that offer equivalency scholarships, academic aid can ease the burden on the coach to provide athletic aid. More importantly, it speaks to a recruit’s character. Coaches know that students who work hard in the classroom are responsible, independent and will have a smoother college transition than those who don’t. 
  5. Create a highlight film. The best way to secure an in-depth and in-person evaluation is by sending coaches highlight and game film. Highlight film acts as a first impression—it’s a quick way to show coaches a snapshot of the recruit’s skill set.
  6. Be proactive. Despite what families may think, coaches don’t simply discover recruits. Unless they’re one of the very best players in the country, recruits need to do some work to get noticed by college coaches. This is especially important in basketball where student-athletes are still allowed to talk to coaches via phone when they’re the ones initiating the contact. Don’t sit around: research, email and call coaches.
  7. Know your best college fit. Lastly, don’t forget to visit the college roster for every team on your target list. The last thing families want to do is waste their time emailing coaches at schools that aren’t a good fit. Here are a few things student-athletes should look at: the players who are 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?)

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What are the odds of getting a basketball scholarship?

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 the 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.

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Can you play college basketball without a scholarship? 

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.

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How many scholarships are available for men’s D1 basketball?

  • Division 1 men’s basketball scholarships per team: 13
  • Total # of men’s basketball teams: 353
  • Avg. team size: 16 

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.

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How to get a D1 basketball scholarship

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.

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How many Division 2 men’s basketball scholarships are there?

  • Maximum scholarships available per team: 10
  • Total # of D2 men’s basketball teams: 313
  • Avg. team size: 17

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.

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Division 3 men’s basketball scholarships

  • Maximum scholarships available per team: 0
  • Total # of D3 men’s basketball teams: 446
  • Avg. team size: 18

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.   

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NAIA basketball scholarships

Division 1

  • Maximum scholarships available per team: 11
  • Total # of NAIA D1 men’s basketball teams: 93
  • Avg. team size: 20 

Division 2

  • Maximum scholarships available per team: 6
  • Total # of NAIA D2 men’s basketball teams: 137
  • Avg. team size: 21

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.

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JUCO men’s basketball scholarships

  • Maximum scholarships available per team: 15
  • Total # of NJCAA men’s basketball teams: 430
  • Avg. team size: 15

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. 

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Basketball scholarship requirements

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. 

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What are the best colleges for basketball scholarships?

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:

  • Top men’s basketball colleges: University of North Carolina, UCLA, Stanford University, University of Michigan, University of Florida, University of Virginia, Princeton University, Duke University, University of California, Harvard University.
  • Top D1 men’s basketball colleges: University of North Carolina, UCLA, Stanford University, University of Michigan, University of Florida, University of Virginia, Princeton University, Duke University, University of California, Harvard University.
  • Top D2 men’s basketball colleges: University of California—San Diego, Bentley University, Point Loma Nazarene University, California State Polytechnic University—Pomona, Rollins College, Bellarmine University, California State University—Chico, Western Washington University, Truman State University, Grand Valley State University.
  • Top D3 men’s basketball colleges: John Hopkins University, Emory University, Amherst College, University of California—Santa Cruz, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Hamilton College, Pomona-Pitzer College, University of Chicago, Trinity University—Texas.
  • NAIA: Asbury University, University of Michigan—Dearborn, Concordia University—Nebraska, St. Ambrose University, Bethel University—Indiana, Aquinas College—Michigan, College of the Ozarks, Loyola University New Orleans, Taylor University, Indiana Wesleyan University.
  • JUCO (according to the NJCAA): Florida SouthWestern State (FL), Vincennes (IN), Coffeyville (KS), Ranger (TX), John A. Logan (IL), Casper (WY), Odessa (TX), Northwest Florida State (FL), Chipola (FL), South Plains (TX) 

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How many full ride scholarships for basketball are there? 

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.

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