Consistent play will get you noticed

In reviewing my evaluation notes after sitting courtside during the high-volume holiday tournaments, one word popped up repeatedly. My first thought was that I was overusing this one word, and I needed a better thesaurus. In reality, the word is actually quite applicable and a standard for any evaluator.

The word is consistency. Recruiters are constantly looking for it, and finding it these days seems to be a bigger challenge than it ought to be.

Consistency: we want it in professionally, we want it in personally, we want it in virtually every aspect of our lives. It's no coincidence that coaches want it in the athletes they recruit as well.

When recruiters look at a prospect's performance and potential they want to know that what they're seeing is what they would ultimately get should that athlete end up signing with their program. Some of the biggest mistakes made in recruiting are decisions that result from overreacting to an athlete's single great performance or backing off as a result of one if their lesser efforts.

No matter what particular skill or characteristic a coach is looking at, it's important to know that it wasn't a flash in the pan or just "one of those nights" when it caught their eye. When you consider how few opportunities recruiters have to evaluate, the impression an athlete leaves on them may hinge on just a couple of games and, in some instances, even one contest.

Obviously, physical characteristics have an inherent consistency that will be there every time out. If you've got height one night, it's a safe bet that, barring some sort of industrial accident, you'll have it the next. However, some of those attributes can have their consistency minimized by an athlete's approach to play.

Just because you have speed doesn't mean a coach will see it if you decide to coast through a game or not get out and run the break with your teammates. If you've got the physical strength to clear space and mix things up inside but you decide to settle for jumpers and play a finesse game, a coach may think you're soft. (Trust me, soft is absolutely one of the last adjectives you want recruiters using to describe you) Bottom line, if you've got tools, use them and use them at every opportunity.

When it comes to basketball skills themselves, consistency reveals a lot about the work an athlete has put into her game. Doing it just once or twice could be a fluke. Doing it consistently is a result of hard work and repetitions.

Just because a player connects on five out of six three-point attempts one night doesn't qualify her as a shooter. If the rest of the time she's shooting 1-for-4 or going 0-for-5, coaches are going to be more inclined to go with the player who can connect at a consistent percentage.

Passers who thread the needle and make the flashy no-look passes might catch the eye of the fans, but if they turn the ball over the next two or three possessions recruiters raise their eyebrows for an entirely different reason. Consistency in taking care of the ball while still delivering it to the teammate with the open look is a much more valued attribute than the occasional pass that makes the highlight film.

Consistency at the defensive end is a concern as well. The player who "digs in" and decides to "D-up" when the game gets tight or after they've made a big play at the other end is actually the one who has already let their team down up to that point by not playing with that kind of intensity. No matter what the score, no matter who the opponent is and no matter what happened the play before, you defend one way and you do it every time. If you're a legit defender there are no possessions off and you're there from tip to buzzer.

Consistency of effort might be one of the things that almost always gives good recruiters cause to second-guess a talented prospect. Seeing a player who doesn't go hard all the time or one who only puts out when things are going her way is a huge red flag. Given an equal choice, most coaches prefer to and will go another way. In reality, the failure to play with consistent effort is a choice rather than a skill deficiency and it's a bad choice at that.

Don't confuse inconsistency with a bad night or a tough game. Coaches and evaluators know the difference and recognize that athletes, particularly young ones, are going to have their ups and downs. They can still look at how something is being done rather than the result and know if it's a part of their skill set or an isolated instance.

That being said, recruiters aren't necessarily going to automatically drop recruits over some inconsistencies. Coaches are eternal optimists, especially when it comes to their ability to teach and advance the skills of their athletes. However, up front when they're looking at multiple recruits to fill a particular need in their recruiting class, they like the reassurance that consistency offers. In that instance they may lean toward the athlete they know can do something rather than the one who only might occasionally be able to do the same.

Coaches love to see consistent progress. Continue to focus on your game and put in the fundamental work and massive repetitions in addition to your game time. Make each skill something you can count on every time you need it rather than just hoping you can pull it off once in a while. Never be the same player that a recruiter saw on the previous visit. Be consistently better.

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Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at mark@hoopgurlz.com.