In the recruiting process, the easy part is looking at the factors that are steady and constant. The distance from home, the local setting of campus, the general size of the student body or the variety and quality of academic offerings are examples of factors that essentially won't change from a school's initial interest until you drop them or sign your National Letter of Intent. A lot of the basketball elements, such as style of play, facilities and academic-support resources often show some evolution but, other than a renovated locker room or the building of a new arena, wholesale changes really aren't that common.
Still it's essential to go through the recruiting process with a keen awareness of new and changing developments that can alter your viewpoint of a specific school or even how you might approach and ultimately reach your decision. Keeping an eye on those variables that do fluctuate and maintaining an open mind can ensure that you don't miss some critical changes that might influence how, when and where you decide to spend your college career.
If you were paying close attention to the sports headlines last month, you saw plenty of coverage and discussion regarding an NCAA Division I presidents' meeting and the sweeping changes being proposed. The commitment to more stringent academic requirements for incoming freshmen is getting lots of support, just as more challenging eligibility guidelines for enrolled student athletes and their teams isl. There was even discussion of tying academic performance to participation in NCAA championships. The presidents are also looking to rewrite the NCAA rulebook, and there is already some legislation on the table to make changes to the current recruiting calendar.
Academic or recruiting guideline changes can necessitate different high school class choices and require some long-term planning and flexibility. A new recruiting calendar may mean fewer days in the summer evaluation period and force you to take a look at the club you're playing with. Depending on the type of student you are, the schools and major you consider may need to be assessed in terms of your ability to maintain tougher eligibility standards. College recruiters are going to do their best to make you aware of legislative changes, but it's ultimately your responsibility to know and understand how new NCAA rules have an impact.
Coaching changes are well publicized and generally come at the end of the season. What isn't so easy to keep up with is which coach might be on the hot seat and in danger of making an exit before your freshman year. No school is going to come out publically and make a statement about that change, but researching recent records and closely following current improvements or struggles should provide some indication. You need to know and have every right to ask the length of a coach's contract and how many years of that contract remain. Even if a struggling coach is still heading the ship when you arrive on campus, "must win" situations aren't always a picnic to be part of.
One element that previously had been a reliable constant but now seems to be a topic of almost daily discussion is conference alignment. The impact is not limited specifically to those institutions making a change or the conference they're moving to. The conference they're leaving is left to continue as is or to look to replace the departed school. That can impact the competitive level and revenues as well as create residual impact on conferences. From a recruiting standpoint it's important to follow the discussions and changes and ask how they might influence the schools you're considering.
Recruiting is an ongoing process and monitoring each program's signings in the classes in front of you as well as the commitments they've received from younger athletes will help you evaluate their roster and the place you might hold in their plans. Cross-reference that information with their current players by position and class and you'll know not only where you stand but have an idea how effective their recent recruiting efforts may have been.
Other ongoing information to watch on their roster is the classes of players and athletes who disappear without completing their eligibility. High transfer rates are obvious red flags and underclass players who are on a roster one year and not the next require explanation. It's never inappropriate for you to ask about those players who are no longer with the team. The same goes for the classification of athletes. If someone is listed as a junior twice it's more than fair for you to ask why. Understanding the impact of injuries and academic casualties is important as you assess just who may or may not be a teammate or competitor when you arrive on campus.
As long as you're keeping an eye on current players, follow their game-by-game performances and statistics online. Keeping up with the results and numbers can provide lots of helpful insight as to the competitive level of the team, style of play and who might be on the floor with you for part of your career. It can tell you what recruits are living up to expectations and whether the positive outlooks coaches have painted for you are coming true. Stats can expose needs and weaknesses in a team and help make clear your opportunity should you choose to come on board. They can also do the opposite and tell you that the battle for minutes might be an uphill one for you during your first couple of seasons. What you get out of them is up to you, but it can be worthwhile and revealing to pay close attention.
In recruiting, few things are stagnant, inanimate considerations. Sure, some elements are going to remain the same, but the program you look at as a freshman or sophomore may look very different to you as a junior and senior. Leonardo da Vinci said, "All of our knowledge is the offspring of our perceptions." Failure to keep up with the transformation in NCAA legislation or the ever-changing variables within the programs you're considering can distort your perceptions and lead to uninformed and risky decisions. Watch closely.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.