by Eric Dixon
April 25, 2020
We live in challenging times with respect to the market. There is a lot of uncertainty and a lack of reliable information out there. Some people at the top are outright lying while people who should know don’t and people who know aren’t always being honest for their own selfish reasons. And I’m not even talking about stocks, bonds, 401Ks or mutual funds. The various levels of college basketball recruitment and talent are fraught with misinformation, mismanagement and immaturity.
So many kids have D1 aspirations, but their market offerings are well below that. How do you know if you are a D1 player? There is a simple answer and there is a complex answer and the truth is somewhere in the middle. The simple answer is what does the market say? You are the level of your offers and serious interest. The complex response is “it’s a combination of things,” says Aaron Dread, former D2 player and father of Penn State guard Myles Dread.
“There’s the athletic component, the IQ component, and the component of being special at something. Then there’s the maturity to understand where you are,” he added. The former Millersville University guard went on to explain that he “had a strong inclination in 8th grade” that Myles was going to be a Division 1 player “based on how he was tracking against other kids his age.” Even though Myles was doing well against other players, he said, “I just didn’t know athletically and size-wise.”
Dread had the advantage of his own experience playing to rely on when trying to determine what level was best for his son, who committed to PSU following a stand out performance at Peach Jam before his junior year. “Playing (myself) helped tremendously because I played against D1 guys and eventual NBA players and I know what it looks like.” So what do you do if you don’t have that advantage of personal experience and, as Brandon Williams put it- its your “first time at the rodeo,” as it is for most parents? Or even if you did play, how do you stay grounded enough to make sound decisions about your child’s potential and goal assessment?
“Be realistic and keep things in perspective,” says Isaac Mitchell, father of former North Penn standout, AJ Mitchell. The elder Mitchell has a modicum of experience having played just one year on the freshman team at Chicago powerhouse, Whitney Young High School. He explained that some parents get caught up in seeing only the best performances of their children as the barometer of their potential. “You can’t use their best game to determine how good they really are,” said Mitchell, who watched his son, a 5-11 point guard, notch 27 points in a summer league win over Shipley, then led by the outstanding Sam Sessoms. “Sessoms, who scored 20-something, was kind of cruising, while AJ was playing his heart out,” says Mitchell, who’s son is now a freshman at Widener University.
This sentiment was echoed by Williams, a coach for the Philly Pride AAU program. “Consistency is the key to being D1 or D2,” said the former Abington Friends and Chestnut Hill guard, adding that “consistency” on and off the court went a long way to determining what level a kid belongs on. . . Physical metrics and instincts are products of talent, but how consistent a player is means a lot.”
He went on to mention that the consistency of the message a player was getting from the various influencers around him also could play a major part in a child’s progression to level as well. “Consistency of mentors is important,” he explained, adding that “you have to be slow in setting expectations with parents… It avoids switching and backpedaling later.” The problem is a lot of parents aren’t trying to hear it. “If you tell them something they don’t want to hear, then they’ll just go to someone else who will tell them what they want.”
Conflating this mixture of messages is the inability of college coaches to be effective talent evaluators. “You’d be surprised how many college coaches ask me what level I think a kid is after watching him play” said Duval Simmonds, a long time trainer from the DMV area. Simmonds, who has been training kids since 2001, lamented, “It’s hard for a player to know where he belongs if the guys recruiting him don’t even know.” This makes it difficult to allow the market to determine a player’s worth.
Look at the curious recruitment of the aforementioned Sessoms, who will take his considerable talents to the Penn State this fall. Coming out of high school no scouts thought he was ready for the Big Ten. He was a 2000 point scorer in high school, played for a premier AAU team and, by all accounts, did everything the right way. Still, just one Division 1 school, Binghamton University, deemed him good enough to play at that level. Many of us who actually saw him play were befuddled.
One possible explanation, according to one D1 coach unfamiliar with his recruitment, is his lack of height for the position and other physical metrics. It’s impossible to truly know now why at least local mid-majors didn’t see the potential in his impressive game but Simmonds offered one hypothesis.
“A lot of times coaches don’t know and like to wait to see who else offers,” he explained, adding that some coaches don’t “trust their eyes” if other programs don’t seem to see what they see.
Williams also touched on that saying coaches need to be “confident in their assessments”. He added that his confidence in his assessments makes it easier for him to have “real” conversations with parents and players about what level might be appropriate for them. However, he also said he doesn’t offer assessments and will only speak to a parent and player if asked. “Too easy to be seen as a ‘hater’”.
“I knew (my players) could play at the D1 level because I watched them play well against other players,” said Coach Charles Grasty, head coach at Abington High School, who saw all five of his starters from last year’s 28-2 District One championship squad receive the opportunity to play at the next level, ranging in level from D3 (Rosemont College) to D1 ( Univ. of Penn and Villanova). Grasty, a former college player himself, said he offers to contact schools and lobby for his players..
“I bring them in my office and tell them to give me at least five schools they want me to call, 3 solid prospects and 2 reaches,” he explained. Referring to the “reaches” he said, “Why not? The most they can tell me is ‘no’,” he dead-panned. This year he was able to help a deep reserve on last year’s team, who played a slightly bigger role this year, get a chance at Penn State-Scranton.
He also said he didn’t think it was solely his responsibility to get players next level opportunities, however, he cares about them and wants to help. One way he helps is by scheduling competitive games where they can gain exposure. He prides himself in including rigor in his non-conference schedule. “It helps the players be seen and it helps the team get ready for conference play.”
Much of the responsibility of garnering next level opportunities lies with the player and his/her family. Part of that responsibility is making sure they are academically prepared to take advantage of any opportunities that may arise. Several players with D1 talent have had to take a different path because of academic issues. “We can’t do much with them if they have a 1.9,” lamented one coach. Ball without books is empty.
In conclusion, there is a gamut of reasons why players’ stock may rise and fall in determining their college level. Chief among them are physical metrics like natural talent, height, body type, athleticism, speed and an above-average skillset. These along with a mental toughness, basketball IQ, maturity and attitude that affords them the ability to perform consistently go a long way to figuring out where a player is a best fit. As usual, honesty is the best policy and most of all being honest with oneself may be the most difficult, yet important aspect of realistic goal setting.