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Spring Fling

When Rondae Jefferson played for Team Final on the EYBL circuit, even if he wasn't having his best game statistically, he still did other things to try and help his travel team win games. Photo: Scott Kurtz

When Rondae Jefferson played for Team Final on the EYBL circuit, even if he wasn’t having his best game statistically, he still did other things to try and help his travel team win games. Photo: Scott Kurtz

The spring travel ball season has kicked off the past few weeks and there is an important evaluation period coming up at the end of the month (April 25-27). We take a look at the spring travel season’s red flags and what the focus of this recruiting period should be about in order to improve your scholarship chances.

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With the spring evaluation period cut down by the NCAA to only one weekend in April, it’s important for players looking to increase their scholarship chances to maximize their potential and opportunity that weekend. In recent years there was two Spring viewing periods for college coaches, but this travel ball season there is only one (April 25-27). College coaches are only going to have those three days this spring to evaluate players to finish off this year’s class and prepare to build their 2015 and 2016 classes.

A majority of the college coaches out on the recruiting trail this spring will be in attendance at events such as the Nike EYBL Session No. 1 (Sacramento, Calif.), UA Pittsburgh Jam Fest (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Adidas Gauntlet No. 1 (Dallas), the Adidas Spring Classic (Indianapolis, Ind.), the Pangos Spring Spectacular (Las Vegas) and UA Jayhawk Invitational (Olathe, Kan.).

After the spring evaluation period is complete, college coaches have to wait until the summer when there will be three live periods (July 9-13, 16-20, 23-27) for them to evaluate prospects. It goes without saying these upcoming three days at the end of the month will be important for coaches and potential recruits.

Here are some red flags college coaches watch for, what players should focus on and how they can go about improving their scholarship chances.

Spring Recruiting Red Flags

1. No Improvement
For some the high school season has been over for nearly two months. College coaches and recruiting analysts who coaches rely on during non-evaluation periods want to see improvement in a players’ game. Have areas that need improvement been worked on? Have guards increased their shooting range? Have experienced bigs developed a secondary post move? Nobody can really control how much they physically grow in height, but players are the ones that control how much their game grows and how well they take care of their bodies.

2. No Expansion Of Skill Set
Not only do players need to improve the aspects of the game they are not good at and be in peak physical condition, they also need to expand on their strengths. Unless your Jahlil Okafor and are a true back to the basket player at the high major college level, all high school players eventually need to be able to hit the perimeter shot out to 18-20 feet. The rise in levels will demand it or you’ll be spending plenty of time on the bench. Are you improving on that, even though you play inside for your high school and/or club team? Can you handle pressure dribbling with your left hand, or do you always come back right when things get tight like you did last summer? Players tend to go back to what feels most comfortable in game situations, but can you do more things comfortably in a tight game than you did in the past?

3. No Fire
We attended the Southern California Hoop Review this past weekend and it was a mixed bag as far as intensity and game play. We saw some players really getting after it — and others who seemed more interested in “getting in a run” or the social aspect of the event. It’s important to prepare for the viewing periods — but it’s also important to play with a purpose, display good body language and perform like your auditioning for a college. Not everyone has the natural ability of a player like De’Andre Ayton (the 2017 man-child who plays for Supreme Court 16s) and colleges are bypassing talented players who are a headache to handle at a much faster rate than in years past. What do you bring to the table that the next prospect a college is thinking about recruiting doesn’t? The more positives you bring, the better your chances are for landing a scholarship.

4. Swapping Programs
Everyone has to do what’s best for them and inevitably their will be players who change their travel team or affiliation, but what does it say when your on a different team each summer? Better yet, what message does it send when your on a different team at each event? A players’ habits developed at an early age are pivotal in helping him be successful on the court later and the reputation a player develops is hard to shake as time goes on. It’s not impossible but it’s not that easy, either. The bottom line is college coaches’ care about their job security more than they will let on — not everyone is a Coach K or Jim Boeheim at the same respective college program for over 30 years. College coaches want players who don’t make excuses when things don’t go their way and players who are still productive and doing something positive for the team on their worst day. Constantly swapping programs doesn’t increase coaches’ confidence about a potential recruit in these areas.

5. Still On The Circuit?
It seems like there are more post-graduates on the circuit each spring. In years past, many seniors (in this case class of 2014 players) would use the spring to help land a scholarship. That’s what the system is intended for, but the increase in participation of players already out of high school a full year (basically 2013 players) has grown tremendously. Now we can see some exceptions to this (such as a devastating injury as a senior or being really young in age for a graduating class), but for the most part college coaches don’t want to evaluate 20-year olds playing against 15 and 16-year olds. In fact this past weekend there was a game with a 2013 and 2019 player on the court at the same time. In now way does that benefit the older player or make him look good no matter how well he’s playing. After a certain point, colleges have made a decision whether or not to offer a scholarship and their opinion won’t change on a player out of high school that isn’t competing against a natural level up in competition, albeit a junior college or small college. For some players, it also shows an unrealistic outlook on the future in the game of basketball and rejecting the responsibilities that come with being a college student-athlete.

Players’ Focus For Spring Recruiting

1. Finding The Right Team
This is important because college coaches always want to make an evaluation in person. As much as technology has increased, they want to see prospects in person. The bottom line is, you should join a team where you’ll play and the best attempt is made to put you in the lineup at the position you’ll most likely play in college. If you’re not playing, nobody can evaluate you. Last year, there was one elite 2015 and one 2016 on the same 17U club who both played little minutes. Unless an evaluator or coach got to see that duo during the high school season, colleges have to rely more on others’ evaluations of them. Eventually that has to change or they simply won’t recruit them. You should also try to join a program that shows some loyalty to its players and truly helps everyone try to earn a scholarship. Ask a former player who played in that program whom you don’t know that well for some feedback. If you know of someone that used to play for that program who left ask him why he left. You obviously have to do some homework on the college you eventually pick and to some extent you should do the same for your travel team.

2. Showing Your Improvement
If you’ve been working hard on your skills at practice and workouts, it’s time to show that in a game. The key to become a better player is applying what you’ve learned into a game situation. There are some players that can immediately apply things and for others, it takes a bit more time. Don’t get frustrated and if you find yourself struggling against pressure, revert back to your strengths and fundamentals. Remember, good high school players don’t get away with a lot of what they do in high school when they hit college because scouting reports are much more advanced. You have to get better every evaluation period. If you’re not, it doesn’t mean you’re getting worse, it just means someone else is getting better and could potentially take that scholarship you want.

3. Minimizing Your Weaknesses
One prominent travel ball coach who’s been around for a long time told me about one of his players who recently finished his eligibility at UNLV. “He didn’t shoot that well from the outside, so you know what we told him? Don’t shoot it! Why show college coaches that you don’t have a great perimeter shot yet? We told him to focus on other things he did well.” This spring’s live evaluation period is no time to be experimenting with your game. This point is magnified this year because there is only one live weekend for college coaches. If you can’t hit the deep perimeter shot consistently, it doesn’t do any good to jack up threes and shoot your team out of the game. If you are not a big leaper, you better improve your quickness and anticipation and learn to box out bigger players. If you not a great shooter, you shouldn’t be a stationary player and should learn how to move without the basketball and score from various angles and spots on the floor. There’s two things that should never lack even when you’re having a bad game — effort and playing smart both offensively and defensively.

4. Making Winning Plays
Make no mistake about it, the goal of the evaluation period and playing travel ball is to increase your scholarship chances. It’s not to collect trophies and pats on the back. With that in mind, the best players and the ones who eventually earn scholarships are those who play the game within the context of winning. That includes your approach, work ethic, what you do out on the court and what you do to help and support your teammates. There is no better example of this type of player in the country than four-time state champ Stanley Johnson of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.). Does he have the most skillful package in the country? Many would argue he doesn’t but the one thing he does as well as any player in the country is raise his teammates’ level of play. If you’re scoring a lot of points and putting up stats, but your team is losing a lot on the circuit, you better do some self evaluation and figure out why. Evaluating close games on the circuit are important because college coaches want to see how you respond in a competitive environment and how you respond in pressure situations. College coaches can’t stand a game with a bunch of stoppages and free throws, but they don’t get much of out watching a number of 50-point blowouts, either.

5. Accurately Gauging Your Abilities
At some point you have to mature and be realistic about your future. If you haven’t been contacted by Duke or North Carolina and the early signing period passes, don’t expect miracles your senior season. If both of your parents are under 5-foot-10 and you have visions of being the next Kevin Durant you better have a back-up plan. Keep in mind, less than one half of one percent of varsity high school players play in the NBA (.038). Some travel ball programs are designed to produce as many high major players as possible. Others are more content with helping their players play at the next level — regardless of its D1, D2, D3, or NAIA ball. If you have a better understanding of what type of level you can play at, you’ll can narrow down the scope of colleges you’ll want to be proactive with and you’ll generally enjoy your travel ball experience a lot more.

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