Preparing Aussie kids for US college basketball

Michael Clarke (Supplied)

After spending the 2013/14 season with Division I program Virginia Commonwealth, Australian coach Michael Clarke took on an assistant coach role with Division III school MacMurray College, Illinois. He then headed back to home to take on the head coaching roles at the Kalamunda Eastern Suns and iCollege Basketball Institute in Western Australia.

Clarke provides his suggestions for Aussie kids in preparing for US college.

Preparing for US College: Start early

There is an opportunity in the US for most committed Australian junior basketball players, if they want one. From the three National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) divisions and two National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) divisions, to the multitude of junior colleges, preparatory schools and high schools. There are literally thousands of roster spots but, for a variety of reasons, most young Aussies do not adequately prepare for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Steps need to be taken as early as Year 9 by prospective student-athletes. Basketball is serious business in the US, and there are many hoops to get through apart from those on the court. Eligibility to play is determined by several factors including high school courses taken, grades, test results and amateur status. Then there is the challenge of being recruited, hopefully with a scholarship offer, by catching the attention of basketball programs on the other side of the World. In my experience, there are lots of Australian juniors who want to play in the US, but they are not in a position to do so because they have not done certain things or they have left it too late. In the hope of reducing the number of disappointed kids in the future, I want to provide a rough outline of what they should be doing to maximize their prospects of playing in the home of basketball.

An ideal recruit is someone who can play basketball with great impact and can also earn good grades at a high level of study. And so, ideally, preparation must begin as students enroll for Year 9. I appreciate that it is too early to know with any certainty, at 13 years of age, whether college athletics in the US is a realistic ambition, but it is surely wise to keep options open by taking the right high school courses. As you will see, they are sensible courses that will lay a good foundation for a young person in any event.

Eligibility to play in the top two tiers of the NCAA requires 16 core courses to be taken over Years 9 to 12. To play in the NCAA Division 1, students must have completed:

  • four years of English,

  • three years of mathematics (Algebra 1 or higher),

  • two years of natural or physical science (including one year of lab science if offered),

  • one extra year of English, mathematics or science,

  • two years of social science, and

  • four years of additional core courses from any of the previous categories or in a foreign language, non-doctrinal religion or philosophy.

In other words, Aussie kids need to ensure they are taking the right subjects at school very early on to avoid potential issues or disappointment.

To play in the NCAA Division 2, the differences are; one less year of both English and mathematics, and two more extra years of English, mathematics or science. That is, potential Division 2 student-athletes can qualify with just three years of English and two years of mathematics if they load up on science. It may look confusing at first but is really just highlighting the importance of studying English, math’s, science and social studies at high school. Players that load up their school schedule with “phys ed”, woodwork and the like, do so at their own peril! The same goes for avoiding mathematics or science.

By Year 11, prospective student-athletes should register with the NCAA Eligibility Center (note the international students’ section) if they think an opportunity in Division 1 or 2 may be achievable. That process will include certification of academic credentials and amateur status. Essentially, to retain amateur status, juniors must avoid receiving payment or benefits for playing basketball, beyond actual and necessary expenses. By Year 12, prospective student-athletes should sit the SAT, a standardized scholastic aptitude/assessment test, and get high enough scores to qualify for the level at which they hope to play in the US. Ultimately, players must graduate from high school within four years of starting Year 9 and they must get good enough grades overall to be eligible for college.

Mitchell McCarron is excelling on and off the court for Division II school Metro State - Courtesy Metropolitan State Athletics

Beyond the academic side of things, to be competitive in the field, potential recruits should have a basketball resume. In my experience, many young Aussies have no idea what that is, let alone have a good one ready to email out to coaches.

The document should include:

  • the player’s name,

  • a profile picture,

  • date of birth (in an American format, eg July 10th, 1994),

  • height (in feet and inches),

  • weight (in pounds),

  • position(s) played,

  • date of high school graduation,

  • contact details (including parents), phone numbers (with country and area codes), email and Skype addresses,

  • high school education (including core courses taken, estimated Grade Point Average and any SAT scores),

  • basketball career and awards,

  • references, and

  • links to video footage.

A good option for making video footage of games available for coaches to watch is creating a YouTube channel. Like the resume, there are little details here that can make a big difference. Make it clear which number and colour jersey the player is wearing. Include the date of the game and a description of it (e.g. U18 Nationals, semi-final). Be careful adding a music soundtrack as it can be distracting and off-putting. Also, include whole games because coaches do not just want to see highlights, they want to see what players are doing off the ball and when things are not going well.

Armed with an impressive basketball resume and a YouTube channel, prospective student-athletes can start actively researching the multitude of US schools for a good fit, based on various criteria (e.g. degrees offered, location, fees etc.). Many college athletics websites have links to online expression of interest forms. Coaches are also generally happy to be emailed directly and addresses can be found on their biography page or in the staff directory. For the best interests of our young players and the long-term strength of the sport in our country, Australian basketball coaches must encourage and help facilitate the transfer of student-athletes to the US.

We must get beyond a short-term focus on losing good players for a few years or so. Junior basketball is about the players and their development, not about the coaches and their winning percentages. We can and should do a better job preparing young Aussies for the opportunity of a lifetime. It starts with knowledge and education about the process.