In the world of High School Basketball Recruiting, as well as other NCAA men’s and women’s sports, there are lots of rules about how and when college coaches can talk to student athletes after age 14. One of these rules has to do with campus visits. A men’s basketball athlete cannot take an “official visit” until their senior year in high school and is limited to five visits max. But, a high school student athlete can take as many unofficial visits as possible. Therefore, as my son (Landen) showed dedication to basketball, and interest from college coaches began to rise, and verbal offers were presented, I decided that I should take Landen on as many “unofficials” as I could afford.
As an 8th grader, Landen was invited to Freshman Phenom camp in the spring of 2008. This was not a free camp and it was a week long, so with Landen’s savings, and the financial help of his grandparents, Landen and I flew to Virginia so that he could participate. This was a great way for him to have his skills evaluated against a larger national group of basketball players going into 9th grade. While we were on the east coast, we visited Georgetown, which had always been a dream school of Landen’s. He loved visiting the campus and the college town! It was a long way from home though, and Landen wasn’t sure he’d like that.
The school he knew best was University of Oregon – mine and his father’s alma mater. Over the years Landen had been on campus many times and was invited to have many unofficial visits with the basketball program.
Landen’s next visit was by himself to attend an Elite camp at Gonzaga University in June 2009, between his freshman and sophomore years. This was a great three day experience in which he lived in the dorms and got to know the coaches and players. It gave Landen some insight into college life at a smaller University with a great basketball program.
Later that summer, he attended an Elite camp at University of Washington, then we took some unofficial visits to other colleges to watch practices, attend games, tour campuses and visit with coaches. During an unofficial visit coaches can talk to you, introduce you to the team, the program, and campus. You can even workout with the team, if coaches are not observing. (per 2012 NCAA rules)
In late August 2009, Coach Craig Robinson called from OSU and invited us to visit campus and meet the team. After a campus tour, Coach Robinson and the rest of his coaches sat down with Landen and I and presented Landen with his first verbal offer. He was so surprised and so excited. I couldn’t believe it was beginning to happen. I actually stood up, and left the room in the middle of the meeting to call Landen’s dad and tell him. What a great feeling to know that Landen was good enough to earn a full scholarship and play basketball at a high level!
During the summer of 2010 we didn’t take any unofficial visits where we met with coaches, but while traveling for AAU tournaments, Landen and I did visit UCLA, USC and others in cities where his AAU team played. In September 2010, University of Oregon hired a new head coach – Dana Altman – from Creighton. Landen had always loved the Ducks! It was his dad’s college team, his birth town, and he had spent many years wearing green and yellow to UO football and basketball games. Richard still holds records for field goal percentage and rebounding there and the draw of being a ‘legacy player’ added to his excitement and desire to cheer them on and possibly play for them someday. So, when they called and invited us for an unofficial visit, he had to say yes! That was the first of many “unofficial visits” to University of Oregon.
In October 2010, Harvard began recruiting Landen hard. Coach Amaker and Yanni Huffinagel came to see some of his games and practices at Findlay (a basketball academy he attended his Junior year). After telling them he was interested in visiting campus, Coach Amaker got really excited and helped us set a date. Harvard was winning a lot of games and looking at possibilities of taking the Ivy League Championship. So they invited us to come out for the final weekend of home games that determined the champion – Penn Friday night and Princeton Saturday. Grandpa Kelso was so excited, he offered to take Landen.
March 4, 2010, Landen’s description of Harvard – I couldn’t believe how cool it was. We stayed on campus at The Inn at Harvard. I had just watched The Social Network, therefore, my interest in the campus and the Phoenix Club were high! I knew The Phoenix was hard to get into, so when I found out that my unofficial host- Brandyn Curry – could get us in, I couldn’t wait! My Grandpa and I arrived late Wednesday night. Thursday I woke up and met some of the Harvard basketball team….. along with Coach Amaker, Huffinagel and others. I got to go to class with Brandyn and see what it was like to be a student athlete at an Ivy League University. Kyle and Brandyn told me that they help you succeed at Harvard and the once you are in, they won’t let you fail. Classes are Monday – Thursday and most games are Friday and Saturday in the Ivy League so that you don’t miss class. I felt at home there and it seemed like I would fit in with the players on the team because they were different than other guys I’d been around. They loved hoops and they wanted to be successful on and off the court. There were black ballers like me, who cared a lot about making a difference and cared about their futures, yet were just as competitive and driven to play at the next level. It was great! After class, lunch, practice, and visiting with coaches, I spent the evening just chillin with Grandpa. He had a great day too – touring campus with Coach Amaker. Next morning I slept in, then Grandpa and I walked around campus and talked, then ate at the famous Bartley’s Burgers, waiting for my mom to arrive. She finally got to Harvard at 4:00. We took her to Bartley’s and had another cookies n cream milkshake – giant size. We went to meet Coach Amaker at 4:30, watched Harvard video and pre-game warm up before the Penn game. After the game, I went with Brandyn back to the “house” where he and the other sophomores lived. At Harvard, there are no dorms; they’re called ”houses” and each one has a “house-mom”. At Brandyn’s she was a black woman who was a great cook and super friendly. I liked that. In fact, I really liked how diverse it was at Harvard. I didn’t expect to see so many black people, and it was refreshing. Friday night I played video games while Brandyn wrote a paper. I spent the night in their house and thought a lot about what it would be like to go to school and play ball there; how much I would fit in, how great the Harvard degree would be, etc. But, I also kept thinking about how my teammates at Findlay teased me before I left, how the Ivy league doesn’t get any airtime on national TV, I mean come on… ESPN3… that can only be watched online. I had already played on ESPN twice with Findlay. I wanted to play before screaming fans of 10,000 or more, and be on TV every week. That’s what college basketball is supposed to be about, right?! Not to mention, the gymnasium was just that – a really nice high school size gymnasium. It was nothing like the new Matthew Night Arena that had just been built at U of O or the Verizon Center, where Georgetown plays, or KU’s Allen Field House. I started to think I’d be “missing out” on the fun, the atmosphere, the things that I looked forward to in college hoops-
Landen and I went on to take many more “unofficial visits”. Because of his success in basketball and his travels with an AAU team, Landen was being recruited by 27 Division I colleges by his junior year in high school.
I would encourage all parents of middle school and high school athletes to begin talking about the idea of earning a sports scholarship and going to college for free. In fact, if your high school athlete is interested in earning an athletic scholarship to college, there are many steps you can take to open the doors of opportunity for your son or daughter.
We were blessed to have schools and coaches contacting us, but I know many athletes who were not being recruited early in high school, but went on to become full-ride scholarship student athletes. I will write more about the recruitment process in my next post, but in the meantime, make a list of the schools you’re son or daughter would be interested in playing sports for and get them registered online at: http://www.ncaa.org/student-athletes/future/how-register
More to come in my future post titled ‘Recruited’.