We’re Already at a Good School Playing Good Ball. Why Switch to Prep School?

I had the prep school conversation recently with a mother who told me they were not interested in prep school because “my child is already getting a very good education, playing good basketball, and it doesn’t cost us anything”. On the surface, who would argue? Here’s what she missed:

  1. A much better education is still available.(even though this mom was right when she said her child is currently getting a very good one. Most parents are not)
    1. Most students near the top of their high school class will be below average students at the right prep school
      1. Those at the top of their class locally, but significantly below that nationally, need a greater challenge
  2. Prep school is a much higher level of sport for her child
    1. The chances of getting the scholarship they seek improves dramatically
    2. The parents are relieved of the pressure of having to mange their child’s recruiting
  3. Room and board is the cost of living at home
    1. That’s about $5,000 this mother didn’t account for.
      1. In this case, it means saving $5,000 per year by sending her child to prep school. That never occurred to her.
        1. That’s $15,000 over three years, while getting a better education and better chance at a scholarship.

There’s no question that this family’s current situation is better than many, if not most. The real question is what are the family’s goals, how serious are they about reaching them and what are they willing to sacrifice to do it? For those in today’s competitive world who understand that not maximizing a child’s potential means missing an opportunity while falling behind the competition, the choice is prep school.



Adults are Still Taking Advantage of Kids

You’d think by now coaches, players and parents would be a little more savvy. Apparently not. Over the years there has been plenty of documentation of AAU coaches etc. taking advantage of players. Here’s the latest example.

A foreign national whose obvious athletic talent got him into the United States, GP was here on a student visa. Needing to change high schools, he was pimped by his AAU coach, who was more interested in the power that comes with controlling a player of GP’s caliber than finding the best situation for this young man. So the coach refused help and more reputable schools, sending him instead 700 miles and four states away where he would attend school and play for a different team. (The team and the school are not the same. Don’t get me started.)

As part of the deal, and to maintain his legal status, his new team promised to take care of all his student visa paperwork. He played for the team, but the men running it never took care of the paperwork.

It turns out they didn’t because the school they sent him to, by definition, is not approved by the government to issue the necessary paperwork. Most schools in the US could have easily supplied the necessary paperwork. Not this one. The men running the team knew that when they told him they’d get his paperwork done.

They lied, he trusted them, he played. They got what they wanted, a better team. He’s out of options. He’s in the country illegally. Even though he’s been offered scholarships, he can’t accept them. To be eligible to accept them he must get his paperwork reinstated. To do that he must leave the country. Once he leaves he’s unlikely to ever get back in.

You could say GP and his guardian contributed to the problem. There’s no question there’s truth to that. But he’s a teenager in a foreign country. He and his guardian relied on adults. They let him down.



Emmitt Holt: The Indiana University Offer Dilemma

Emmitt Holt (Webster Schroeder HS, Rochester, NY) has very recently been offered by Indiana University for the fall of 2014. That’s right, classes would start for him in just a few weeks. Up ‘till now he’s been committed to attending Vermont Academy for a post-graduate year. Whether he should accept the Indiana offer has been a popular topic of debate among players, high school coaches and college coaches.

On the surface, the IU offer changes everything. Indiana is historically big-time, as big as it gets. And Emmitt has no other offers close to this level. (Low to mid A-10 offers were his highest). It’s hard to overstate the power of the feeling that comes with an offer like this. Even adult observers, after discussing the situation objectively, shake their heads and admit they could not think straight if it happened to them. And they’re not 18 years old.

The initial reaction of many is he has to take it. It’s IU. How do you say no? It’s not as obvious as it might seem.


Reasons to take the offer:

  • It’s Indiana. It’s Emmitt’s chance to reach his dream. He may never get another offer like this. Most players, and a lot of parents, would give almost anything to have this opportunity.
  • Chance to play right away. They need bigs. No obvious star big men on the roster in front of him.
  • Possible redshirt his first year. It’s a year to learn the system and adjust to school. It’s also an additional free year of college education.


Reasons to turn down the offer:

  • Indiana is just filling a roster spot. They recruit a better player next year and Emmitt never ends up getting playing time. That’s a process risk anytime you take an offer this late. One D1 coach said to me “putting Emmitt on your (IU) team doesn’t scare away any top 100 prospects next year”. He added: “this is why there were over 600 transfers this year”.
  • Act like you’ve been there before. There’s a certain panic or pressure in the logic of taking the offer because you might never get another one. In this case, I call it the Rochester mentality. If a player really thinks he’s that good, he doesn’t feel compelled to jump at the first great offer. The goal isn’t just to get the offer, it’s to succeed in college and after graduation.
  • If Emmitt’s got one offer like this now, he’s going to have multiple offers like this six months from now. This means less pressure, more time to make the decision, more chances for a better match and improved overall chances for a successful outcome
  • If he’s not that good, he’ll find out before making a big mistake. No need to transfer.
  • The official visit to IU will be at best incomplete, at worst misleading. School is not in session, so the students aren’t there. Professional educators say visiting when a school is in session is critical. The students are perhaps the most important component of a visit.
  • Not losing a redshirt year. By prepping he keeps that redshirt year option. He also removes the risk of not surviving the emotional difficulty of a redshirt year.
  • The head coach might not be there for long. He has had limited success at a place where expectations are extremely high, and there are rumblings that he might not last there unless he wins right away. (Some say taking a player of Emmitt’s caliber is consistent with this lack of success). If he is fired, it’s common for new coaches to make some significant changes, including telling some players they will not be asked back. On the surface, Emmitt could be a likely candidate for that.


What are the risks of saying no to the offer? Some say injury is one. That concern gets overvalued for several reasons. First, it was addressed and accepted when prep school was chosen over scholarships. Second, statistically that risk is much smaller than some others, such as not surviving college academically and socially. Finally, the power of good prep schools and medical science these days is such that even a significant injury can have little to no effect on recruitment.

Let’s remember for a minute, this is only a debate because Emmitt made what to many was a surprising decision to choose prep school over college scholarships in the first place.  Any good thought process would review his original reasons in light of the recent offer. They were:

  • To play at a higher level
  • To have more schools to choose from
  • To improve his overall maturity. (There’s some irony here considering he was mature enough to choose prep school. Others, who are less mature, have gone straight to college). By all accounts he is at risk for not surviving away from home.
  • To improve his chances for academic success in college and his career options after college
  • To improve his chances for athletic success, and at an earlier point in his career

Contrary to initial reactions, it’s clear the IU offer changes almost nothing.

With all the excitement and discussion, it might be easy to forget this isn’t just about Emmitt Holt. Vermont Academy made an educational, athletic and financial commitment to him and is counting on him. He was awarded a spot that other kids and parents would have given a great deal to have. Leaving now would be unfair to the school and those other athletes he was chosen over, and he knew that when he made the commitment.

There’s no question this is a tough decision. Logic is great, but emotion will, and should, play a part. The idea is to make sure the thinking is as logical as possible and no significant facts are missed. This is all about minimizing risk and putting the athlete in a position to succeed, not a position to fail. Although it happens regularly, playing for the exception is a trap.






Overwhelmed by the Recruiting Process? Focus on Education First

I returned recently from a major east coast summer basketball camp where I had a lengthy discussion about the recruiting process with the mother of a talented junior. Her son is a good student who already holds offers from D1 schools, none of them big-time. A single mom with two kids who never went to college and never played sports, she told me she has little awareness of colleges or basketball programs. Working two jobs (they are a low income family) leaves her precious little time to deal with the recruiting process. I told her I’d had a conversation at the camp with a coach who said she was not returning his calls. She acknowledged that was a problem and said she feels overwhelmed by all the attention. “There are so many schools”, she said, “how do I handle this”?

The answer is simple, although a surprisingly large number of families never figure it out. Start with the schools offering the most highly rated educations. (See separate blog showing list). This quickly shrinks the list while having the added benefit of keeping priorities straight, often next to impossible in this process, even for those who are good at it. Focusing on the top-rated academic schools cuts the number of possible schools from approximately 265 (outside the big-time basketball conferences) to about 45, while maintaining priorities. For most, only about half of those 45 will actually show recruiting interest. Now the list is manageable and efficient, goals are intact and focus is tight. The chance of success has increased greatly.



Picking Prep Schools: When to Get Help? Understanding the Timeline and Whom to Trust.

I received a call from a family whom I had been recommended to by a previous client. By the time they contacted me, they had already communicated with some prep schools. They also were getting help from one of their child’s coaches, as well as a friend who had been through the process before. As a result, they felt they had a good list of schools and decided they didn’t need my help at that time. They did leave the door open to hiring me later, in the event they needed help with the financial part of the process.

When they called me a few months later, their son had been rejected at the school that was their first choice. They were stunned. They shared with me that they had come to realize that, having no experience at this, they had misinterpreted the feedback they had been getting from the coach at that school and had overvalued the help they’d been receiving from friends and others. Compounding the problem, they assumed they were going to get into their first choice and made little effort with the other two schools they had considered. They were upset and looking for answers.

We talked about applying to other schools, but by this time most other schools had filled their spots and handed out their financial aid. Schools that would have been good options a few months prior no longer were. In addition, they told me after what they’d already been through in this process they didn’t have the emotional energy to start over with new schools. Consequently, this family was forced to choose from a very limited list of schools, most of which they wouldn’t have otherwise found acceptable, and/or, lacking options and leverage, pay $5,000 – $15,000 more than they would have.



The AAU Basketball Choice. A Comparison of Four Players

Almost all players opt to play AAU these days, mostly because they feel they will be left behind if they don’t. It’s certainly a lot of fun, a rite of passage and should at least be experienced by all. But it has its drawbacks, too, and for many the decision deserves more scrutiny.

Here’s a short summary of four of the players and their AAU decisions. All were seniors who decided to do a PG year instead of going right to college. That gave each the option of playing AAU ball for another year. They made different decisions about AAU for different reasons, with varying results.



Gerry was a talented kid with D1 physical gifts playing for a very small high school. Even though he led them to the state championship, he received no D1 recruiting interest. He couldn’t even get the local D2 school to offer him after attending their camp. He had not played AAU ball until he decided to play in the spring of his senior year. After a handful of AAU tournaments Gerry had 16 D1 offers, most of them from mid-level D1 schools. A textbook case for AAU and its benefits.



With multiple D1 offers on the table, he bucked conventional thinking and made the enlightened choice of a PG year before college. Once he started playing AAU he got caught-up in the hype and the solid thinking stopped. Instead of continuing to listen to the people with the right credentials, he started listening to people with questionable motives and even less credibility. The result was a downward spiral of bad decisions, two of which stand out.

First, in order to play AAU he missed one to two days of school per week (playing out-of-town games for an out-of-town team) even though, as a weak student, he could ill afford to shift his focus or miss any school at all. His mother rationalized it by saying they had spoken with his teachers and made the necessary arrangements. While that’s more of an effort than some make, it’s hardly a substitute for being in class. Not only does it send the wrong signal, it opens the door to more and poorer thinking in the future – and it did. Ironically, he got next to nothing out of AAU. AAU needed him more than he needed it, even though he didn’t know it. Missing school on a regular basis was too great a sacrifice for too little gain.

Second, he made an historically bad prep school selection that left objective observers shaking their heads in disbelief. After exploring many schools, he had two choices. One was a rare combination of very good basketball and a world-class academic environment. It’s a life-changing place so sought after that it rejects many very good student-athletes whose parents would willingly pay the $54,000 a year to send their child there, and it would have cost Edward’s mom $0. He opted instead for a school offering slightly better basketball (although not enough to make a difference) and precious little else, and agreed to pay some money to do it.

In short, once he and his mom started listening to the wrong people and lost sight of their priorities the path quickly changed from one pointed towards success to one with a better chance of failure. The D1 coaches noticed, too, and some, particularly the more trustworthy ones from the better academic schools, became leery of recruiting him because of all the negative signals he and his mom were sending.



By most accounts, a D1 athlete who needed the skills to match his physical gifts. Statistically, he had a very good senior year, but played out of position (in the eyes of D1 coaches) and against weak competition. While he clearly could have benefitted from some exposure, what he needed more was skill improvement. But that’s not nearly as much fun and takes more self-discipline. He chose to play a full AAU schedule which, despite his claims to the contrary, significantly limited the time spent on skill work. Consequently, his game did not improve. In the end, he got the exposure, but it was not enough. Without the skills, he was not worthy of a scholarship. Instead of benefitting from exposure, he was simply exposed.



Had a poor senior season on a very talented high school team. Still, with his height, skills and athletic ability he had scholarship potential.

Getting no interest from scholarship-level schools, it would have been easy to feel like AAU was his second chance. Instead, he kept his poise, put peer pressure and his ego aside, and decided against playing AAU. He spent his time working on his game and skills with a local college coach. He also played in controlled scrimmages with top local HS, D3, D2, D1 and professional players on certain days, and worked on his body and conditioning on others.

As the months went by, his fundamentals and his overall game improved steadily. Having made some sacrifices, he came into the summer motivated. His attitude, perspective, goals and priorities were all what they needed to be in order to have the best shot at maximizing his personal development. Perhaps most importantly, he established positive and proper expectations heading into prep school, giving himself the best chance of continued improvement and success on and off the court.


The bottom line: AAU has its place. For some it’s absolutely the right move. However, most players and parents, not knowing any better, are overvaluing exposure and undervaluing skills and skill development as they try to stand out in today’s recruiting landscape.


The European System – How We Can Help

For a while now, Europeans have been coming to the States in large numbers to attend prep schools and play college sports.

Because of the distance, it’s harder for many to get the information, and make the connections, needed for a good decision. Many rely on information and advice from European professional sports agents. This can be a problem.

Let’s look at one recent example.

A young man from Scandinavia with mid-level D1 talent and excellent grades and test scores wants to play in the States. He ends up getting his guidance from a professional sports agent. The agent has ulterior motives. He guides the player to a school that’s academically much lower than his grades and test scores would have otherwise earned him. Compounding the issue, the player redshirts a year, in order to have a better chance of getting any significant playing time.

You could say everything worked out fine. After all, a lot of parents and players would be happy to have that opportunity. The problem is, there were two better scenarios. Both were presented to the agent, who wouldn’t even present them to the player and his family. Why? They didn’t suit the agent’s motives – getting clients in exchange for guiding the player to a college. Here’s what should have happened.

The player should have been guided to a college with world class academics consistent with his previous academic achievements, where he could have still played at the same D1 level. Better still, he should have been guided to prep school.

Here are some of the benefits he would have gotten out of prep school:

  • Another year of physical, academic and athletic maturity
  • Much greater awareness of the college options available to him
  • A dozen or more offers all better than the one he took
  • More time and opportunity to explore those options (schools visits, etc.)
  • A college that was a much better fit
  • Reduced need to redshirt in college
  • Reduced chances of sitting the bench in college
  • Increased chance of excelling in college

All of these benefits were available without losing any eligibility or spending any significant money.

We understand it’s not a perfect world, but this isn’t twenty-twenty hindsight either. This is where we can help.