In January of 2020, the CDC confirmed the first US Coronavirus case in America. As the pandemic grew quickly in the US, the world changed quickly with it. As the Coronavirus spread throughout the world everything ultimately changed, including college basketball recruiting around the country for all college programs. As a result of the COVID pandemic and the inability of college coaches to get out and see college prospects for some time, as a result, recruiting became very challenging and almost non existent for most college prospects, as the country and the NCAA looked to figure out how to manage during a definitive time of confusion and desperation.
The NCAA transfer portal was introduced as a compliance system to create a more efficient transfer process for student-athletes who are looking to compete for a different institution. It was introduced in October of 2018 and has now grown immensely over the past four years. The transfer portal allows prospective student-athletes to enter their name into a database, which alerts other colleges that the individual is available to accept a scholarship or be recruited by another institution. Today, the NCAA Transfer Portal has become the foundation for a college program's recruiting efforts annually, as college coaches scour the database daily for potential transfers to their program. As a result of the expanding and developed NCAA Transfer Portal, many college coaches today focus primarily on the portal for their prospects annually, and limit their recruitment of high school prospects. Some college programs no longer recruit high school seniors at all.
"Why would we recruit a high school senior when we need older players to compete," said a PAC-12 assistant coach to me.
This sudden and major change in the recruiting process, combined with the COVID-pandemic for a couple years, and it is very safe to say that the recruiting game has completely changed. The days of high school seniors counting their large number of offers, or waiting until the spring signing period to improve your college recruitment, are dwindling. Today, only the elite student-athletes in basketball nationally get loads of early offers, and while it still happens for a lot of prospects nationally, there are not many of these prospects in each state in comparison to the large amount of lesser known prospects looking to gain college recruiting interest. In fact, the perception of the masses are controlled by the immense recruitment of an elite group of talented prospects. This creates a misconception of the true recruiting process that we are dealing with today.
A change has come, but a change was definitely needed also, as prospects only care about Division-I offers or the names of the schools. Junior college programs became an after thought, and became a torturous perceived option for basketball prospects around the country. As a result of the lack of awareness and understanding of the recruiting process, many student-athletes decided to transfer schools consistently - helping to build the NCAA Transfer Portal. As a result of the perpetual growth of the portal, it made sense for the NCAA to step in and do something beneficial for the student-athlete. In 2021, the NCAA changed their rules and decided to allow for student-athletes to transfer and become immediately eligible for athletics in the same year. This decision by the NCAA completely changed the game, and made the NCAA Transfer Portal what it is today - the most valuable resource for college programs to help build their teams annually.
As a result of the change in basketball recruiting across the country it has now become increasingly difficult for student-athletes to get recruited. It is one thing to receive a high player ranking, but it is totally another thing to reel in a scholarship offer from a college program. Scholarship offers today are hard to get and even tougher to hold on to, as there are so many prospects nationally looking for a place to play collegiate athletics. Today, you almost have to take what you can get, or take other options to get there, such as a post-graduate program or playing one or two years of junior college basketball (juco). Junior colleges and post-graduate programs are now increasingly important for student-athletes. If you can afford the cost of doing it, a post-graduate situation can be immense, as it provides another year of maturity, you play against very good competition and, often times, the student-athlete is away from home for (9) months, which prepares the prospect for college life.
Junior College once was a staple in college basketball recruiting, as the majority of Division-I programs scoured national juco talent annually in search of immediate help for next season. National juco events were and continue to be a sight to behold, as a result of the immense amount of college coaches in attendance - evaluating juco prospects for their respective programs. Junior colleges however began to see a drop off in talent across the country, as more prospects elected to go to post-graduate programs, and academically challenged seniors began to attend more prep schools around the country that were able to help them get qualified academically per NCAA standards. Now, with the lack of college recruitment for high school seniors across the country, junior colleges are becoming much more of a viable option for high school seniors looking to build their resume and improve their college recruitment. A strong performance in the juco ranks can propel a student-athlete to new heights in their recruitment. This transition will definitely help junior college basketball to go to another level nationally, and make for some exciting basketball, with better prospects on the floor.
Overall, the recruiting game has completely changed forever. There will be changes made by the NCAA over time, as there always are, but ultimately the NCAA and the NJCAA are looking to consistently improve their overall business model and they have done it, even though it has significantly impacted high school seniors across the country. My advice to a student-athlete, is that there are many ways to get recruited, although more challenging today. Be smart about the process, but also be humble. Any college program that is willing to offer you something, you need to take a hard look at it. It is not about the name of the school, but rather the opportunity that the school presents for you to have a better life - to pursue your academics and have basketball take you as far is it can in the process.