Remember: Recruiting (among other things) is different for girls

December 9, 2012 - 12:54pm

Elizabeth Williams was going to get a high-level scholarship even if she didn't play in the McDonald's game -- or in a single summer tournament. (Photo by Henry Ray Abrams/Courtesy McDonald's)

Elizabeth Williams was going to get a high-level scholarship even if she didn't play in the McDonald's game -- or in a single summer tournament. (Photo by Henry Ray Abrams/Courtesy McDonald's)

Don’t listen to the guys.

That’s prorbably good advice no matter what the topic, but it definitely applies to the scholarship mating dance between universities and basketball players. Though there are some similarities in the NCAA recruiting process between boys and girls, the differences, though subtle, make a huge difference in how it all plays out.

First and foremost, NCAA Division I women’s programs have 15 scholarships to give out; men’s programs only 13. That may not seem like a big difference, but there are 345 D-1 schools – which means that potentially there are nearly 700 more scholarships available for girls than boys.

Of course, that’s going to be spread out over four years, but still, that’s around 175 extra full rides each year for girls.

At first glance, that seems like pure good news, but as always, things aren’t as simple as they seem. Think about a high school team, with 12 players on the roster – only eight or nine play significant minutes each game, which means three or four hardly play at all. So if a college team has 15 women on scholarship, that means that five or six will work just as hard in practice and during the offseason as everyone else, but won’t get rewarded with playing time.

That doesn’t mean much if you’re in the rotation, but what if you’re not? What if you’re number 14? How satisfying would your college career be then?

In one way, though, this shifts the balance of power a little bit. Unlike on the men’s side, where there are too many players chasing not enough scholarships, for the women, it’s the other way around. If female players understand the situation, they can pick and choose exactly the best place to go to school, because each coach has more scholarships to hand out.

Of course, if a high school girl and her family get caught up in the glamour of playing for a “big” school, and insist on going to the Big 10 or ACC or Big 12, then their leverage disappears. But if they focus on places where there’s plenty of playing time available, even if it’s not in a BCS conference, all of a sudden they’re much more in control.

The extra scholarships also mean that almost all players who have D-1 ability wind up with D-1 scholarships – and that changes the way girls should approach their development. For example, almost any girl who shows D-1 talent in the summer between her junior and senior year is going to get a D-1 scholarship.

That means that worrying about exposure camps and getting seen in eighth and ninth grade is just wasted energy. In fact, it can work against some players: Coach Wendy Whistle sees Jasmine Jumpshot as a ninth grader, and Jasmine is still learning the game. So the coach crosses out Jasmine’s name, and even if someone tells the coach two summers later that Jasmine is the real deal, the coach shrugs her shoulders and says, “I saw her, and she’s not all that.”

If Jasmine had waited until the summer after her junior year to get out on the circuit, and show off a much more complete game, her chances of impressing coaches would have been much greater.

So why do people push girls to get seen and go to exposure camps when they’re still in middle school? Because that’s much more important for guys, and those people think that it’s the same for girls.

In truth, the most important thing for girls to do is get better. They don’t need to play 50 games on the circuit every summer (though obviously it’s important to get out and face some challenges from some elite athletes), and they don’t need to go to every exposure camp. What they should look for in a summer program is one that makes its players better as well as getting them in a few big tournaments, and not just one with the most impressive travel budget.

Remember, players should focus on impressing college coaches during their junior year of high school and the following summer because that’s when scholarship decisions are made. And also remember that just because guys do it doesn’t mean it’s right for girls.