Division I is not the be-all, end-all

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By Joe Henricksen

Without trying to sound too much like a public service announcement for Division II, Division III and NAIA basketball schools, high school basketball players, their parents and even some recruiting evaluators have to get a grip. Every player is not a Division I prospect.

And you know what? It’s not that bad if they aren’t and, in some cases, it’s better they aren’t.

As many seniors await Division I offers or are set to sign their letter-of-intent with a Division I school a little later this month, the urgency and anxiousness is there for many in the Class of 2009. Will they get an offer? Where are the offers? There are seniors and even more younger players who have not given a thought to playing small college basketball. A lot of the Division II, Division III and NAIA coaches sit and wait for reality to set in for many of these players.

And in many cases, the reality is a better situation often exists at a smaller school. Sure, there are several players that are “Division I caliber”. What is the most common question the Hoops Report gets from fans, parents, media and even college coaches when it comes to an individual player? “Is he a Division I player?” The problem is most of those players, parents and fans are talking a little higher level Division I than they should be. But there are many schools where these marginal Division I prospects can play at. After all, Utah Valley State, North Carolina Central, Houston Baptist, Central Arkansas and good ‘ol Chicago State are Division I schools. Longwood, Seattle and Bryant are, too. But is that really the best fit for that player? Simply put, there is nothing wrong with not getting a Division I offer or — gasp! — overlooking, ignoring or turning down a Division I offer for the best possible fit.

Obviously the best fit is in the mind and eyes of the individual player. But going hundreds of miles away from home, to an average academic school to play in front of 340 fans a night for a program that has no realistic chance of playing in the postseason just to say “I play Division I basketball?” No, thank you.

There are so many players (and parents) that just don’t get it. They don’t understand the talent level at the highest Division III, Division II and NAIA levels. There are so many of these “small school” teams that can actually play with and beat some of these low-Division I schools. And many are better academic institutions and play in front of enthusiastic fans that actually fill a gym. In addition, they may have a chance to play more earlier in their career, be more productive as a player and experience more success.

I understand the need for some to get school paid for and to proclaim “I am a Division I basketball player.” Thus, the goal of playing Division I basketball is ingrained in their head from the first day they lace’em up for their club basketball team in 7th grade. But again, Division II and NAIA schools offer scholarships, and often times Division III schools can put together some affordable financial aid packages.

And often it’s simply more fun playing at a lower level. Go check out an Augustana-Illinois Wesleyan Division III matchup on a Saturday night to see and feel the atmosphere of a “lower-level” college basketball game. Then go catch the New Jersey Institute of Technology matchup with Utah Valley on Feb. 3 (yes, both are Division I basketball schools).

If the Division I schools don’t come calling or if the right one just isn’t the right fit or doesn’t feel quite right, there are options. Very good options. In the end, give the small schools some time, respect and a chance. You just may be very thankful in four years.

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