The Real “Exposure” Timeline: Fake News Alert

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FAKE NEWS ALERT - “I need to get out to exposure tournaments as a freshman to get seen by college coaches”.

One of my favorite myths out there is that players need to get college exposure at a young age. NO, NO, NO, that’s just not true. So when does college recruiting actually begin? 90% of college recruiting happens the summer after your junior season and the fall of your Senior year. So basically April Fools Day of your Junior year to Thanksgiving of your senior year. That’s it. So why do we kill ourselves running around the country for 4-5 years of our lives spending excessive amounts of time and money all the while complaining about how crazy this process is and sometimes miserable along the way?

So let’s break this down by age…

Middle School - College coaches don’t care about you at all. Period.

Exception: Yes, there are famous stories out there about kids who got offered in middle school and some are probably true. They are called All Americans.

Freshman - College coaches still don’t care about you. At all.

Exception: If you are starting for a WCAC (Catholic League) school as a frosh, then you are probably top 100 in your class, so they know who you are and will keep an eye on you. Outside of that, they are too busy to worry about you yet.

Sophomore- Sorry, they still aren’t paying attention. They are so busy worried about getting their current recruiting class filled that they don’t have time to go to your AAU games, though they may walk through your gym to go see some older kids.

WAIT, here’s where things get tricky. Depending on your level of play, you may get some “recruiting mail” from a college showing their interest. This mail is generic, possibly a form, and has nothing specific to you. The reason you got it was because your name is on a list from a camp you attended or something along those lines, so you are now in their recruiting database.

Exception: It’s possible that if you’re a sophomore playing varsity, the coach came to see a Senior or Junior on your team and saw that you had potential so they put your name on the database list so you got some recruiting mail. They know what they are doing… stroking the ego of a 15-year-old.

Rising Junior Summer - I sound like a broken record, but you still don’t have their full attention. You are playing 16U AAU and they are at all the 17U games. So the coaches are at the same tournaments, maybe even in the same gym if there’s multiple courts, but they are not focused on you. If you’re a solid player there’s a chance you’ve gotten more of the recruiting mail, but again, it’s because you attended a camp or some event that SOLD their player info list to the colleges to mass mail.

There’s something different here though, you may be getting invited to college “Elite Camps” at this age. This, yes, this is a good thing. I’ll explain what these are at a different time, but chances are it was a mass invite for all the good players from your High School or AAU team. The college elite camps are quality events, but they are money makers for the schools so they invite A LOT of kids.

Exception: If you are playing for truly high level team (think Nike sponsored), coaches will be at your games in July. You will still be their secondary focus to the 17U games, but they will be there. This is where things get confusing because some players do get scholarship offers this summer, again they are called All Americans.

Junior - Depending on your school, they may begin to take notice. A DC area private school will give you a a good chance of being seen because coaches go to those Fall open gyms and winter games to watch seniors. This is where the recruiting process begins. Coaches begin to take notice of who is out there and who exists. They need to build their list of players that they will be recruiting later that year so they will give you a look and if you’re good enough, you get put on that list (loooooong list btw).

Exception: There is a bit of a separation here between High Major D1 and everyone else. So schools that you have heard of like UVA, MD, UNC, Michigan, they are out watching High School games of Juniors at this time. Outside of that, the low-major D1 schools and D2/D3 are still out watching seniors IFthey are able to break away from their season. Don’t forget, the big schools have big budgets and a can jump on a plane at anytime where smaller schools just don’t have that budget. So the smaller schools tend to stay in driving distance in season.

Rising Senior Spring/Summer - FINALLY, these coaches are starting to pay attention. Ok, it’s time, get out there and get seen by all the coaches you want.  They want you and you want them.

Here’s where where you see separation between some of the different college levels. D1 schools are throwing out scholarships like candy all summer long, also remember they probably were out more over the winter watching games. But the lower levels are not moving quite as fast. They are offering players, but the process goes longer for D2/D3 even into April or May of the next year. I’ll explain why in the next section. For now, just know that some D1 programs could be done recruiting your class by August of your rising senior year where D2/3 possibly won’t finish as late as May your senior year.

Senior - Fall of your senior year could be a big couple months if you haven’t committed yet. Campus visits, coaches coming to open gyms, and all the stress that comes with it. At this point players have reduced their list of schools and schools have less kids they are recruiting. An important factor here is to think about what kind of high school you are at. A big time private school will have college coaches making the rounds at open gyms, but public schools not so much unless they are coming specifically to see you or a teammate (so take advantage of the opportunity). Senior season games are important because D2/3 school are paying attention to you even if they can’t get out to see you. I promise if you are playing well enough they will make the effort to come to a game.

Post Senior Season - Yes, recruiting still is happening at this point. There’s generally two situations where it happens. 1) D1 schools who’ve had players transfer out so they need to fill those scholarships. 2) D2/3 schools who are waiting for those players who are waiting for a D1 scholarship but don’t get one. Think about this for a second… if you’re a D2-3 coach and you want the best players, you’re going to wait for the ones who are getting recruited D1 but don’t get the scholarship offer. Makes sense!

So this is the real exposure / recruiting timeline. It probably sounds a little different than you’ve heard from AAU coaches, through other parents chatting in the stands, or kids talking in the locker room, but it’s the truth. It’s actually a short window of time that 90% of this process happens (April of Junior year through Thanksgiving of Senior year). But that’s a great thing because it allows you to focus on things that matter more like development and you can stop CHASING exposure until the time is right.

Author: Alex Harris

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