There you are, 14 years old, entering high school for the very first time in the United States. A young lady waiting to enter the stage of life where you really begin to think about your “future”, start being more responsible for your actions, and you start to decide what type of person you want to be. You know for sure you want to play on the girls’ basketball team; you’ve been playing on recreational teams since you were young, or maybe with high school this will be your first go. Either way, you’re signing up.
After registering you arrive to try outs. You see the senior team, better known as varsity, walking around and having fun. You can tell these are varsity by the confidence they exude that comes from being a returner to a familiar organization. You also see the new comers, the more quiet and reserved players that aren’t so sure about where they will be placed once the try outs are over. Coach comes over to separate varsity players from the other groups and now THEY become the standard of “good enough”, so you watch how fast they run, their shooting decisions, and their overall attitude, because you should act like them to play on their level, right?
A week of running, jumping, learning plays, and tons of scrimmaging later, you find out which team you’ll be playing on. As a freshman, you’re allowed to play on the Frosh/Soph team, made up of only freshman and sophomores. Or you might make the JV (Junior Varsity) team, composed of talented freshman/ sophomores, and juniors. Playing on this team means you are being groomed to be called up to varsity at any time, so it’s important to use the time on JV to develop your game as much as possible. You find out that you in fact made varsity, the top team in the program, which is also the team that will be representing the school at the state, and national level! This means you are playing with seniors in their last year looking to go to college, juniors that are talented enough to play with the best, and sophomores and freshman who have been chosen to be able to develop under the school’s best players.
Playing varsity means that you will compete against other high schools in your school district, which is determined by the amount of schools in your city, as well as surrounding cities. There are about 12 schools in every league, and unless you are a nationally ranked team you probably have to win your respective city championship to get to the state playoffs at the end of the season. Once you’ve completed state playoffs, the season finishes and you’re back to the off season. During this time, you will look to play on AAU club teams, also known as Amateur Athletic Union basketball. These teams play more of an individual one-on-one offense system to get players more exposure in front of college coaches, organized by different national tournaments. One of the more popular tournaments are those in North Carolina, Memphis, Tennessee, and Las Vegas. AAU is where college/ university coaches can come and take a closer look at players they may have taken interest in during the regular season, but it is also an opportunity for over looked players to be seen. Playing here you don’t represent your high school; you represent yourself, because most games are played in NCAA sanctified tournaments with college coaches from around the country watching. You want their attention to earn a college scholarship. Normally the most talented players from their respective high schools come together on these teams and compete against other teams with a pool of their local elites, so games are usually less tactic and more athletic.
After four years of preseason tournaments, regular season title runs, post season AAU, its finally time to choose a school at the next level. Now here is where it gets tricky:
College basketball is made up of four major leagues. There are some sub divisions in some leagues, but for now well focus on the primary four. You have NCAA Division I, NCAA Division II, NJCAA, and NAIA.
NCAA Division I: This is the highest level of basketball at the collegiate level. Here you’ll find the schools of the top players in the WNBA, as well as some of the dominant players that have made names for themselves overseas. At this level you’ll find really great programs and coaches that will turn you from a soft high school baby to a polished professional, so if you’re fortunate enough to play Division I it’s best to soak up all the knowledge and experience you can. Now don’t get me wrong, JUST BECAUSE YOU GO DIVISION I DOES NOT GUARANTEE YOULL GET TO PLAY. Too many times players will have a choice between developing at a Junior College, and will pass that up to sign to a DI school, only to spend the first 2 their 4 years sitting on the bench. This is especially important for international players wanting to play in the states for college; it’s important to choose a school where you’ll get the on-court experience as opposed to being the 2nd or 3rd string on the back burner. Yes you get to say you went to a great school, but it’s better to have stats and film to show the impact you’ve made on it.
NCAA Division II: Don’t sleep on this league. Too many times elite players get signed to DI schools only to have transcript problems, or behaviour problems which cause them to be unable to continue with said school. Here is where DII comes in. Schools are classified by Division based on the number of students attending the school, which is why most DI universities have the most success: they’ve got more regular students attending and paying tuition, and more fans coming to support the games, which brings in more money. So, seeing that a school is Division II isn’t the worst thing in the world. Many DII schools can, and actually DO, beat Division I schools in preseason and friendly games, and they also offer athletic scholarships, so your school will be paid for. Many of the same standards are applied to DII schools as DI, and depending on where the school is in the states you can even have a BETTER overall experience for your career and personal life. There is plenty of talent at Division II schools, and it provides a great opportunity to become “a big fish in a little pond”, giving you more exposure and opportunities if you decide to take advantage of it.
NJCAA: This stands for National Junior College Athletic Association. Colleges are broken up into either 2-year or 4-year schools, the 4 years being universities. The junior colleges offer a more inexpensive way for the average student to be introduced to the curriculum of “college life”, providing you with an associate’s degree and 2 years of credits if you decide to pursue your bachelor’s degree. As far as athletically, junior college is a great alternative to developing your game to get ready for a university. Say you aren’t happy with the offers you have out of high school, and you feel as if you can get to your dream university with a little more work and development. Junior colleges should be looked at as a stepping stone, kind of “buying” you two more years to develop as you continue to pursue your academic degree. Just like NCAA Division II, junior college is filled with talented players that may not have had the grades to play at the Division I/II level, or Division I players that weren’t happy with their playing time and have transferred with the hopes of signing with a different university. It’s also a place where some universities send players to develop a little more so that they can sign them a year later. There are plenty of reasons why people sign to junior colleges, and a lot of colleges offer scholarships as well, so if you are offered to play at a JC, looks at the different possibilities and opportunities on how you can make you’re experience work for junior college is filled with talented players that may not have had the grades to play at the Division I/II level, or Division I players that weren’t happy with their playing time and have transferred with the hopes of signing with a different university. It’s also a place where some universities send players to develop a little more so that they can sign them a year later. There are plenty of reasons why people sign to junior colleges, and a lot of colleges offer scholarships as well, so if you are offered to play at a JC, looks at the different possibilities and opportunities on how you can make you’re experience work for YOU.
NAIA: National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. This league is separate from NCAA, which means different eligibility rules, different tournaments, and different population. As I said earlier, schools are classified DI, DII, NJCAA and NAIA according to the number of students at the university, so obviously the number of students at an NAIA school will be relatively smaller than the other leagues. Talent wise, you could compare the top half of NAIA schools to that of some NCAA Division II schools, which is actually common for NAIA schools to beat DII schools in preseason games and/ or friendly games. Being that NAIA is separate from NCAA, the eligibility requirements are a lot lighter, which makes it more attractive for an international player wanting to come play in the states that might not have taken the proper exams or accreditations. Athletic scholarships are still available at this level, so you wouldn’t have to worry too much about paying for school if you are indeed offered a scholarship. NAIA teams tend to have more local players on the roster with the occasional import or out-of-stater, but it is another option to play competitively at the collegiate level whilst earning your bachelor’s degree.
After your college career is over, come the big moment: What to do next? As an American I know it’s every hoopers dream to be drafted into the strongest women’s basketball professional leagues in the world: The WNBA. But with the league so small, it’s very difficult to be drafted. In 2017, 16,593 women basketball student athletes graduated from college. Most probably had the dream to continue their career professionally. There are only 36 draft spots allocated each year in the league, meaning you get the call to attend a preseason training camp, but you are not guaranteed a permanent spot. Overall there are 12 teams in the WNBA, with twelve spots available on each team. So that’s 16,593 women’s basketball players leaving school with basketball dreams, and only 144 spots in the WNBA. So the next time you ask an American “why aren’t you in the WNBA?”, know that it’s probably not that they don’t want to… its because there is NO ROOM! Even the players that are fortunate enough to play only play through the summer, as the league is a short three months long. This means that these women also look to other forms of income, which brings us to the next stage of your basketball career: playing overseas.
As an American playing internationally, playing overseas is the ultimate experience. If you are from a foreign country originally, the experience will probably be like ’going home’. Here you go through the process of building your playing reputation all over again: starting off as the rookie aka “freshman”, and slowly building up your credibility as an adult playing professionally. Here your career falls entirely in your hands: there is no more mandatory workouts, you become responsible for keeping yourself in shape. There aren’t coaches hounding you about strength and weight sessions- if you don’t go lift on your own, it will show in your performance. If you stop performing effectively, it can drastically affect your position on the team, ultimately leading to your removal. No one wants to be cut from a team, it’s an unfortunate process, but one all too common. It can be tough to transition from having your schedule organized for you most of your career, to having to organize every aspect of your basketball training yourself, but if you have been listening and paying attention at your college/ university, hopefully you will have picked up some strategies that will help you along your career.
And there you have it, a step by step process of the basketball road in America. There are other tangibles to take into consideration, like injuries and politics, but overall if you are giving 100% to the game of basketball, it will almost always give 100% back to you.