Walking on in D3 Basketball

This is a weird question and I do not know where else to put this. My S is curious about the process for walking on in D3. He loves basketball and played competitive (travel and AAU) throughout middle school, but didn’t play for his high school because he was only 5’4 when he tried out his freshman year and didn’t make the freshman team. There is a bit of drama with his high school basketball team, so he didn’t try out again even though he is 6’0 now and can play either guard. He plays a lot of pickup basketball and has played some AAU during high school.

Given his strange background in basketball, he is not expecting to get recruited, but if he did go to a D3 program (he is looking at a couple of UAA schools), do they have open tryouts for walk ons? How do those schools put their rosters together if they don’t have scholarships? Just curious, because he may play AAU this coming year if walking on is a possibility.

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What year is he?

Basketball has fairly small rosters, so it will vary by school whether or not the coach will have tryouts/allow walk-ons. If he is interested in playing he should reach out to coaches and ask whether they take walk-ons and what’s involved. If he does play AAU, that coach should be able to help him assess his skill level, whether he might be recruited, or where there may be walk-on opportunities.

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My son is going into his Senior Year.

I don’t know that academics is a focus of most AAU programs, or at least the one my son played on. I would be surprised if his AAU coach has ever had a player go to a UAA or NESCAC school. Based on what I have seen, the kids in his program are trying to shoehorn their way into a JUCO, D2 or (maybe) lower tier D1 scholarship, simply trying to help their college application, or, like my son, just playing for fun.

My son took a break from AAU basketball because of COVID, and is taking 4 AP classes next year, so he had figured he would not be playing organized hoops again. Now he is looking at a handful of UAA schools, and loves basketball, so he may try to squeeze in a few months of AAU next year if there is a chance to be a walk-on at a D3 school.

I am a little reluctant to have him reach out to the coaches directly for fear of annoying them. Is that OK for a prospective student to do?

He may be able to walk on. Since he’s not going the recruitment route, he could probably wait until spring to approach coaches and ask what the process is for walk-on tryouts. But he could reach out now with tape and ask coaches whether they would welcome that if he’s admitted. In any case, I think he’d understand whether this was realistic prior to paying a deposit next spring.

It is also likely that there will be an intramural program (and pick up games) wherever he is so he is likely to have an outlet for this interest, albeit less intense and organized.

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He can contact coaches now, which makes sense if the possibility of walking on helps him finalize his college list and application strategy.

He might also research which schools have club teams (which travel and play other colleges)…generally a step up from intramural teams in both talent and commitment level.

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Your son should feel very comfortable reaching out to D3 schools. A lot of them have a “recruit me” link or icon on their websites for that very purpose. UAA schools has some of the best D3 teams in the country, but my guess is that they will all respond. On another note, Grinnell College in Iowa is known for a “no cut” policy in men’s basketball so that may be a coach to contact.

I think you will find D3 coaches to be responsive and helpful. Good luck to your son in his search.

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This was helpful. Thank you.

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Absolutely talk to coaches. You never know until you ask. Also might give you some insight into the school itself.

If your son loves basketball he should try to play. You only have so much time to play. No regrets.

Some schools have pretty competitive intramurals. Maybe that’s enough? I can remember a few intramural games in college. Imagine guarding 275 pound Ironhead Heyward who could dunk.

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He should get himself on a competitive AAU team and get his play on tape, so you can distribute to various coaches. His resume right now isn’t inspiring, unfortunately.

Some colleges may have open tryouts, most don’t. Your S could also offer to play on a “scout team” as a freshman in college, assuming he’s good enough, and there he will get eyes on him.

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I went to undergrad at a big state school that has one of the best basketball programs in D1. That school’s men’s basketball team did have open tryouts every year for a couple of walk on spots, and the intramurals were very competitive.

I was not nearly good enough to try to walk on there, but I know people that did, and I know what that process looks like. I am less clear on the process in D3.

Edit: Some of the big states are very strong in his major, so if he goes to one of those he will play intramurals and have no regrets. We were just curious about the process for D3.

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If they have walk ons I bet D3 does also. I just think it depends on what D3 we are taking about. Don’t forget about intermural. Some schools have different levels of competitiveness

What type of drama?

Quite often college coaches will know local HS and AAU coaches personally and might check in to understand back story and ability. At a minimum he would need to be prepared to explain why he didn’t play in HS and or stopped playing AAU.

Walk on players tend to be added as role players (think Rudy) so non parental coaching support can influence a college coaches decision. Does he have a coach that would go to bat for him?

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The drama is garden variety stuff and not worth recapping on a public forum. We are not the only ones that have issues with how the program is run. There has been an exodus from the program in the last two years, and my son is not going to try out again. He will just keep working on his game and potentially try out in college if he wants to, although he is leaning more towards some bigger schools where playing college ball will not be an option for him.

My original question was more to understand roster construction at the DIII level, not just for my son, but also for my daughter who is a few years behind him and has a shot to be a recruited basketball player at the DIII level. She needs to put the time in and growing another 2 inches would be very helpful, but I think she has a good shot to be in the ballpark of a DIII-caliber player if she sticks with it.

How does DIII recruiting work? They don’t have recruiting budgets like the D1 schools, so is it self-selected? Do a lot of players quit basketball in college once they get into their course work, especially if they are in more demanding majors? I have other resources for this, but I am very interested if anyone has first hand experience in this.

Re: how does d3 recruiting work – the best resource is the old threads in the athletic recruiting forum. Go back and browse through them, I found them invaluable.

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D3 recruiting varies by sport, but rarely is it the same as D1 or D2. Usually there is no budget or a small one. In some sports the coach/asst will go to a showcase or tournament and look at the players. Many of those players have identified themselves to the coach through a questionnaire or other contact (visit to the school, hs or club coach). Many of the d3 schools host summer camps and players sign up and pay to attend.

If the student visits the school, it is usually self funded (plane ticket, car travel), but while at the school, if being recruited, the student may stay with another team member at the dorm, can eat at the dining hall, can attend a sporting event.

What does the student get? No money, as you stated above, but often a little help getting into a selective school. Coaches often have 2-3 spots that they can use to give an applicant a push with admissions. The student has to be qualified for that school, but with a coach’s help, may get a push in front of other, equally qualified applicants. Once in, the student has an instant group of friends and support, gets to play XXX sport, sometimes gets priority for class registration, uniforms and work out clothing, etc.

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“How does DIII recruiting work? I have other resources for this, but I am very interested if anyone has first hand experience in this.”

Two of my 3 kids were recruited at the D3 level for lax. Their HS team was nationally ranked so virtually any 2 year starter was on college coaches radar.

A lot went on behind the scenes with HS coaches serving as an intermediary. I am highly confident that the HS coaches made potential college coaches aware of academic suitability, character, etc. I believe this because both boys had similar playing ability but had very different academic records. These differences were evident in the schools that showed interest. That could have only come from the HS coach.

We provided all the coaches who had interest video and gave them a list of summer tournaments each kid would attend. We also got invited to a few “select camps”.

Things became much more direct while traveling with their summer league travel teams. Seemed like the coaches were in evaluation mode and were there to see specific kids and connect with parents.

From that point it became unique to each kid and school so probably not of value in sharing. Obviously no money offered, application support the big carrot for my son that needed it, and roster and role discussions. Not sure if basketball is similar but hope this helps.

Lastly I just asked and was told college team had several walk ons.

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In response to the question about how do coaches build their roster if they don’t have athletic scholarships to offer players, the answer is, they offer a roster spot on the team as a recruit, with support in the admissions process, as long as the player commits to apply ED. The roster spot offer with admissions support is even more of a draw for prospective recruits at the most selective D3 schools, including the UAA schools such as Chicago. At the same time, some D3 schools have the reputation for offering very little admissions support for recruited athletes, including MIT. Without knowing D3 bball recruiting directly, I would hazard a guess that small roster size means there is not a lot of room for walk ons. For comparison, in D3 Men’s Soccer which typically carries a roster of 30 or so, my son saw a couple of guys who contacted the coach after they were accepted to the school and were then invited to pre-season training or spring training to train with the team. None ever made the team.

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https://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/estimated-probability-competing-college-athletics

FWIW, the probability of playing in college from high school.
My D’s sport is soccer and she plays at the highest level
travel soccer league. AND, she might not be recruited to the school she wants. For soccer, almost all of the recruited soccer girls played both HS and Club (somewhere buried in the source page).

HS # NCAA # Total % D1 % D2 % D3 %
Women’s Soccer 394,105 28,310 7.2% 2.4% 1.9% 2.9%

Women’s Basketball 399,067 16,509 4.1% 1.3% 1.2% 1.7%

Men’s Basketball 540,769 18,816 3.5% 1.0% 1.0% 1.4%

Many (many) students who play in high school choose not to play in college. Also, many hs students play more than one sport in hs but usually can only play one in college. Girl on my daughter hs lax team played soccer in college, so she’s going to be included in the hs lax numbers who didn’t go on to play in college.

If a student really wants to be an athlete in college it is usually possible, but the student may have to go to a different school than the dream academic fit. My daughter could not have played at a top (for the sport) D1 school but she did have interest from other D1 schools, as well as D2 and D3. My niece and nephew both were top players in high school but picked schools that didn’t have teams in their sport (niece did play club, nephew chose not to play on the club team).

I think it is very hard in most sports to be a walk on without experience in high school or on a very strong club team immediately before college. My daughter’s team was new to the school so the coach was just looking for bodies. She got 4 from the women’s soccer team and they were outstanding athletes, but only 1 was really any good with a lax stick. Also had a few walk on players but they were absolutely terrible, and at times it was dangerous to have them on the field as balls were whizzing around and they couldn’t keep up with the play. They sat on the bench and rarely played even 2 minutes of a game - and only if we were about 10 goals ahead.

@CTDad-classof2022, I would NEVER worry about annoying coaches by reaching out to them. Literally, this is the coach’s job. Coaches want potential players to reach out to them. It can save them a lot of time. If you are recruiting at a camp or tournament, and you know four kids who want to go to your school, you can save the spiel about how wonderful the school is. Those kids already believe that the school is wonderful. You can save the effort of recruiting a kid who will never go to the school. In fact, coaches long for the day that a talent drops out of the sky into their laps.

That said, do understand that since all colleges want to decrease their acceptance rates, coaches will encourage your kid to apply, even if he has little chance of walking on. The tell tale words are “you can try out if you get in.” This means that the coach is not willing to support your application for admission.

You do need tapes, so best to get that started even if it is only a skills tape. I suspect that in basketball, game tape is preferable. But time is a-wasting. Have your kid go ahead and start emailing coaches now. You’ll soon find out if your kid is gaining traction.

I will say one thing. Most high school varsity players do not go onto play in college. So, most programs are going to be more competitive than high school. Perhaps you can gain access to a D3 practice somewhere to get a sense of the level of play.

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