The above headline is true, and coming to that realization could open a lot of doors.
Recently, I wrote a story highlighting former Morro Bay High basketball player Alexander Engel. After spending two seasons at nearby JC Cuesta College, Engel recently wrapped up a career playing for Menlo College at the NAIA level.
His entire story — including a great experience in a “homecoming” game at Cal Poly, where he played against longtime friend and former teammate Dylan Royer on a Division I floor — is detailed at the link above.
Alex is a great example for exposing younger basketball players to the options out there if UCLA, Cal Poly or any of the other 345 DI teams don’t come knocking for a chicken dinner.
I was kind of like Alex when I was in high school. Sometimes I started, but I also came off the bench for my varsity team. I played with a guy who was recruited and went to Boise State. Nobody recruited me.
But graduation is where our paths diverge.
I stopped playing.
At 31 years old, it’s hard to go back and critically gauge how much I wanted to continue my basketball career way back then. I probably didn’t have the same work ethic and dedication as Alex. That’s what really sets him apart from his peers. If being 5-foot-10 doesn’t qualify as “naturally gifted,” Engel’s talent comes in unmeasurable attributes.
But I also didn’t know the different types of schools and the vast number of teams looking for players. All I knew is where I couldn’t play in my hometown: the local DI program (not good enough) and perennial state title contending JC (which was recruiting nationally).
There are more than 500 combined schools that play at either the NAIA or NCAA Division II level, both of which award full scholarships for basketball. These schools are usually on smaller campuses with athletic departments that don’t feature huge recruiting budgets. They might not have the money to come looking for you, but they might be more open to you looking for them.
That’s how Engel did it. Nobody came looking for a backup point guard with a dearth of playing time on his stat sheet. But he sold himself, and he had a career to be proud of.
If you’ve ever dreamed of playing college basketball while getting your education paid for, these schools are options, even though you won’t see them when you fill out your tournament bracket pool at work.
Would knowing about the many NCAA D2s and NAIAs that were out there have changed my path coming out of high school? Maybe. Maybe not. But living in a county where very few basketball players get to hold press conferences on signing day, it’s knowledge that every prep player should be armed with.