Welcome to Interview #15.
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Assistant Coach, of the University of South Alabama, Russ Willemsen.
Coach Willemsen has been with the South Alabama since 2013. Before South Alabama, Willemsen was at Tennessee Tech for eight years.
Coach Willemsen is a coach with substance behind him. He has written many great articles about basketball and leadership. He is a regular contributor at BasketballHQ.com. He has also written articles for CollegeChalktalk.com. Willemsen wrote the introductory article for the web site’s series on John Wooden, “Pyramid Tribute: In Memory of John Wooden”. After you read this interview, I encourage you to check out Coach Willemsen’s articles, especially if you are in the basketball world.
Don’t miss the Bonus Question at the end of this interview! Coach Willemsen shares valuable advice for any athlete desiring to compete at the highest level.
Read on. This interview is full of priceless information!What would a timeline (years in high school) look like for your recruiting of a typical player? What kind of communication do you send out and when?
Legally per NCAA rules we cannot initiate contact with a prospective student athlete (PSA) until June 15 entering their junior year of high school. After that, our sport allows unlimited communication to PSA’s. Texts, emails, phone calls, or private messages on social media are all permissible.
Typically for a PSA that is a sophomore or younger, we may send a questionnaire, invite them to our College Prep Camp, or try to get them on campus for an unofficial visit (all expenses paid for by the PSA). These PSA’s can contact us any time; we just cannot be the ones that initiate the call. We also will typically speak with their high school coaches to express our interest.
Should a high school basketball player personally contact you by phone, text or email, what will you do next?
Typically if we are contacted by a new PSA, the first line of communication is email. We will get an email with a short biography of the PSA and usually a link to a highlight video. To be honest, if the heading just reads “Coach” or “Good Afternoon” and then leads into their biography, I just delete the email because it more than likely it was a mass email sent to 1000’s of coaches. Any email that is personalized to me, I watch and evaluate. If it is someone that intrigues us we may ask for a full-length film and begin to gather information on the PSA’s grades, character, statistics and team.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
We typically involve parents a lot in the recruiting process. Parents are potentially sending their son or daughter to college for four years. They have to trust you as a coach that you are going to take care of their child. I’ve also had some issues where parents can be overbearing. If a parent texts me after EVERY game with the PSA’s stats, that sometimes can come off that the family is self-absorbed and only leads me to think: when this kid gets to college are the parents more concerned with his stats or the team winning?
What are college coaches looking for in a recruiting video? What is the best way for recruits to format the video to be useful to the college coach?
We look for talent in a recruiting video. We want to know one thing; can this kid help us win a championship? If the answer is yes, then we will proceed to ask for a full-length game. From there we will check character, grades, etc.
I think the easiest format is YouTube. I have received Hudl and other links to software but I think YouTube is by far the best way. I have been sent a Hudl link before, logged in to watch the film and it says I do not have access to watch the video. That becomes frustrating. YouTube does not require a password and is accessible to everyone on the Internet.
What are some of the things that would keep you from recruiting a player?
Social media has become a great judge on character. I will go back and look at a PSA’s tweets for sometimes the last two months. I have stopped recruiting a kid because of what he posts on social media. Bad grades, poor practice habits, lazy work ethic, lack of toughness, or being a bad teammate all could be reasons we stop recruiting a specific PSA.
What do you think about recruiting services and their usefulness for a player to find the right college and to get an athletic scholarship?
Recruiting services are great as a reference for names. We build a lot of our recruiting boards off evaluations from recruiting service guys we trust. We always take their opinions into consideration, but we make the final call on a PSA. They really help because they can see a kid more than you. It’s amazing the information recruiting services can give you on a PSA that attended their camp.
What does the offseason, spring season and summer look like for a Division 1 basketball player?
Basketball is a year round sport. The NCAA allows us eight weeks in the summer to work our players out. We are allowed two hours on the court with them and 6 more additional hours of weight training and conditioning for a total of 8 hours in the summer per week. This is a GREAT time for players to improve their overall skill level. Our players typically get 2-3 weeks off in May and 3-4 weeks off in August from school.
What are the short term and long term benefits of being on a collegiate athletic team?
I think people that play a collegiate sport are more prepared for the real world. They have learned to work as group and handle adversity. Long rigorous practices help develop a necessary work ethic to be successful in the working world. I also think it forces kids to buy into the team concept. Things will not always go their way, but they are still expected to perform at a high level.
Can you share a story or two about players who have gone through your program that have been impacted by their time playing college basketball?
I personally try as a coach to keep up with all of my former players. I can proudly say many of them use me as a job reference and I have helped a lot of them get the job they are currently at. I received a phone call yesterday from one of my former players that was promoted to branch manager. He was asking my opinion on handling a situation at work. He used basketball and his own experience as a collegiate athlete to diffuse the problem at work.
Bonus Question: Is there anything important that you would like to share directly with high school athletes or basketball players in particular as they navigate the recruiting process?
Being a Division I athlete is VERY hard and it’s not something you can just work to become, you have to continue to work to stay at that level. So many kids work to become the best player on their High School teams and then become complacent and think they have made it to the top. The best piece of advice I can give to an aspiring D1 athlete is to spend 45 minutes a day mastering the skills for your sport (AT GAME SPEED) and about 30-45 minutes four days a week in the weight room. Work as hard as you can, do not worry about the competition and become the best player you can be!
Over the years, Willemsen has had many duties in addition to coaching. He has served as the summer camp director, overseen his team’s academic progress, coordinated team travel, coordinated film exchange.
Willemsen has been active in the recruitment and retention of college basketball players for over a decade.
Coach Willemsen broke into coaching as an assistant at his alma mater, Lee University, an NAIA school.
Willemsen has a 2004 bachelor’s degree in physical education and history education from Lee and he earned a master’s in instructional leadership in 2007 at Tennessee Tech. He is married the former Sarah Dolle.
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