Guards, in basketball, are everywhere. Every team has plenty of them. Some teams only have guards. Bigs, however, are less available and more in demand. There are less people in the world that grow taller than 6’6.” It is the basic economics principle of supply and demand. If you are a guard trying to get to the prep school or college level, what are you to do? Let’s first look at what prep school coaches are looking for.
Here are characteristics that three prep school coaches look for in a guard:
Coach A – “I’m a short guy that played point guard so I have an appreciation for small, tough, smart, and competitive point guards. Being a good/strong student is very helpful. I mostly want them to be able to handle the ball, be able to learn and be a competitor. Certainly, if that can all be in a taller, longer, stronger, more athletic body, that’s a bonus.”
Coach B – “I prefer a guard that can really defend but if his offense skills are superior I would be willing to work around that as long as I thought he had it at other spots on the floor. Likewise, I prefer a guard that can score the ball. If you can’t shoot the three, you better be damn good at some other things in today’s space the floor game.
I work best with competitive individuals and guys that bring a degree of either mental or physical toughness – ideally both end to the table. In short, mature athletes with the intangibles to influence winning and resiliency to stand up to adversity. Those characteristics can cover for a variety of deficiencies that may include athleticism, skill, or academic background, and can ultimately lead to personal and team success at the prep or college level.”
Coach C – “Shooting is a premium at all positions right now, but especially guards. It’s hard to be an effective guard if you can’t consistently make open 3s. Next would be guarding the ball. So much of the game is dribble penetration and ball screens defense, that guards need to physically be able to guard and mentally understand their role in ball screen defense – whatever scheme their coaches employs.
In general, I think kids get recruited for their strengths, for what they can do. Every player has flaws and they need to competent in all areas, but what is their signature? Why would a coach put them in a game? What role will they have? Working on weaknesses is important, but maximizing strengths is just as or more important in my opinion.”
Prep school coaches are looking for guards who can at least play at the D3 level. They also need to have solid grades and bring more to the school than just basketball. This might include speaking another language, excelling in another sport, or holding leadership positions in school or community clubs. Prep schools want well-rounded student athletes. Also, they will need to qualify for financial aid or be willing to pay close to full tuition. There are not that many deals for guards, especially in current Covid times, due to the overwhelming supply. If a prep school coach waits around for a full pay talented guard, one will most likely reach out to him this year.
This might not sound fair if a player’s family does not have the means to pay this price for prep school tuition. But there is available financial aid. If a family does not have money, and the guard qualifies to get into a school based on their skills, academics, and extra-curricular activities, then they will most likely be awarded financial aid. Schools don’t want to miss out on a well-rounded athlete who will bring ‘something’ to their school’s student body and culture.
Here is an example of a player I helped this past summer: This player checked a lot of boxes that prep schools are interested in. They hailed from a foreign country, spoke three languages, had a 3.5GPA, excelled at three sports, had great character and a fun personality. After college their goal is to be a doctor. This checks every box that a prep school is looking for. This player came from a large family that didn’t have the financial means to spend on prep school tuition. The prep school this player eventually ended up going to worked out a payment plan and only required the family to pay $5,000 for a $65,000 tuition. The school also threw in a computer and plane tickets for the player to fly back and forth to their home. This player was a guard.
Even though this family was going to struggle coming up with the $5,000 tuition it was a deal that they could not pass up as it would start a new trajectory in life for their child. This student had been perfecting and working on her grades and sports skills since they were young. The bricks for a player’s foundation cannot be laid overnight. It takes years and years of work.
So let’s work on a prescription for guards. What does a guard need to have in order to find a roster spot at a brick and mortar prep school?
1) Character – If you don’t have good character you better have top 100 talent. Some schools might take you, but a lot of coaches don’t want to deal with the headache no matter how talented a player is. They can end up being a cancer to the team and school. Have good character. It is one of the first traits a coach asks about.
2) High Academics – If you are 6’8’’ you can afford to have a 2.5GPA. If you are a guard it hurts. There are too many guards out there that have good grades. A guard has to have it at least above a 3.0. The better the standardized test scores, the more marketable a player is as well.
3) Skills – For prep school you have to employ multiple skills at a high level. Be a great shooter, great defender, athletic, long, fast, leader, high IQ, etc. To play in college you will need to have more of these attributes.
4) Finances – Since guards are not in demand there are going to be few financial deals on prep school tuition. A player will have to qualify for financial aid after checking the boxes that a prep school admissions department will require. Or you will have to pay close to full tuition. Middle class families have it tough to where a school might be cutting tuition in half to $32,000, but that is still more than the family can come up with at that time.
5) Expectations – If a 5’6’’ guard is dead set on going high major but they don’t have a single school from any level recruiting them, then the expectation is out of line for a prep school coach. Especially in today’s recruiting environment, a player needs to set realistic expectations. If a family is unrealistic, a coach might pause to think whether this family’s expectations will be met. At any position and skill now, players of all sizes need to adjust their expectations. An old saying in the recruiting world is you are as good as the colleges recruiting you.
This has been a long article on the challenges of being a guard. I wanted it to be as realistic as possible and try to answer questions. 95% of the players reaching out to me are guards and many do not have what it takes to play at a prep school. Instead of coming to this realization as a senior it would be great if the younger generation can see what steps can lead to a better chance of a position at a higher level. It can be done.