One of the most common misconceptions I deal with in the basketball world is that basketball academies and brick and mortar prep schools are the same; they are not. They are vastly different and this article will give players and their families a breakdown on what differentiates the two.
What are basketball academies?
A basketball academy is a program where a player can attend for a school year. These academies can be for a 9th-12th grader, while some are strictly for post-grads. A basketball academy focuses on basketball first and foremost. Some of these academies partner with a small Christian or private school for their player’s schooling. The private school likes this because they receive tuition and potential notoriety. Some academies only have online learning as an option. The program might have an academic proctor to help the players with their schoolwork, but there are no set academic standards when it comes to these basketball academies. How the basketball team is run is up to each academy. Some have 12 players in their program, while others can have up to 60. They also can play up to 50 games which is what a lot of players gravitate to.
Where you can run into problems with these basketball academies, is when they do not provide what is promised to players and their families. I have witnessed and heard horror stories since I started player placement. Full disclosure, I have sent players in the past to some of these basketball academies which is why I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts on this option. The players I sent did not have the means, talent, nor academics that a brick and mortar prep school wanted so I utilized these more affordable options. Right away I got complaints from players and their parents stating that things were not as promised. Examples include five players sleeping in a room that fits two, not enough to eat so a player had to get a job at a car wash to fend off his hunger pangs, lackluster educational practices, a coach showing his players porn, etc. One place even had their coach/founder face a scandal that made it on Good Morning America. Needless to say after these events I became very wary of the basketball academy world and wanted to let it be known that these are not akin to a brick and mortar real world prep school. Here is a recent article on questions to ask a coach at one of these basketball academies. Let’s compare brick and mortar prep schools to basketball academies:
1) Education – A prep school is an accredited academic institution that has trained teachers in a small classroom setting. There are college counselors, guidance counselors, and support for students needing extra help. Prep schools even help with learning disabilities. A few prep schools are ranked as some of the top educational institutions in the world. With a basketball academy you are not going to get this. At best an academy will partner with a school where their players can attend. Most of these are small private and Christian schools. The academy can piggyback on the school structure that is already in place. Some academies opt to do online learning which the players have to do on their own or under the supervision of an academic proctor. If the academy is offering a post grad year taking online classes might even be optional. Most academies do offer ACT/SAT prep. When talking to an academy be sure to find out what academic options they offer and if the school they are working with is accredited and offering NCAA approved courses.
2) Coaching – When a brick and mortar prep school looks to hire a coach they get flooded with applications. A majority of these coaches played or coached at the college level. Anyone can start and coach at a basketball academy. You need to find out where the coach has been prior to this, who are the assistants, and what is their experience coaching and placing their players. Unfortunately, you will need to check and see if they have a criminal record. I only say this because there have been coaches with shady pasts running basketball academies.
3) Living Arrangements – At brick and mortar prep schools you will be sleeping in a dorm room. Some refer to these prep schools as boarding schools as students live there full time. Some boarding schools also have day students. At basketball academies you will have a lot of options. Some have dorms, some live in houses w/ adult supervision, and even some have their players live in hotels. It is imperative to ask the coaches ahead of time what the living arrangements will be, who will be providing adult supervision, what is their background, and how many players will be sharing a room. This is another instance where it is a good idea to talk to alumni of these programs. I have seen instances of all players on a varsity team living in a giant room above a gym. I have seen another where five kids were all living on mattresses on the floor of one room. Do your due diligence!
4) Food – Brick and mortar prep schools all have cafeterias. They vary on how good they are, but there is a staff that is contracted to provide up to three meals a day with snacks normally available throughout. I have heard of multiple basketball academies that fuel their team on pasta, chicken tenders and cereal. These are cheaper items to buy in bulk at a Costco than varied culinary options. At one academy kids away from home for the first time were told to give their coach a list of foods they wanted so they could cook it themselves. Some of these kids were foreigners and have never shopped in the US and others had never prepared food before. One player had to get a job at a car wash to earn money to buy extra food because he was always hungry.
5) Exposure/Placement – Each year when a player commits to a brick and mortar prep school the coach will go over their summer plans and what the player wants for a college option. Once school starts in the Fall the open gyms have a tried and true open gym period where college coaches from all over the country come to recruit. This has been happening for decades. I have seen with the pop up academies that they promise a lot of games, but what about exposure during the open gym period in the fall? It is easier to place the easily identifiable scholarship players but what about the players on the end of the bench who are usually paying more to be there? Do more games equal a better chance at getting placed? If you are looking at a basketball academy be sure to ask if they placed everyone on the roster in previous years, do scouts come through to evaluate the talent, and what is your history of placing a player at my level in the past? Ask to talk to former players to find out what their placement experience was like.
7) Cost – Brick and mortar prep schools can cost between $32,000 – $68,000. IMG Academy can be closer to $85,000. These prices don’t mean that each family will pay that. With this, players get all a prep school can offer: dorms, food, gym, coaching, gear, education, alumni network, college counseling, etc.
Be aware of some of the financial tricks that basketball academies do. Here is one that I find quite dishonest. An academy might be willing to take a player for $10,000. When they sent the contract to the family they spice it up and make it sound like the player is getting a great deal. Here is the example: Our academy’s full tuition to include room and board is $50,000. We like you so much we are giving you a $40,000 scholarship to where you will only have to pay $10,000 total. This sounds fancy but just know the total amount was going to be $10,000 all along.
8) Safety – Brick and mortar prep schools have staff who have been recruited and passed background checks. There are two students max per dorm room and there are staff who live in these same buildings. It becomes a family environment as staff can have their spouses and children living on the same floors as the students.
Anyone can start a basketball academy. They do not need to be accredited and staff members/coaches do not have to pass background checks. Anyone can join the staff as there is no third-party oversight. Do a google search on the coaching staff at an academy to make sure none of them have criminal records. Will there be a place to lock up your stuff, who will be the adult, what are the living conditions, etc.
9) Reliability – Brick and mortar prep schools have board of directors, accreditations, endowments, a specific academic schedule to follow, teachers, and more. There are a lot of moving pieces and it would take a lot to shut these schools down. An academy can just close on the owner’s whim. No recourse. It happens every year when a parent calls me in November to say that an academy has shut down. These families won’t be getting a refund and they are now challenged with finding another opportunity. Staying with reliability, you need to find out about transportation. I heard of an academy in Arizona that didn’t have their own vehicles and sent players everywhere via Uber.
10) Competition – Prep schools play other prep schools. These are highly competitive games with great coaches on each sideline. Academies also play competitive games. There is a lot of talent on the basketball academy circuit. This is something that cannot be denied. The academies promise more games played than actual prep schools. This leads to more game time experience for the players that make it on the court.
There are great opportunities at prep schools and basketball academies. This article is to ensure families know the difference between the two, and what to look out for when researching these options. Feel free to reach out to me at: email@example.com if you have any questions.