The college basketball regular season is officially over and conference tournament action is upon us.
Every season the college basketball landscape is filled with freshmen who were highly touted coming out of high school. Some play up to those lofty reputations immediately, some do in time and others never pan out.
When a player goes from his senior year in high school to his first year in college, he is really starting his athletic career all over again. To adjust -- and thrive -- in a new, highly-competitive environment every freshman must understand there is a huge learning curve involved. What once came easy is now much more difficult. Freshmen in college have to learn a new system, new terminology and how to play with new teammates. Not to mention dealing with a larger academic workload, as well as media attention and travel schedules.
After coaching and recruiting in the college game for 20 years and speaking to some of current freshmen -- who were ranked in our ESPNU 100 last season -- here is a look at some of the biggest adjustments high school seniors have to make in order to in the college game.
Most high school players solely concentrate on their offensive development and neglect the notion of stopping the opponent. However, the moment that same player steps on the floor for his first college practice, all aspects of defense become a new way of life.
At the high school level there is usually one star or difference-maker, so that player needs to stay in the game to help his team win. As a result, defense has to take a backseat. At the college level and beyond, players must learn how to guard and not commit foolish fouls.
What is the biggest adjustment defensively you have had to make?
”Off the ball, when I get screened it's been a challenge to get over or under. You can’t lay on the screen.”
Anthony Davis, F, Kentucky Wildcats (No. 1 in 2011 ESPNU 100): "Defending in the low post, weight wise for me, against older, stronger players has been hard."
"I had to learn how to use my lower body (hips, legs) and not use my upper body. Playing lower is the key and to not stay in one spot. Keep moving my feet. Before, in high school I could just stand behind the guy.”
Austin Rivers, G, Duke Blue Devils (No. 2 in 2011 ESPNU 100): “To stay in my stance the whole possession and to talk [was the toughest adjustment]. It's really important to communicate with your teammates. By talking, you communicate and keep yourself engaged defensively.”
Middle and low-post game
Most players are recruited for their offensive skills, athletic ability and potential. However, they have to develop and expand their games because the competition at the college level will try and take away their greatest strengths.
The all-important, but hardly-worked-on middle game and back-to-the-basket low-post game need the most fine-tuning as players move on from the high school ranks.
What is the biggest offensive adjustment you have had to make?
Moe Harkless, G/F, St. John's Red Storm (No. 39 in the 2011 ESPNU 100): "In college, they take a lot of charges because the team defense is so good. In college, if you can get by your man they have someone waiting to step in and take a charge. Learning the jump stop has been important because you avoid the offensive foul, can score from it or find an open man."
"Opponents' scouting reports are so detailed about how to stop your favorite move, that you better be able to counter. Work on your weaknesses"
Davis: "Holding my ground and again playing lower. Also when you catch the ball with your back to the basket, you have to look to the middle for help and read the defense, then make your move. I used to rush in the post; now I slow down."
Gilchrist: "Most of the time against a set defense you can’t get to the rim. You need a middle game, it opens everything up for others.”
Rivers: "To move without the basketball and when I have the ball to be able to make a quick move you can’t dance with the ball like in high school.”
"A middle game is important because in college, teams take more charges. A lot more."
McAdoo: "In offensive execution, every little thing matters. Even if you don’t touch the ball, you need to do something to help the play, such as go to the offensive glass, set a good screen, keep good spacing."
"I needed to learn how to use my body inside to get better angles to score"
Attention to detail
There is so much to learn in such a short amount of time and so much at stake for college basketball players that they must pay attention to detail. They need to understand and follow a plan including individual development, defending opponent's personnel and schemes, as well as executing their own offense.
What have you had to focus more on at the college level?
Davis: "In high school, we would talk about the other team's best players. Here in college, every game we have scouting reports that talk about the other team's players and plays and how to guard them. For example, I learn what shoulder he likes to go to in the post. Does he use a shot fake? Does he duck in or look for lobs?"
”We walk through their plays and watch film. If you don’t pay attention you can get lost in the game and hurt your team. The other team scouts you and tries to stop you, so you have to know and use your counters when they take something away.”
"I didn’t play with a shot clock in high school so now I have learned through practice to play with one in my head”
Rivers: “I never realized how big the little things are in college basketball. You must pay attention to everything. If you don’t, you will be lost."
Harkless: "Opponents' scouting reports are so detailed about how to stop your favorite move that you better be able to counter. Work on your weaknesses."
McAdoo: "Our scouting reports are very important and we learn about our opponents by watching film when you go up against your opponents. Also you can learn about yourself by watching film with your coaches."
Physicality and pace
For most players, the physical transition to the college level is just a matter of time. However, a big advantage for players today is to enroll in summer school, get a chance to be in the weight room and play pick-up games with former players to get an idea of the physical demands. The preseason also helps freshmen get accustomed to the fast-paced college game as most teams put an emphasis on strength and conditioning at this time.
What are the biggest adjustments you have had to make to keep up with the physicality and pace in college?
Davis: "The game is very physical from point guard through center. I always tried to avoid contact in high school; now I try and take the contact. The work you do in the weight room with a strength coach really helps."
"When it comes to the pace of the game, college is so much faster. When you play fast, like we do, your mind races as well. [Coach John Calipari] tells us to play fast and think slow.
Kidd-Gilchrist: "You have to get stronger because the bodies are so much bigger than in high school. The pace and the amount of contact is different. You have to fight through the tough times."
Rivers: "Once you adapt to the speed and intensity of the game, you will be ok.”
The college basketball season is long and grueling and it's inevitable that freshmen will not "show up" mentally on certain days because the college season is longer and much more demanding than high school.
School starts in September with individual workouts, weight-room work and a full academic load. Once the 30-game season starts, players are practicing six days a week for three or four hours per day, as well as travelling for away games.
Overall, it is a big transition from the high school season, but one that gets easier over time.
How do you stay focused mentally throughout the season?
Harkless: "You must stay focused and you can't let your mind get off track. To stay on track you can't do what other kids do because you have different goals. When things get tough mentality, the coaches can help talk you through it. You can't give up on yourself or your teammates. It is a long season."
Davis: "Stay in the gym extra to get re-focused. Stay focused on your dreams and goals -- for me it's winning a national championship. There's a lot of hard work that goes into that."
Gilchrist: "If you are away from home, it can be hard. The season is much longer than high school. If you love what you are doing you will enjoy it -- even when it's hard."
Rivers: "It is a long season, but if you have high expectations for yourself and your team that should exceed the fatigue."
McAdoo: "Each and every day is a grind you have to bring you’re 'A' game. I lean on my teammates to get through a long season, especially the older players."