College Basketball | 5 Top Qualities Men’s Coaches Want in a Student-Athlete

Posted by Steve O’Brien – Goal: College Athlete 

What are the top qualities Men’s Basketball coaches want in a potential recruit or student-athlete for their program?

Obviously all coaches want talented players, this is a given, but there are many other essential qualities and intangibles these coaches want and NEED from their players to make their programs successful, year in and year out.

Goal College Athlete asked hundreds of Men’s Basketball coaches what qualities they look for when recruiting players. With the thoughtful feedback we received from these coaches we created the Top 5 Qualities Men’s Basketball Coaches look for in a potential student-athlete for their program. Our goal is to share this information to help you become a better overall basketball player and make you aware of what the expectations are for players at the college level.

Here are the Top 5 Qualities Men’s Basketball Coaches want in a student-athlete (in no particular order):

1. Character

The quality most coaches want is strong character. Character embodies many qualities, but at a high level, coaches want a player who:

• Respects the coaches and their decision making process

• Has a high level of integrity/honesty/accountability, especially when things are not going well

• Makes team success priority A1 – not individual success

• Comes to the gym with a positive attitude, wants to improve and get better everyday

• Always backs and supports his teammates

• Still works when no one is watching

When it comes to character, Charlie Brock, Head Basketball Coach at Springfield College, states:

“Does the individual possess good character? What does the kid do when no one is watching. How much does he put into it when it is not required. What is his work ethic after practice, lifting on his own, and out of season?”

2. Proven Winner

College Basketball Coaches are not always looking for the guy who won the most games and championships in high school. When they talk about proven winners they are looking for those players who “show up” and want to be on the court in a big game or when it is crunch time. There are plenty of players out there who can score points and make plays against weaker teams or in a blowout type game. Men’s Basketball coaches are attracted to players who want be on the floor when it is a big game, when competition is fierce and when the game is on the line. They also want players who can execute during these times:

• Do they stay positive and keep their teammates positive when behind in a game?

• Do they understand the plays (Xs and Os) that have to be executed in key situations?

• Do they have the intensity to make key stops to get their team back into the game?

• Can they be unselfish (or take control) when the pressure increases?

• Do they refuse to give up?

3. Passion

Passion, like Character, can involve many other qualities as well. Players who have a true passion for basketball cannot only improve a team right away, but ARE the players which great programs are built.

“When you are a passionate person you hold yourself and others accountable for making your team successful. Being passionate means you work on your game, even when the coaches aren’t looking. It means taking care of yourself physically and mentally to allow yourself to perform at the absolute top of your potential. We recruit passionate people!” Jordan Watson, Director of Basketball Operations at Dartmouth College.

Basketball players with a passion are the ones who:

• Have the game on their mind all of the time.

• Love talking about the game, players, teams and ways to get better.

• Get excited when heading to the court for practice.

• Have great energy when it comes to the sport of basketball. They are the “gym rats” I have heard many coaches reference.  The ones who are always in the gym, after practice, continually improving their shooting, defense, quickness and strength.

Why are passionate players so important to coaches? These players are infectious. When other teammates see these types of player’s working day in and day out during the course of a season and see the love they have for the game, it can create a domino effect. Players, who used to leave the gym as soon as the coach ended practice, start sticking around and doing a little extra. Teammates split up into different groups working on position specific drills, pushing each other to get better and start building the camaraderie and cohesiveness all great teams need.

When some of the more skilled players start increasing their work rate and get their bodies in great physical condition, their performance can improve tremendously making the team better. Basketball players who are blessed with lots of talent and skill sometimes don’t feel the need to work as hard, and sometimes a passionate player can motivate them to get to that next level.

Passionate players can also create a positive psychological effect for a team as well. When a team is putting themselves through grueling practices and workouts together, they feel there is no way the team on the other side of the floor has worked as hard as they have, giving them a mental edge. College Basketball Coaches covet a core group of passionate players and are always on the lookout to bring more of them into their program.

4. Coachability

I am not really sure if the word coachability is in the dictionary, but I know what the coaches are talking about it. The term coachability was a constant in responses we received from coaches. There is no Division in College Basketball where a team can be successful without players who are willing to be coached. In college basketball today, players must buy into the team system offensively and defensively for any team to win on a consistent basis. It does not matter how much talent a team has, if everyone is on their own agenda and doing whatever they want, the team will end up in the bottom of the standings, guaranteed.

Coaches can’t afford to have selfish players and they do their homework (talking to your coaches and others) to cross those types of players off their recruiting lists. They want players who understand basketball is a team sport where players have to abide by a system and strategy to win games.

College Basketball Coaches also want players who can take constructive criticism and use that information to make changes and improve their individual games. Many young basketball players, prior to coming into college, have been the “main man” and have done so well offensively that they haven’t had to worry about other key parts winning basketball teams need: filling a role, playing strong defense and supporting their teammates, etc. College Basketball coaches understand many high school players may lack in these areas but they want to know these players are willing to listen, work hard, improve and fill the role the team needs. They DON’T want a player who is not willing to listen, who thinks he knows everything about the game and has an excuse every time he receives criticism.

5. Academic Competency

Although the term student-athlete can be taken for granted in big time Division 1 college basketball, it is taken very seriously by 99% of all basketball programs:

“Talent is very important, but the most important factor for us would be academics. The admissions process is very competitive and we need to recruit students that have a good chance of getting admitted.”

Shaun Morris, Assistant Coach, Williams College

It’s very simple, if you can’t meet the academic requirements set forth by a particular school and program, you are not going to be a part of that institution. Your grades need to be just as much of a priority as improving your basketball skills….or all your hard work is for not.

Young athletes should see academics as an opportunity. Improving your grades and test scores will open more doors and greatly increases your chances of getting into a better school. Why you ask:

• Most basketball programs have some flexibility for student-athletes in getting them admitted to their college or university compared to regular students and applicants. This can be a great way for a player to take advantage of their basketball skills and all their hard work: the chance to be accepted at a better school and one they may not have had a chance of getting into if it was not for basketball.

• Certain programs NEED players with better academic standings to raise the overall teams academic index. This is kind of the opposite to my comment above. For example, if you currently have basketball skills that might be only good enough for the Division II level but have outstanding grades, a Division I school might be interested in giving you a chance because you will raise their team’s overall academic profile. Once you are in the program you never know where it will take you: strong work ethic and drive could position you as an integral part of a Division 1 team (same can be said from Division III to Division II).

The university or college you choose will have a huge effect on your career path and overall life. This should be motivation enough for high school athletes to make academics a priority and give them every opportunity possible.

Thank you for taking the time to read the Top 5 Qualities Men’s College Basketball Coaches Want in a potential student-athlete. We hope you found it valuable and please share it with anyone you think it may help.


Read what other Men’s College Basketball Coaches want in a potential recruit

About Steve O'Brien
Steve O'Brien is the co-creator of Goal: College Athlete (GCA). The website was built to inspire young athletes to reach their goal of playing college sports. Information includes a pro-active plan to get the attention of college coaches and also insight from college coaches on what qualities they look for in a potential recruit. Steve played College Hockey at the University of New Hampshire, graduating in 1999. Questions? Send Steve an email at [email protected]

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