Basketball future requires a major assist from how schoolwork is handled

After a couple of trips up and down the floor, a serious basketball player starts to get a feel for the moment and can begin letting instinct take over. Reacting to opportunities without even thinking – it’s one of the singular joys of playing the game.

Within reason, coaches might not have a problem with you losing yourself in the flow of a contest. But you’ll have to be at full attention with an eye for detail if you expect to earn an opportunity in college basketball, and it’s arguably most important in terms of schoolwork. Truthfully, there’s a flow to this process as well – understanding what colleges will require, and getting into a natural rhythm to stay on top of the deadlines.

“One of the main misconceptions we see with a lot of today’s kids is their mindset on when to start preparing for college. Many seem to think it is something they need to worry about in their senior year,” said Beckie Fernandez, assistant coach and head recruiter for the Central Washington Select basketball club out of Yakima, Wash. “We try to emphasize the importance in preparing for college and remind them there is no such thing as starting too early, but there is such a thing as starting too late. Kids often don’t understand how much time and effort goes into making sure they are on the right track to be eligible to play; some think skill alone will carry them to the next level.

“Too many times, they get a hard wake-up call when they realize they are not eligible to play at the D-I, II, III or even NAIA level. Our goal is to make sure our parents and players know the steps they need to take to make sure they are eligible, and we’re reminding them to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center to stay on track.”

Central Washington Select is a good example of a setting that is wired to help players on and off the court. Practices are demanding and the tournament routine will take up a lot of hours, but there’s a day-to-day willingness to review how players are faring at school and to keep a minor hiccup from turning into full-blown academic paralysis.

“During the spring we do grade check-ups with parents, and we fully support parents who choose to take sports away when their child is not maintaining grades to their expectations,” said Fernandez, who is one of three higher-ups at CWS with a teaching background. “When scheduling practice throughout the week, we try to accommodate all our players by getting them home early enough to be able to have time for homework. If needed our players know they will be fully excused from a practice to stay home and catch up on grades.

“We believe basketball is merely a tool to help create educational opportunities because in the long run that’s what it’s all about — a better education, a better life.”

Competitive athletes can be forgiven for more short-term concerns at the start of their career – winning, losing, stats – but that’s all going to look pretty puny through the eyes of someone hoping to use the sport as a way to display and build maturity.

Halley Miklos, a sophomore at Liberty Common High School in Colorado and a member of the Colorado Chill club program, has hungrily absorbed everything she could about the game in the three years since she stepped away from the soccer field. At 6-foot-1, she chose to attend a charter school with a very specific emphasis on coursework instead of a larger school that might have earned her more basketball-related attention from the newspapers.

But none of that has hurt her athletically. She’s averaging 16 points, nine rebounds and four steals per game for Liberty Common and is on the radar of multiple D-I programs, including Princeton. The discipline required is next to constant, and yet, she hardly comes across as oppressed by those demands.

“The mindsets of an athlete and a dedicated student complement each other well. I think my competitive edge as a basketball player translates into my student life,” said Miklos, who is considering Sports Medicine as a college major, in part from her own experiences fighting through injuries. “My planner is my favorite tool for school. It lets me set my deadlines, organize my week, and keep track of all the assignments I need to finish. As for routines, basketball creates its own schedule.

“Every day before practice, I’ll run my game plan for the evening through my head, saying, ‘Practice is at five tonight. That means I’ll be home by seven-thirty, which gives me a half hour to shower and eat before I need to work on my two hours of homework. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to bed by ten tonight.’ Setting deadlines keeps me focused on the task at hand. I can’t afford to loiter over schoolwork; it puts me at risk of losing much-valued sleep time.”

It’s the job of the adults in youth basketball to make sure college basketball is not seen by athletes as the logical conclusion for all those hours in the gym. Ultimately, the course work and pursuit of a degree in college is going to be the lasting ripple effect for the vast majority of players. It’s as simple as playing hard and chasing the dream relentlessly, while still preparing for a life out of uniform.

None of this will ever be handled perfectly by athletes or adults who are passionately invested in basketball. But the journey is still worth the occasional misstep.

“I went through a time early this year where I was solely focused on the sport. I was lazy in my studies and didn’t have the motivation to do schoolwork,” Miklos said. “It had come to the point where I was staying up for hours on end, trying to complete one assignment which should’ve taken minutes. This resulted in the slow deterioration of my health due to my lack of sleep.

“I find accomplishment in all achievements, no matter how big or small. Getting interest from schools such as Princeton is also a sign that I’m doing something right, and getting noticed for hard work is so rewarding. My teammates, coaches, and family’s support are all constant reminders that every obstacle I’ve overcome is worth it.”