Recruiting in Division III athletics is a whole different ballgame than high-profile Division I schools. Without athletic scholarships, Division III coaches often have to put in more work to recruit student athletes than their Division I counterparts.
Every coach has a different method in the way they recruit student athletes. They could be looking for a need, just going for the top available talent or finding players who fit their system.
Women’s head basketball coach Jordan Olufson looks for players to fill needs and to fit into his system. He said he looks ahead to see if it is a guard or forward-heavy recruiting class, and makes adjustments to ensure the team has depth.
“We kind of use our recruiting off positioning, what we have coming back and protecting our program for the next year or two,” Olufson said. “If you get a player who is an upgrade or can make your program better, you are always going to take that player, even if you have three or four really good guards.”
Olufson said if he feels a position has a lot of depth, he will focus on other positions during the recruitment period.
“We are trying to figure out the right player for us,” Olufson said. “Because not every school is a fit for the student athlete, but not every program is a fit for the student athlete, either. For us, we like to play fast in the press, but not every student athlete fits in that mold. We’re trying to figure out what fits our puzzle.”
Men’s head basketball coach Chris Bunch said he generally goes for the best available talent over going for players to fit a system.
“It is quite competitive and there are a lot of good players at this level,” Bunch said. “Everybody is trying to get the best players they can, just like any other level. It’s recruited very heavily and we just have to find kids. Whether if they have a good situation from academic scholarships or financial aid, Webster is an affordable choice.”
There are over 400 schools in Division III basketball, and those universities often use their academic programs as a way to recruit players.
Webster athletics director Scott Kilgallon said he will arrange meetings with a professor from the prospective recruit’s major when they come visit campus.
“That’s why your athletic facilities are important, because [recruits] make their decisions based on your facilities,” Kilgallon said. “It’s very important to have good facilities and continue to get better facilities with nice classrooms and the whole package.”
Bunch said he will show potential recruits the campus and athletic facilities, and discuss with them if Webster would be the right fit for them.
“We’ve always kind of tailored my visits to whatever the student athlete wanted to do,” Bunch said. “Some will meet with a professor in their area of interest, some will sit in a class, some just want to walk around and some want to see the whole campus.”
Bunch explained he does more recruiting outside the St. Louis area because the region is heavily recruited.
“I had 15 incoming freshman this year, and two of them are from St. Louis,” Bunch said. “The rest are from out of the area. Every coach is different. We tend to have better success outside the St. Louis area, opposed to in the St. Louis area.”
Senior men’s basketball player Michael Dunn was recruited by Bunch out of his high school in Florida. He is one of five players who came from Florida on this year’s roster.
“He found me in Florida and made contact with my dad and mom,” Dunn said. “He made a great impression on them, which made the process of finding a school a little easier.”
The women’s team has more local players than the men’s team does. There are nine players from Missouri and six players from Illinois.
Olufson said he will start the recruiting process locally, but will travel all over the country looking for players to fit his system. He also travels to showcases during the spring and summer.
“Once we see all the players, we reach out to them with phone calls and try to build a relationship,” Olufson said. “Try to figure out what they want and what they are looking for in a school academically.”
The academic program at Webster was an important factor for women’s basketball senior guard Kelsey Miller. She said the variety of majors and classes were important since she had an undecided major at the time.
Miller said she decided after her freshman season at Maryville University that the program was not a good fit for her. Coach Olufson then reached out to her to gauge her interest in Webster after talking to a former Maryville coach.
“Once I said yes, it wasn’t long before I was on the phone with Coach Olufson and he introduced the school and program to me,” Miller said. “Within the next two weeks, I visited campus, and it didn’t take me long after that to make my decision.”
Adjustment to Webster
There are adjustments players need to make when they play at the collegiate level. For many new recruits, this is their first time away from home. On top of that, it is important they learn to mesh with their new teammates and coaching staff.
Miller said it did not take her long to adjust to playing college basketball for Webster, and Coach Olufson helped her adapt to his team’s style of play.
“It’s a lot faster of a pace,” Miller said. “You have to learn quick and move faster.”
Sophomore women’s basketball guard Jade Sawyer decided to come to Webster after Olufson invited her for a visit after seeing her play in high school.
“His [Olufson] system was one of the main reasons I ended up here,” Sawyer said. “It was very similar to what I did in high school. We like to push the ball and run the floor, which is my favorite style of play.”
Olufson said it is different for each player on how fast they develop in his program.
“I tell them sometimes it’s not so much that the players are better, but the mentality is ‘man, she is so much better,’” Olufson said. “Well, she’s not, but the perception is we have a senior here who knows all of our plays and has been lifting. So she seems stronger or better because she knows all of the ins and outs. That is kind of an intimidating factor, so mentally you kind of get drawn back a bit.”
Bunch said college athletics is different than high school because the social and educational aspects are different than what incoming freshman are used to.
Part of going to college is growing up and being responsible, Bunch explained. He said while he does grade checks, he tells parents he is not going to watch their child 24 hours a day.
“Mom and dad are not waking them up every morning to get dressed and go to school,” Bunch said. “They have to be more self reliant from a coaching standpoint than they did in high school. So they’re having to learn what you are looking for and how that fits in.”
Kilgallon said the athletics department tries to help student athletes make good decisions, and his staff is available to help out when needed.
“You can have that relationship that they should feel comfortable about coming in and talking to you,” Kilgallon said. “It could be as simple as being homesick. As they get familiar with everybody, usually after the first semester, I think they are pretty good after. We try to keep an open door policy to make sure our students can come in and talk to us.”
Bunch said since he has recruits come in from different parts of the country, there sometimes is a culture shock coming to live in a new city and state. He said it is a good experience for his players to be around a diverse team.
“I think it helps you realize many times we look at the differences in each other, and many times there are a lot more similarities in us than there are differences,” Bunch said.