I ended up playing division 1 basketball and professionally overseas for a few years, all the while having no knowledge of the world of division III basketball.
But my knowledge of division III was minuscule at best. It wasn’t until my brother got hired as the head coach at Swarthmore College did I take an active interest in learning about division 3 colleges.
Having witnessed my first division 3 basketball game in person, I felt compelled to write about the experience and hopefully inform young basketball players on what they should know about division 3 hoops.
Division 3 Basketball Teams
First thing a high school player should know is that division 3 basketball players and coaches WORK HARD. I have seen a few Swarthmore basketball practices and there is ZERO difference in the level of intensity and focus.
Good division 3 coaches hold their players accountable and demand focus from their players just as much as division I coaches.
Bill Nelson, who has been at John Hopkins University for 29 years, would not have won almost 600 games by taking it easy on his players or cutting them some slack because “hey, it’s only division III hoops”. Nope!
Watching the Swarthmore squad take on Franklin and Marshall University (whose coach is Glenn Robinson, which just passed 900 wins!) I couldn’t help but notice that the coaches coached and the players played with division 1 level basketball intensity. So if your focus is becoming a better player, division 3 hoops is a great option.
Division 3 Basketball Recruiting
Another thing players should know is that yes, division III coaches recruit. I think a lot of high school players mistakenly think that if they aren’t getting recruited by division I schools, that they can always go play division 3 basketball. FALSE.
Just like division 1 coaches, if a division III coach feels that you will help his program win, he will send you recruiting letters and questionnaires. He will call you and relay his interest. He will come to your games and talk to your parents. A division 3 coach will let you know that he wants you.
Division 3 Basketball Scholarships
While there are technically no athletic scholarships, hopeful student-athletes can apply for financial aid which can make what is usually a top notch education, more affordable.
But there are some positives to not giving scholarships. The main positive is that when you watch a division 3 basketball game, you are watching players that WANT TO BE THERE.
Players do not view division 3 basketball as a short stop-off on their way to fame and riches to the NBA. They are not playing for the attention they will receive on Sports Center or from the tens of thousands of spectators (there were probably 500 people at the game I attended, but they did get loud!).
They are not playing for the sweet gear they will receive from Nike or for the sick locker room set ups. Take this excerpt from an interview with Bob Semling, the head coach at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point:
Playing in division 3 hoops, players can develop a fraternity and life-long friendships with guys who play basketball for the purest reasons. If you’ve ever spend time on a team with selfish people or teammates that are only out to further their own agendas, this will no doubt sound refreshing to you.
Lastly, high school players should know that if they have dreams of playing in the NBA or playing professionally overseas, yes it is possible to do so after playing at the division 3 level.
Does playing division 3 basketball lower your chances of playing in the NBA? To be fair, it probably does. But to be realistic, that’s like lowering your chances from 0.9% chance to 0.4% or something like that.
Playing in the NBA is a tall order, regardless of where you go to school. Also, there are numerous examples of non-division I players making absolutely tremendous basketball playing careers for themselves after playing division III.
I wrote in a past blog post about Jeff Gibbs and his stellar career in Germany and Japan after playing at Otterbein College in Ohio. Also, take the example of Andy Panko, who played at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania.
After a short stint with the Atlanta Hawks, Panko is now in his 16th year of professional basketball in Europe. He has played for some of the top teams across the continent and in 2012, won the MVP of the highly competitive ACB league in Spain. Panko can more than likely choose to work or not work once he retires from basketball. All after playing division III.
Do not look down on division 3 basketball schools! High school players should not feel disappointed if they only get recruited by division III schools and should not overlook schools just because they are division 3.
Bigger isn’t always better! High school players should be excited to play division 3 basketball if given the opportunity. And if you are a fan and you live in an area where you can go watch a division III basketball game, I strongly encourage you to do so. You will never see the game played at a purer level!