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College Coaches Confidential: "How does the NIL conversation differ between a high school and a portal recruit?"

On3 imageby:Jamie Shaw09/18/23


Any recruiting conversation with a college coach these days will circle back to roster management. Juggling between high school players and the transfer portal. There are many different philosophies throughout the landscape that are in play. And each one of them shifts and adapts as time goes on. 

The college basketball early signing period starts on November 8. During the September and October weeks, many of the top-ranked high school recruits will be taking official visits to colleges as they narrow down their decisions. In many instances, it is a mad dash for high school prospects to sign with a school. In 2020, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for all student-athletes whose 2020-21 season was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With the extra COVID year of eligibility, it allows for a lot of shuffling of collegiate players. Meaning spots can be limited for high school players. In speaking with many college coaches, unless the high school player is at the very top of their recruiting board, they are fine with waiting until the late period to see what happens with their rosters and in the transfer portal. 

One mid-major coach told me this week, “We have to get old.”

In 2021, the NCAA implemented two other major rule changes that shifted the college basketball recruiting process. And, even three years later, with the new one-time-transfer and NIL rules in place, many college coaches will tell you there is still so much that is unknown when it comes to roster management, which methods are sustainable, and what processes work best for the long haul.

Over 1,800 Division 1 players entered the transfer portal during the 2023 cycle, an NCAA-record high. Andrew Parrish, a college basketball roster analyst, put out data a few weeks ago that of those 1,800-plus, roughly 1,400 were scholarship players. Of those 1,400-plus Division 1 scholarship players who entered the transfer portal this cycle, close to 150 still have not found a home.

With NIL a major piece of recruiting, and the transfer portal at an all-time high, I wanted to talk directly to the college coaches to see how they are currently managing this process and what major differences they were seeing between the high school and transfer portal process.

I had conversations with coaches throughout multi-bid college basketball leagues, as we discussed…

How does NIL change, or differ, in the recruiting process between a high school recruit and a portal recruit?

Coaches Talk

A Coach in the SEC: “Portal kids can draw more money as they are somewhat proven at this level. The higher ranked high school kids as well. But you can recruit a kid, his parents, his handler, and the AAU coach, but if someone else shows up with a bag in the 11th hour, it’s over. 

“The portal should be named ‘high major free agency.” Recruiting high school kids is still somewhat based on relationships. High-level portal kids are based on the money and the opportunity.”

A Coach in the Big East: “High major schools are now reluctant to use their available allotment of potential scholarships for high school prospects because of the opportunity to sign portal kids. 

“High school players are now recruited to fill in the gaps for your roster. Aside from the top 50 or so, prospects that can/may/will start for your program. High school players are not, aside from the highly coveted power five/six programs, and will not see major financial gain from NIL but will see those benefits after their potential first transfer.”

A Coach in the Big 12: “In the transfer portal, recruiting is all about the NIL and immediate playing time. They’re not making a 40-year decision because they’re not going to build a legacy that the fans will remember.

“A lot of the recruiting process is done through a third party. The good portal kids know where they’re going before they enter the portal. Well, unless you have a substantial NIL offer that trumps what everyone thought would come.”

A Coach in the SEC: “We need guys that can produce right away; it’s tough to waste money on projects. High school kids still think they’re all making the NBA. Many kids in the portal have an idea of what their pro career is going to look like, and they might need to capitalize now. 

“With the portal guys, the conversation surrounding NIL happens during the first conversation with ‘their guy.’ Also, the portal drives up the price for our current players; ‘You’re paying the new guy how much?? Pay me that too, or I’m hopping in the portal.’

A Coach in the ACC: “I would say that we make the NIL presentation a part of the process once they visit with the high school kids. It’s talked about but not the focal point. With transfers, that’s probably brought up by them sooner, but again, the kids we target don’t necessarily make that the focal point.

“NIL plays less of a role in roster management for us. It’s mostly about how we are and do we need to bring in experience at a certain position because of graduation or someone transferring out. I would say we’re different for most places when it comes to NIL”

A Coach in the A10: “I think high school, outside of the top 150, JUCO, and lower level players transferring up are the last crop of players that will listen to a traditional pitch. Portal recruiting happens fast, and the main thing is the opportunity to play and NIL. If you can show someone that they will have a significant role in your program and have an opportunity to make an amount they are happy with. Then, the official visit is just a formality. 

“When recruiting players out of the portal, NIL is usually brought up during the initial call or Zoom. In the process, agents are quickly taking over, but from my experience, it’s still mostly the traditional group of people who are around the player. With high school players, the conversation isn’t brought up for a few calls, and the parents are the ones more likely to ask. 

“NIL will dictate who you can recruit and get involved with. So depending on your collective for that year, you’ll have to adjust who you go after. Let’s say you have two scholarships open and plenty of production and experience returning; then you can gamble on a high school guy. If you lose six seniors, you’re going to need to get some proven production and experience. 

A Coach in the Big 12: The players in the portal are more direct about the NIL offer. There is no reason to bring them to campus without a known dollar amount. With portal kids, you know from the jump what it’s going to take. Their previous school already had a package in place, and that’s the starting point.

“With high school kids, NIL talk doesn’t really start until the visits are set. But even then, it’s tricky because high school kids are much more likely to take three or more visits. You don’t want to offer your NIL plan until you feel they are your kid to lose. Don’t underbid, but don’t bid against yourself. 

“A portal kid will only take one or two visits. And the second visit only takes place to get the money right.”

A Coach in the Big 12: “Once a kid makes a decision to leave, third parties start to reach out and gauge interest from certain schools the kid has pre-approved. Once mutual interest has been made, a list forms. But as a school, we might be a maybe with the kid in February, but a yes in April based on our roster – portal, NBA Draft entries, etc.”

A Coach in the SEC: “The difference is the portal kid, good or bad, has a track record. Things are more clear, they had something at their previous school, and their numbers are what they are.”

College Coaches Confidential Series

Which college programs are the best talent evaluators? | Which coach do you fear the most on the recruiting trail? | The significance of the June 15 call day | Which college coaches are best in game? | Which coach recruits the transfer portal best? | What are programs looking for in the transfer portal? | Programs sound off on conference realignment | Is it realistic for the power conferences to break away from the NCAA? | How has NIL changed how you recruit a player?