Happy New Year!
OK people. I have another PSA! I know, I know, you’re are probably tired of me at this point, but I gotta say this.. parents, kids, handlers, summer ball coaches AND directors, RED SHIRTING AS A FRESHMAN IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE!
A Big 12 associate head coach stated, “Freshman, when they come in, they’re either not ready physically, mentally, or emotionally.” What he didn’t say is that the very few who are, will only be in school for a season before they’re taking selfies in the “green room” on Draft night.
January 2, 2002, almost 17 years ago to the day, I was an 18 year old freshman at TCU, checking in at a whopping 6’7, 200 lb. “power” forward. We were scheduled to play Memphis that night at home in Fort Worth, and at the time I was playing the “4” position… Memphis was loaded that year, John Calipari was their coach, Dajuan Wagner was a superstar freshman, and they had a Front line of Kelly Wise, 22, 6’10 230 lbs. Senior, Chris Massie, 23, 6’8 260 lb. Junior, and Earl Barron, 22, 7′ 250 lb. Senior! Now read back to that 1st line and look at how much I weighed and imagine me having to guard them. Have you ever seen a pit bull fight a chihuahua? Me either, but just like I fared against these guys that night, I’m sure it isn’t pretty!
The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t physically ready to play high level college basketball as a freshman. Mentally, and emotionally, I could do it, but physically I was nowhere near ready for the day in and day out grind. A red shirt year would have done wonders for me, I would have adjusted to life in college, I would have gotten familiar with the weight room, and lastly I would have learned how to prepare to play at that level. But unfortunately in my mind red shirting meant I was a failure or that I wasn’t good enough, and I wasn’t “running my own race”, because God forbid I redshirt and my summer ball team mates didn’t. There was no way I could be the ONE who didn’t play! All those other guys were playing, so it was a must that I did as well!
This line of thinking is what hurts so many kids all over the country. Just like myself, what they don’t understand is that at 21 or 22 years old, your mind, body and abilities are different than when you’re 18. Since the 2014-2015 season on average, Division 1 freshman play about 8.4 minutes a game! Another thing that college coaches can’t say is the simple fact that HS kids don’t know how to play the game. They haven’t been taught properly, they don’t know how to compete, and 90% of coaching freshman is coaching effort.
We live in a culture today that values instant gratification, and guess what, I’m also a part of this problem too. Giving freshman the #sixmonthsanddone tag, and seeing guys with NBA potential and automatically throwing them into the NBA Draft. While knowing, most aren’t really ready; the social media age has us dying for instant “likes” and gratification. Why wait for stories tomorrow morning or even this evening when you can get them on demand literally in the palm of your hand, and if you’re talented enough, you can create buzz with a mix tape or video. This has also become the case in the collegiate recruiting world where everybody compares themselves to everyone else, instead of focusing on their own journey and barely acknowledging the time it takes to develop one’s ability and skills. I’m a living, breathing witness.
Redshirting buys more time to get yourself acclimated to the collegiate setting. Having a full year to get settled on campus can be beneficial, especially if you’re on a massive campus like the University of Texas. Yes, going to summer school provides a taste of what college life will be like, but there’s nothing like going through a full semester without traveling and allowing yourself a chance to build a solid and sound academic profile. Athletes who redshirt have the chance to mature not only as player, but also as a person. Practicing your freshman year, doing your own laundry, being responsible for all your academics, and worrying how to keep your drip (that’s what the kids call swag now) can all be a bit overwhelming for the vast majority. There are a lot of things going on that you haven’t always been responsible for. Chances are someone has always helped you with your class work, laundry, & even your diet. Take advantage of the resources your college has for you. Develop a relationship with your academic counselor or tutor. Spend a few hours in study hall each week rewriting notes or reading for your class. Your redshirt year is a great time to figure out what your routines of success are going to be while you don’t have the added pressure of competing your first year in college.
Along with getting to know who you are, learn the system and the style of play, get stronger in the weight room, and learning how to work! If you look around the college basketball landscape, mid major programs, like Loyola, Nevada, even Gonzaga, they have mature, older players. Take Texas Southern University for example, the average age of their team is 22 years old. They’ve already defeated three “Power 5 schools” which is unheard of by a HBCU, however, the experience and maturity of those players have helped them succeed. It boils down to long term value over short term satisfaction. Often times, families and athletes can’t see the long-term benefit for the short-term sacrifice. Yes, you may have always dreamed of playing as a freshman, and if that happens, great! But remember, when you play as a freshman, while great in many aspects, IF NOT READY, it also robs a young athlete of a full year of development on the front end of your college career and a year of competition on the back end. Families and athletes may be inclined to eliminate schools from their list because a certain coaching staff didn’t guarantee early playing time, or even because they mentioned redshirting. In such cases, don’t hold one coaching staff’s vision against another. Every school and program is different, with different depth charts and different ways of developing players. One should appreciate the honesty and vision when a coaching staff brings up redshirting to you and consider the long-term positive affect on one’s athletic and academic career. In this coach’s humble opinion, a redshirt year is definitely the way to go for most athletes. Use your redshirt year to develop your attitude and body, and enjoy the 4 years of competition after that.