High School Basketball Dunk

College Basketball Scholarship Guide for High School Athletes

Men's basketball at the NCAA Division 1 level admits fewer than 1% of their high school athletes, but we already knew the competition was fierce. A scholarship is unlikely, but it isn't out of the question. There are a variety of athletic scholarships available, ranging from NCAA Division 1 to JUCO programs. College coaches in Division 1 award headcount scholarships, which means that each player receives a full ride. Conversely, equivalency scholarships are awarded by NCAA Division 2, NAIA, and JUCO institutions. Student-athletes may be eligible for partial financial aid if their coaches have access to a pool of athletic aid that they can distribute to as many of their athletes as they see fit. While Division 3 college coaches cannot offer athletic scholarships, they still provide attractive financial packages that can cover the majority of the costs of attending college in the United States of America.

NCAA Basketball scholarships by division level

It's important to know the difference between a headcount scholarship and an equivalency scholarship when it comes to basketball scholarships. Full rides are awarded to student-athletes in NCAA Division 1 who are awarded headcount scholarships. To put it another way, coaches are unable to distribute the money they receive in any other way than by awarding 13 athletes full-ride scholarships. Equivalency scholarships are offered at the Division 2, NAIA, and JUCO levels by college coaches. Each coach is given the opportunity to award as many athletes as he or she sees fit. Athletes at these levels are eligible for partial scholarships, depending on the school's policy. 

How to get a basketball scholarship  

There are certain things that every coach looks for in a prospective student-athlete. As you search for scholarships, here are some of the most important considerations:

  1. Compete at the highest level possible: Coaches want to see a recruit play against other top-ranked recruits from across the country in order to accurately assess his or her college readiness. Top programs love AAU because it gives their recruits the opportunity to compete on a national stage. AAU teams at this tier are the most expensive to join because of the travel expenses associated with sending new members to multiple tournaments. Although playing in a club basketball league can be beneficial, it is not a requirement for obtaining a basketball scholarship. Varsity high school teams can also provide excellent opportunities for competition.
  2. Compete in the summer during live periods: College coaches are unable to watch recruits play in person during the regular season due to scheduling conflicts. As a result, they begin using living periods. In the offseason, coaches have the opportunity to travel and scout multiple players at once. It's critical to play for college coaches during the summer months.
  3. Attend elite camps: Elite camps are also used by college coaches to evaluate recruits. Top athletes and college coaches from all over the country flock to these invitation-only events. Camps at Division 1 schools often invite Division 2 or 3 coaches to attend, but it's more than likely that no other Division 1 programs will be present. Don't miss out on attending camps at the schools that are most likely to get you accepted into college.
  4. Excel academically. College coaches care about academic performance. For starters, academic aid can relieve the coach of the responsibility of providing athletic aid in divisions that offer equivalency scholarships. Even more importantly, it tells us something about an applicant's character. Coaches know that students who put in the effort in the classroom are more responsible, self-sufficient, and adaptable to college life than those who don't.
  5. Create a highlight film. The best way to secure an in-depth and in-person evaluation is by sending coaches highlight and game film. Highlight film acts as a first impression—it’s a quick way to show coaches a snapshot of the recruit’s skill set.
  6. Be proactive. Despite what parents may believe, coaches aren't just looking for new players to bring to the team. College coaches aren't going to take notice of a recruit unless they are one of the best players in the country. Even in basketball, where student-athletes can still communicate with coaches via phone if they initiate the conversation, this is especially relevant. Do your homework, send emails, and make phone calls to coaches instead of sitting around.
  7. Know your best college fit. Remember to check out the college rosters for every team you're interested in. Emailing coaches at schools that are not a good fit is the last thing families want to do. Consider the players in their position (are they seniors who will be graduating?), athletic stats (how well do these athletes measure up?), and backgrounds (is the coach a regional or tournament-based recruiter?)

Odds of getting a basketball scholarship?

For the most part, it's not that simple, but it's not impossible. There are 32,890 men's basketball players from NCAA Division 1 to JUCO in 2,009 programs. It is impossible for a high school basketball player to make a Division I basketball roster, and it is impossible for a high school basketball player to make the roster of any college basketball team.

There are a total of 13 full-ride scholarships available to Division 1 basketball coaches, so they can only award 13 scholarships to 13 players. Athletes in Division 2 are eligible for full scholarships or partial scholarships, depending on the coach's discretion. There are 10,773 athletes in these two NCAA divisions competing for 7,719 scholarships. We're looking at 4,616 NAIA athletes vying for 1,845 college basketball scholarships. JUCO is the best option because each team can receive a maximum of 15 scholarships, and there are typically 15 players on each team.

Is it possible to play college basketball without receiving scholarship money?

Possibly, but not likely. Walk-ons are the term used to describe non-scholarship basketball players in the NCAA Division 1. One to two walk-ons are allowed to try out at some Division 1 schools. However, most of these players never get a chance to play. For one thing, recruits may be up against a "preferred walk-on," an athlete who has built a rapport with the college's coaching staff before they even walk on the campus.

Walk-ons are more likely to be accepted into Division 2, NAIA, and JUCO colleges, where they can compete for spots on the roster and even earn scholarships. Because Division 2 coaches award partial scholarships and renew them each year, it is possible for a student-athlete to enroll in a Division 2 program his or her freshman year and earn a scholarship the following year and the one after that.

How many scholarships are available for men’s D1 basketball?

  • Division 1 men’s basketball scholarships per team: 13
  • Total # of men’s basketball teams: 353
  • Avg. team size: 16 

Scholarships at the NCAA Division 1 level are extremely difficult to come by. Athletes at this level only make up a fraction of high school athletes. A total of 13 full athletic scholarships are available to men's Division 1 basketball programs. If you're eligible for these headcount scholarships, you'll be able to pay for all of your college expenses. Athletic aid is no longer available to walk-ons after all 13 scholarships have been awarded.

Getting a D1 basketball scholarship

Coaches begin recruiting for Division 1 positions well before the start of the academic year. And we mean as early as middle school, if not earlier. It's important for student-athletes to be on the radar of college coaches before their junior year in order to secure a Division 1 scholarship. Then, of course, they must be excellent. Coaches are extremely picky when it comes to awarding athletic scholarships to the country's top collegiate basketball players. Elite Division 1 athletes, such as those ranked in ESPN's Top 150, are nationally recognized. Only 1% of high school basketball players go on to play in the NCAA Division I level.

AAU club teams, which typically have the best players in the country and compete nationally, are a great source of high-quality recruits for Division 1 schools. However, AAU basketball is not a prerequisite for playing college basketball outside of Division 1. Taking part in tournaments during the summer is a great way to get noticed by coaches. Another option is to participate in a college-sponsored elite camp. Choosing the right camp for a student-athletic athlete's and academic needs is important in this case, so that they can maximize their chances of evaluation. Keep in mind that college coaches are concerned about your grades. There will be more opportunities available to a recruit with a higher GPA and test scores.

The most important thing for student-athletes to remember is that they must take action. Make a highlight video, get game footage, and set up an online profile with your stats and educational background. The next step is to contact college coaches, which we cannot stress enough. Email them an introduction, follow up when necessary, and let coaches know when they'll be calling. Basketball is unique in that recruits can initiate phone conversations with coaches. As a result, coaches are not allowed to call recruits, but if a student-athlete puts in the effort and reaches out to them by phone, coaches are allowed to speak with them. Athletes may be reaching out to programs that aren't a good fit if they're not getting a response from schools they applied to. A family's high school or club coach can be a great source of information when it comes to narrowing down their list of schools to attend.

How many Division 2 men’s basketball scholarships are there?

  • Maximum scholarships available per team: 10
  • Total # of D2 men’s basketball teams: 313
  • Avg. team size: 17

Ten men's basketball scholarships can be awarded by NCAA Division 2 coaches. NCAA Division 2 athletic scholarships are equivalency scholarships: college coaches receive a pool of athletic aid and decide how many athletes receive athletic scholarships, unlike NCAA Division 1. As a result, partial scholarships, rather than full rides, will be given to some players.

Division 3 men’s basketball scholarships

  • Maximum scholarships available per team: 0
  • Total # of D3 men’s basketball teams: 446
  • Avg. team size: 18

Athletic scholarships are not available to students attending NCAA Division 3 institutions. Other forms of financial aid such as academic scholarships and merit-based aid can also be used to create an attractive scholarship package for the recruit. Small private schools predominate in Division 3, so these resources are readily available. More than eighty-two percent of Division 3 athletes receive financial assistance. Division 3 scholarships are best for athletes with high test scores and a strong GPA.

NAIA basketball scholarships

Division 1

  • Maximum scholarships available per team: 11
  • Total # of NAIA D1 men’s basketball teams: 93
  • Avg. team size: 20 

Division 2

  • Maximum scholarships available per team: 6
  • Total # of NAIA D2 men’s basketball teams: 137
  • Avg. team size: 21

There are currently two NAIA basketball divisions, each of which awards a maximum number of scholarships, and each division has a different scholarship limit. There are 11 scholarships available per team in NAIA Division 1, but only six per team are available in NAIA Division 2. Although the NAIA plans to merge these divisions in 2020-21, each team will be able to award eight scholarships at that time. NAIA will also continue to use the equivalency model in which coaches receive athletic funds and decide how to distribute scholarships. A common practice among coaches is to provide partial financial aid to a number of their players in order to maximize their recruiting efforts. Some student-athletes will, however, require additional forms of financial assistance, such as academic scholarships and need-based aid.

JUCO men’s basketball scholarships

  • Maximum scholarships available per team: 15
  • Total # of NJCAA men’s basketball teams: 430
  • Avg. team size: 15

Basketball scholarships at the junior college level aren't always clear-cut. First and foremost, it is determined by the division. It is possible to receive an athletic scholarship to play college basketball in Division 1 and Division 2 of the NJCAA. The only division that can provide a full ride is Division 1. Tuition, fees, and books are covered by Division 2, but not housing. In addition to an athletic scholarship, both divisions will cover an athlete's transportation costs once a year.

Basketball scholarship requirements

There is an NCAA Eligibility Center registration process for all NCAA Division 1 and Division 2 college-athletes who are interested in participating in college sports. Eligibility Center clearance is required for student-athletes to be eligible for a roster spot and athletic scholarship.

Athletes must complete 16 core courses during high school, maintain a minimum grade point average in these courses, and pass the NCAA Sliding Scale in order to be eligible to compete in Division I or Division II athletics. Explore the Eligibility Center requirements to learn more about the GPA and test scores you must have to be considered for admission.

What are the best colleges for basketball scholarships? 

Basketball scholarships can be secured by finding colleges that are the best fit for an athlete's athletic abilities. It's important for student-athletes to find programs where they can make an immediate impact, because coaches will prioritize scholarships to their strongest players. In the event that a recruit's athletic ability doesn't quite match up, the coach is less likely to grant a scholarship.

Listed below are the best colleges for basketball scholarships at each division level to assist you in your search. Visit the team's roster and learn more about the coach's recruiting strategy, such as which areas the coach focuses on, to see if you're a good fit for the team. At each level, we've listed the best colleges based on information taken from NCSA Sports Org.

  • Top men’s basketball colleges: University of North Carolina, UCLA, Stanford University, University of Michigan, University of Florida, University of Virginia, Princeton University, Duke University, University of California, Harvard University.
  • Top D1 men’s basketball colleges: University of North Carolina, UCLA, Stanford University, University of Michigan, University of Florida, University of Virginia, Princeton University, Duke University, University of California, Harvard University.
  • Top D2 men’s basketball colleges: University of California—San Diego, Bentley University, Point Loma Nazarene University, California State Polytechnic University—Pomona, Rollins College, Bellarmine University, California State University—Chico, Western Washington University, Truman State University, Grand Valley State University.
  • Top D3 men’s basketball colleges: John Hopkins University, Emory University, Amherst College, University of California—Santa Cruz, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Hamilton College, Pomona-Pitzer College, University of Chicago, Trinity University—Texas.
  • NAIA: Asbury University, University of Michigan—Dearborn, Concordia University—Nebraska, St. Ambrose University, Bethel University—Indiana, Aquinas College—Michigan, College of the Ozarks, Loyola University New Orleans, Taylor University, Indiana Wesleyan University.
  • JUCO (according to the NJCAA): Florida SouthWestern State (FL), Vincennes (IN), Coffeyville (KS), Ranger (TX), John A. Logan (IL), Casper (WY), Odessa (TX), Northwest Florida State (FL), Chipola (FL), South Plains (TX) 

How many full-ride scholarships for basketball are there? 

There are a maximum of 13 scholarships available per team in NCAA Division 1 basketball. Headcount scholarships, also known as full-ride scholarships, are the most common type of scholarship. Three walk-ons who don't qualify for athletic aid might be on an NCAA Division 1 team with an average of 16 athletes. 

Equivalency scholarships are awarded to Division 2, NAIA, and JUCO college coaches. Athletic scholarships can be given to as many players as they want. As a result, many student-athletes at the D2 and NAIA levels are on partial scholarships. Because JUCO programs offer equivalency scholarships, they receive a maximum of fifteen per team, which means that athletes receive close to full-ride scholarships here. 

College basketball programs, on the other hand, aren't all well-funded. Division 2 coaches are allowed to offer a maximum of 10 scholarships per team, but their budget may only allow for seven scholarships. So the best way to get a clear picture of your financial aid options is to talk to a college coach at a Division 3 school you're interested in. Student-athletes can still work with the admissions department to create attractive financial aid packages even though D3 coaches cannot award athletic scholarships.


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