The dream to play college level basketball is a common one. For instance, there are 346 schools in 32 Division One basketball conferences. Every team has an allowance of approximately 13 scholarships. That’s nearly 4500 D-1 scholarships between incoming freshmen and existing upperclassmen. It has been estimated that only one percent of those that participate in high school basketball will receive a D-1 scholarship.
That previous sentence would turn some away, for others it merely provides the motivation to succeed. I recently interviewed three young women who have been or currently are D-1 or NAIA level athletes. Katie Edwards played basketball for the Lady Griz from 2002-2006, Austin Hanser (pictured right while playing at Billings Central last year) is currently playing basketball for the Rocky women after graduating from Central High School last year, and Brittani Jones was on the women’s golf team at Montana State from 2007-2010. All of them have had success as high school athletes and have been able to convert that to the college level. I asked them what their secrets were.
One of my core interests was in the game itself, what was the biggest difference between high school level play and the college ranks? “Definitely the speed of the game,” Katie Edwards alluded, who graduated from Fergus High School in 2002 and averaged nearly 30 points a game as a senior. “The overall intensity of the game is also elevated. You can’t get by on raw talent alone at the college level, you have got to show up every day and be ready to work.”
The college athlete has a lot going on between practice, travel, weight lifting, film study, and classes. It can become overwhelming for those who aren’t ready. Brittani Jones divulged that her busy high school agenda helped out when she got to college. “College was a whole new realm for me. Studies took more time than I had imagined. Practice was every day of the week… we traveled 3-4 days out of the week for every tournament we went to. In high school I was always very involved with sports and clubs so I always used a planner and knew how to time manage.”
On top of it all is the pressure to perform that comes with being a scholarship athlete. Austin Hanser summed it up best; “To become an athlete on scholarship is tough. It's like receiving an academic scholarship. In order to receive both you have to go the extra mile, and do the extra work so that you can make your good better, and your better best. The time spent doing all this is the biggest obstacle.”
I think Katie Edwards figured it out. She is second all time in the Big Sky Conference in 3-point field goals made with 236. All that success had to start somewhere. I asked Katie who her role models were when she was growing up and developing her game: “Growing up in Denton, Mont., there was really only one powerhouse Class C school to follow in central Montana,” Katie replied. “We watched girls like Heather Heggem, Amy Meckling, and Julie Bergum from Winifred at Districts, Divisionals, and followed them to State. They were disciplined, hard-working, humble and fiercely competitive. My dad also drove my sisters and I up to Havre to watch Loree Payne. She was incredible. I watched the Lady Cat vs. Lady Griz game religiously every year so I always looked up to Greta Koss, Shannon Cate, and Cass Bauer. I respected all of those players and knew that I’d have to work extremely hard to be as successful as they were.” Katie was also First Team Big Sky All Conference for two years from 2004-2006. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration Management and Business Administration Finance. “I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to play for the Lady Griz in Missoula,” Katie added.
In the end for most athletes it’s about the education, so picking the right school is difficult for these athletes. Some commit early, others after their senior year, and some are forced to rush through the process. “I would tell anyone,” Austin Hanser emphasized, “to make sure that they love the school first and then the team, because school is a lot of work on top of a sport. Know that you’re going to put in a lot of time and energy into both.”
I hope there are a lot of young women out there who want to achieve as much as women like Katie Edwards, Brittani Jones, and Austin Hanser have and continue to achieve year after year. Like a lot of my previous blogs have stated, the women’s game has come a long way both nationally and locally, due in no small part to the women mentioned above. Austin Hanser testified, “If you have a dream of playing college ball, don’t let anyone stop you from trying to reach that goal. Find the people who are willing to take time out of their busy schedule to help you get to that level.”
Brittani Jones urged kids to remember the big picture, “Your education is the most important part of your success in college. A very low percentage of college athletes move to the pros so your education is very important.”
“If you truly want to play college basketball, there really is nothing stopping you but hard work.” Katie Edwards maintained. “The best piece of advice I received was from my high school basketball coach at Fergus, coach Ron Miller. He constantly reminded us that, as players, we have control over two things: Our attitude and effort. It is such a simple statement, yet holds so much truth. There are so many things outside of your control in basketball and in life, but you can always maintain a good attitude and put forth your best effort.”