ROCHESTER, Minn. — Laurie Kelly is going into her eighth season as the head coach of the Gustavus Adolphus College women’s basketball team. Kelly, a 1989 graduate of Rochester John Marshall who went on to be an All-American at the University of St. Thomas, has head coaching experience at all three levels of NCAA basketball — Division I, II and III.
Kelly notes how different recruiting at Gustavus’ Division III level is, with the inability to bring in players with lower ACT scores and grade-point averages. Still, the recruiting tactics themselves aren’t much different at all three levels. Social media plays a big role in contacting and researching players. But Kelly says there is nothing as crucial as connecting on campus with a prospective player.
FNS: How early do you start recruiting a player?
KELLY: We start identifying players their sophomore or junior years. But our actually recruiting them happens later in their junior year. That’s when we start frequently contacting them. It’s different in Division I, with the recruiting starting when they’re sophomores and the offers coming when they’re juniors.
In what ways do you contact recruits?
We like to do that in all different areas. I love to hand write kids, the snail-mail way. I think it’s cool for kids when they see that handwriting and a stamp on the envelope. Emails are more directed at parents than kids. Most kids don’t communicate via email. We also use Twitter and Instagram. We also have a TikTok account now, believe it or not. I have a young assistant, a former player of mine, who is good at all of that stuff. I’m not much of a social-media person, but I like to use it for updates on tournaments and other information.
How soon can you tell if a recruit has genuine interest in your program?
KELLY: I can tell right away from their response. If I text a kid and it takes them three days to text me back, they’re not interested. You can also tell when you invite them to one of your team’s games, if they come or not. But my goal is to always get them on campus. Then you can meet them one on one, they can come look at what you have and have a much better understanding. If they see everything and meet the team, and they don’t pick you, then it’s just not the right fit for them.
What’s the toughest thing about recruiting at the Division III level?
KELLY: For 90% of kids, the money it costs to go to a Division III school (no athletic scholarships offered at that level) can be a major factor. Plus, there are high academic standards, and you have to do very well academically to get in. But the money is the most frustrating part for everyone involved. It’s a big-ticket item for parents.
What do you appreciate about the kind of kid you generally coach at the Division III level?
KELLY: At Gustavus, we don’t have to do class checks (make sure kids are going to class). Right now, we have four kids with 4.0 GPAs. It is great to be around such driven people.
What is the key to putting together a winning team at the Division III level?
KELLY: What you have to do is get kids who are good enough to be scholarship (Division II) players, but get them to come to your program instead. When you’re a top Division III program, you’re competing with the lower Division II programs for players. But it’s hard to turn away money. It goes back to what meets their needs.
You were a star player at University of St. Thomas. How much has recruiting changed since your playing days?
KELLY: Back then, I remember I went to an all-star camp in Indianapolis and a few other invite camps. My junior year, I started getting questionnaire letters. Everyone back then mailed you a form, usually with a return address on it. It used to be that recruiters couldn’t call you until June after your junior year. But I was a kid who fell through the cracks. We had no AAU programs then. You needed to make it to the state tournament for schools to see you. In today’s basketball, I wouldn’t have fallen through the cracks.
Why are high school players more visible for college coaches now than before?
KELLY: It’s harder to find the hidden gems of the world because all of the better players tend to play AAU basketball now. People come from all over to watch kids play in tournaments. You can see 1,000 players, all in the same venue. And there is just so much information out there on kids now, with scouting services and so many people evaluating.