The NCAA has reported that approximately 40% of Division 1 men’s basketball players who were freshmen in the 2010-11 academic year left their original institution prior to their third year in college. I was initially surprised to learn how many young men were leaving their Division 1 basketball programs, but after reflecting on the reality of basketball recruiting, I get it.

The pie chart in this report lists the various destinations of these players, and I was struck by the statistic that only 44% of those early departures represented players transferring to other Division 1 institutions. I don’t know what your reaction is to that statistic, but the fact that so many Division 1 men’s basketball players are transferring to less-competitive athletic divisions tells me that a lot of young men were over-recruited out of high school.

This is not meant as an indictment of the recruiting system currently in place. NCAA officials, coaching groups and members of the media have been talking forever about how to tweak the system for the betterment of all. My sense is that the realities of non-high school basketball (whether one wants to label it AAU, summer ball, travel teams or whatever) make basketball recruiting very challenging.

I think the degree of early departures of men’s Division 1 basketball players cited above demonstrates how inexact the practice of recruiting is, at least when we remove the obvious “one and done” prospects from the equation. For example, college coaches often have a challenging time projecting how young men will mesh into their system, in part because so many prospects play a position or a role in high school and on summer teams that is different from what they will be asked to do in college. Often it is difficult to tell if a prospect’s skill set will transfer to the college game. Some young men are recruited based on projected growth and development, and for whatever reason, they just don’t develop, at least not quickly enough to suit the coach.

In addition, basketball prospects from an early age learn that change is simply part of the game. A college coach once told me at a Las Vegas AAU event, “If little Johnny doesn’t get enough touches today, his family will have him on another travel team tomorrow.” Even allowing for exaggeration, I think the coach’s point was clear. Prospects and their families want exposure for the young man, they want it now, and if that means changing teams, so be it. The concept of working hard and waiting your turn is not always apparent on the summer circuit.

We also occasionally see young men transfer between high schools, particularly private high schools, and we occasionally see top players leave their high school for a prep school. Those of us in the Bay Area will recall Bishop O’Dowd’s Brandon Ashley leading O’Dowd to a great deal of success and then transferring to Findlay Prep in Nevada for his senior year.

USA Today published an interesting article this past March, in which it noted that according to the results of an NCAA survey, Division 1 men’s basketball players demonstrated the lowest level of trust in their coaches of any male athletes in the division. It has been suggested that one reason for that outcome is the relatively high number of men’s basketball players who did not grow up with a male figure they could trust in their life. I have no idea if this suggestion has merit. I would think that any unstable household would be difficult for any young person to handle, regardless of their gender or what sport the young person plays. It also has been suggested that the frequent movement of Division 1 basketball coaches has served to create an atmosphere where stability is lacking and trust is tough to build. I would tend to agree with this observation.

The NCAA and the coaches’ association (NABC) have studied various recruiting calendars and discussed at length the number and type of recruiting contacts to allow, but it is clear there is no perfect approach. Colleges do not have unlimited resources. Coaches would like to spend some time with their own families. Prospects need time away from the recruiting whirl to devote to high school life and to the everyday challenges of being a teenager.

I don’t expect the data to show a significant difference regarding early departures of Division 1 men’s basketball players in the years to come. Basketball lends itself better to early and frequent competition and public attention than does the other “money” sport of football. Young men who are used to being told they are “special” from an early age will continue to be frustrated when they get to college and find that they are just one more guy on the depth chart along with other special players.

What do you think? Is there any solution to the significant number of early departures in Division 1 men’s college basketball? I welcome your thoughts.