No Days Off: How High School Athletes Can Make the Jump to College

With the WNBA Draft behind us, and the NBA Draft upon us, this is arguably one of the most exciting and nerve wracking times for the cream of the crop athletes who will advance to the professional ranks. Very few will get to have this moment; that’s why you see players visibly emotional because of the rarity and magnitude of what getting drafted means. To reach the top is truly an indescribable feeling.

Jewell Loyd opted out of playing her senior year at Notre Dame to go on to be the No. 1 draft pick in the WNBA, drawing criticism from a spew of people, including her own head coach. (Jewell was recently tweeting with Kobe Bryant and is now apart of the #mambafamily. Her life simply will never be the same.)

With the college players waving sayonara to the NCAA, let’s redirect our attention on heading into college. Any ballers out there gearing up for the colligate ranks? Great news–college will be one of the most amazing experiences of your life. You will also have some of your greatest highs and lows during that span. It’s educational…while getting your education on. It’s learning life lessons good or bad…while shaping you up for your life ahead of you. Talk about a double-whammy.

I bounced around to three different colleges in my time and thus my experience was probably much different than the average athlete. With that being said, it also handed me a great deal of perspective now when I discuss what it’s like going from high school to college.

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Transitioning from high school to college means living on your own. I talk to college athletes on a consistent basis and the conversation the public doesn’t know about is the secret behind bad games and the rapid increase in the number of college transfers. It’s not uncommon to find an athlete that’s miserable. They don’t like where they live, or who they live with. Parents aren’t around. Roommates clash. New environment. These things accumulate and whether you can control it or not it can mess with your game.

There is no real way to prepare for what it will be like once you leave the nest egg. Just be mindful when choosing where you will spend the next four years of your life. Happiness rules over everything else.

When you compete at the college level, it’s expected you will face much better competition than you did back in high school. I was voted Ms. Florida Basketball coming out of high school and guess what? While my high school teammates were totally amped for me, my new college teammates couldn’t have cared less. Not that they didn’t admire the accomplishment; accomplishments are just thrown out when you take the next step. The new competitive field you enter is tremendous. Everyone wants playing time, and you can’t always walk into a team and have instant respect. Respect is earned through hard work and unselfishness.

As an eager 18-year-old freshy entering my first academic semester in college, I had worked tremendously hard prior to arriving. I felt like I was ready. I was in good shape. I had elected to come in the summer to show I was dedicated. I was paired up with two of our seniors; they were the only other ones down there training.

You don’t realize just how hard real hard work is until you step foot on a college campus.

What I thought was hard before was a warm-up. Every drill is faster, more advanced. Plays are much more complex, require thought and reading defenses, and defending at the highest level for 40 minutes is where you usually see the biggest struggles for young players. In high school, maybe you can get away with decent D because you were the best player. Now you step on a court with 10 of the best players going head-to-head and the margin for error is vastly different than in high school. If an opposing coach senses any defensive weaknesses, they will design plays to specifically attack you and break you down for easy points. Ego blow, right? Don’t let that be you.

Coming into college, I never expected I would be a defensive liability because I played hard in high school. But it was a huge adjustment during my first year of college. The biggest key is don’t get discouraged. Maybe you aren’t blessed with the most athleticism, but be smarter, work hard, and learn opponents’ weaknesses and take advantage.

As I mentioned, you’re now living on your own, managing a full slate of classes with three-hour practices, as well as weights, study hall, media availability, and coaches that will expect you to get extra shots up. That’s a ton of new responsibility.

I’ve attended countless practices the past few years as a college basketball analyst and it’s inevitable you will have a bad day. You gotta check that at the door before you suit up. I can observe two teams on game day shootaround and within 10 minutes know exactly which team is more ready, more prepared, and mentally focused. It’s transparent. Shouldering that type of load is what makes being a college athlete special, a privilege.

Mentality is everything, and it begins with attitude. Those that are successful don’t let bad days ruin a game or a practice. They use it as fuel to conquer the bad day and triumph afterwards. Mentally, you truly find out what you’re capable of and what you can do.

Follow Steffi on Twitter at @steffisorensen