Recruiting Column: Interview with Augustana University basketball coach Tom Billeter

Recruiting Column: Interview with Augustana University basketball coach Tom Billeter

Recruiting Column

Recruiting Column: Interview with Augustana University basketball coach Tom Billeter


USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from  This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. identifies appropriate colleges for potential recruits and delivers an online DIY college planning experience for student athletes of all talent levels and ages.


(Photo: Augustana Athletics)

This week’s interview with a national championship coach from the 2015-2016 school year features Tom Billeter, Augustana University’s head basketball coach. Ask Coach Billeter what it took to win the NCAA Division II National Championship and he will tell you he had a team full of leaders. What a coincidence! After talking with Coach Billeter, leader is the word I would use to describe him. Talk about a team taking on the identity of its coach!

Here is some national championship recruiting advice from Coach Billeter.

Q: How can a recruit get your attention? How can they get noticed by you and your staff?

A: Really and truly, it’s on them. Obviously, the first thing that we take notice of is a young man’s dimensions. It goes without saying, but if you have the physicality, the height, the size to play at this level, you are going to generate some attention. That isn’t necessarily a controllable for an athlete, but it is a reality of college recruiting that kids and parents should understand. Another great way to get noticed is to do something that stands out when we see you play. Is there something you do really well on the court, better than anyone else? Whether it’s shooting, passing or defending, if you do it well, we will notice that.

I think one of the most underrated or underutilized ways of generating interest has to do with the attention from a recruit’s coach. When a coach is making an effort on your behalf, that really stands out to us. If an AAU coach or a high school coach is willing to contact us about you, they obviously think very highly of you. It makes us want to learn why. It makes us want to do our homework on you.

Now that said, and this is going to be something recruits and parents probably don’t want to hear because they are trying to do the right thing, but these recruiting services that contact us don’t help their cause. Getting an unsolicited email or call from someone we don’t have any sort of relationship with about a young man we haven’t heard of or seen play isn’t going to get you noticed. Like many programs, we are getting hundreds of those each week, from all over the world. It would literally be impossible to view all of the video and emails we get on guys.

Q: What advice would you have for a high school athlete interested in your program that you have not yet identified?

A: It is so important for these young men to know that we need to see them play to properly evaluate their abilities. One of the best ways for that to happen is to attend one of our camps. Our camps have been a tremendous success for us. In fact, we have signed a player out of a camp every single year. It’s just such a unique opportunity for our staff to work with each player one-on-one and to sit down and talk with these young men. Attending one of our camps also shows us your interest in our program, which always makes the recruiting process much easier for the athlete and our coaches.

Q: Not including physical talent, what does the ideal recruit look like to you?

A: A recruit’s GPA means a lot to our staff. We have seen a lot of kids with not-so-great test scores but with high GPA’s do really, really well and we have seen quite a few guys with high test scores and low GPA’s underachieve. I think GPA is a great indicator of a young man’s work ethic and the effort he is willing to give. That usually translates to the basketball court.

We absolutely love multi-sport athletes! Why? They get coached differently. It gives a kid a totally different perspective on another sport and how to think. They have different expectations, teammates and circumstances that might be out of their comfort zone. It teaches them how to fail in a different way and makes them figure out how to fix it. When kids participate in multiple sports, it really completes them as an athlete. Bottom line, we are looking for well-balanced young men with their priorities in line.

(Photo: Augustana Athletics)

(Photo: Augustana Athletics)

Q: How many recruits do you target each year and how many actually end up in your program?

A: The percentage of recruits that sign with the first school that makes them an offer is very high. At the very least, the school making that first offer almost always ends up in a recruit’s top 3 list of schools. As a coaching staff, we are very aware of that and try to recruit with that in mind. If we are seriously interested in a young man being a part of our program, we will get that offer on the table.

That said, the total number of kids we recruit or watch is almost countless. But to speak in specific numbers, our roster needs will dictate the offers we make. For every roster need we have, we will make three equal offers to three young men we feel would fit in great with our program. If we have made the offer to three of you for one spot, we feel all three of you are special and we are going to take the first one of you that accepts the offer. We are very honest with them about how we handle this because we want to give them total ownership of the decision-making. Our staff would never want a young man to feel pressured into making a decision on coming to Augie. It is something they have got to want and a decision they have got to own.

Q: What is your advice to student-athletes going through the recruiting process?

A: I’ve got some really simple ideas, without getting very deep! Go on as many unofficial visits as you can. Get on the campuses of the schools that you have interest in and get a feel for how badly they want you there. Another piece of advice is to make sure you are being recruited. That’s not receiving a letter once a month or getting an email or text once a month. True recruiting is when there has been vocal contact between you and a coach. Is that coach making a real effort to talk to you and get to know you? There is a big difference between thinking you are being recruited and actually being recruited.

One of the hardest things to find, especially these days, is leadership. Truthfully, it’s getting harder and harder each year to find true leaders. There is no doubt that the talent today’s high school athletes possess is greater than it ever has been. But skill-level is only a part of what it takes to be successful. You get to a point when talent is no longer separating you from everyone else. I would tell these kids, as they go through this process, to not focus solely on the physical side of things. Focus on being a leader, thinking for yourself and having a greater purpose than just being good at basketball. Don’t be scared to step up and be vocal. Your intangibles, your leadership skills will take your physical talent to the next level.

Q: What does it take to win a national championship?

A: I go back to the idea of leadership. We were so blessed to have such an amazing group of upperclassmen. When you have a group of guys out on that floor that are experienced leaders, playing the game for each other, they’re extremely hard to beat. Us not making the Elite 8 last year stuck with our guys every day leading up to the national championship. We didn’t have a bad practice all year. Our coaches had our guys’ attention because of that. These guys knew it was their team and they played like it.


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