According to NCAA statistics, last season there were 546,231 male athletes playing high school basketball in this country. By my reckoning, while still developing their game as young players, the vast majority of those athletes entertained dreams of someday playing college basketball, many for elite Division I programs.
The truth about how many athletes end up earning a college scholarship to continue their basketball careers is sobering. The odds of earning a Division I scholarship are roughly 105 to 1 and they aren’t much better at NCAA Division II or at NAIA schools. I don’t cite those odds to discourage athletes from pursing their dreams, but the truth remains: There are a lot of terrific high school basketball players out there and not all of them are earning athletic scholarships at the next level.
Two local athletes have chosen to continue their basketball careers at NCAA Division III colleges, where there are no athletic scholarships awarded. Austin Allemeier (Elida-Ohio Northern University) and Josh Dixon (Lima Central Catholic-Heidelberg University) are in their final seasons of stellar careers at their respective universities.
Allemeier and Dixon had visions of playing on a larger stage.
“My hero growing up was JJ Rettig so, of course, my dream was playing for coach K at Duke,” Allemeier said. It was during his high school playing days that Allemeier began to alter his expectations. “I played a lot of AAU in the summer and got to see and play against some great players who were legit,” Allemeier said. “I knew my dreams weren’t going to be fulfilled but that did not turn me away from basketball. I was going to find a way to continue to play the game I loved.”
As a youngster learning the game, Josh Dixon was enamored with Travis Walton when he was playing at Michigan State. “I always dreamed of playing for Michigan State,” Dixon said. “Travis was from Lima so I figured it was possible.”
Like Allemeier, Dixon discovered he would have to pare back his goals. “It was in the summer of my junior year in high school when I realized I was not going to be recruited at a high level,” he recalled. “I began hearing from some lower Division II schools and a lot of Division III coaches.”
Allemeier and Dixon were not discouraged by the lack of scholarship opportunities and were determined to continue playing the game at the college level. NCAA Division III basketball has provided them with that opportunity.
There are obvious differences between the talent playing at scholarship and non-scholarship levels, but skill is not one of them according to Ohio Northern University head basketball coach, Rich Benson. “There are players at our level who can shoot and handle the ball with anyone,” he said. “The separation begins with size, athleticism and speed.”
Basketball players at Division III 3 are putting in nearly the same number of hours perfecting their game as scholarship players. The difference is they aren’t getting scholarship money for their effort. According to NCAA statistics, in season, Division I and II players are permitted a weekly time commitment up to 34 hours for basketball and Division III athletes are allowed nearly 30 hours. When factorinig in academic commitment, there isn’t a lot of time for anything else.
“Everyone playing at Division III is here for the love of the game,” Allemeier said. “We’re basically paying to play, and happy to do it.”
Because there are limits on out of season contact with their athletes, Division III coaches must rely on their players to be self-motivated in improving their game in the offseason. “When we recruit athletes, we look for players who are committed to becoming better and willing to work toward that goal,” Benson said.
NCAA Division III rosters are also filled with athletes whose academic record earned them impressive financial aid packages. That helps account for the fact that many become targets for potential employers who are searching for bright, high character candidates with leadership skills and collegiate athletic experience.
Dixon, who won two state titles while playing point guard for coach Frank Kill at LCC, moved into Heidelberg University’s starting lineup as a sophomore. He scored a career high 21 points at Otterbein last season and remains one of the best defenders in the Ohio Athletic Conference. Dixon also earned Academic All-Conference honors. He will graduate in the spring with a degree in business/sports management.
Allemeier, who played for coach Denny Thompson at Elida has been in the Polar Bear starting lineup since his sophomore year and has a career high of 20 points. Allemeier is ONU’s leading returning scorer. He is on track to graduate with a degree in marketing and a minor in communications.
As Dixon and Allemeier begin their senior and final season, they can see the end of their formal basketball careers on the not too distant horizon. But they both feel that basketball will always remain a special part of their lives.
“I’ve been around basketball my whole life, and I think it will still be a big part of me in the future,” Dixon said. “I can see myself in athletic administration, coaching or sporting sales.”
Allemeier, who had a valuable internship experience last summer, has similar feelings. “Regardless of where I am or what I’m doing I’ll still be around basketball,” he said. “I’ll be playing in some industrial or rec league as long as I can, and I will continue coaching AAU youth teams.”
Dixon and Allemeier’s experience as non-scholarship collegiate athletes demonstrates that Division III colleges can provide a path toward fulfilling basketball and career dreams.
Reach Bob Seggerson at firstname.lastname@example.org.