Summer access benefits freshmen
Next season, William "Shaq" Goodwin will encounter minimal challenges as he navigates the physical hurdles endured by many freshmen transitioning from high school sports to collegiate athletics.
The chiseled 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward (linebacker?) will dwarf most players at the Division I level when he begins his freshman season at Memphis.
But he's concerned about other aspects of the leap, which will officially start with summer school in July.
Without mandatory workouts, he'll require self-motivation to push himself every day. The Georgia native's regular stops to McDonald's and American Deli won't help. But he's committed to cutting back on his fast food intake.
Mom usually keeps him on track, but she's not coming to campus. And now, Goodwin seems burdened by his new laundry responsibilities, among other duties she handled on his behalf for 18 years.
"Wash my clothes, tell me to clean up after myself, take out the trash. Once I get to Memphis, I'm going to have to do all that stuff on my own," he told ESPN.com. "People are not going to force you to do anything once you get there, so that's probably the biggest adjustment."
So Goodwin, No. 31 in ESPN 100's 2012 prep rankings, will arrive early to prepare for the jump. Other freshmen will make similar treks to their new schools prior to the start of the fall semester. The early arrivals offer young players additional time to bond with their new teammates, adjust to campus life and, in Goodwin's case, find the washers and dryers.
This summer, coaches will be afforded limited time to interact with players per new NCAA rules. For up to two hours per day -- and up to eight hours per week -- coaches can work with their players, including incoming freshmen, in varying capacities. The January approval of the new rules served as an extra gift for the holidays among coaches who've fought for the extra access in recent years.
Many agree that incoming players will benefit the most from immediate access to their new coaching staffs.
"When you're a freshman, now you get to come in and take a couple of classes and adjust when there's not 40,000 [students on campus] or when there's not all the pressure of classroom work, athletic work and then the social activity that goes on with kids their first year away from home," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I think it benefits [the student-athletes]. I think it's going to make our freshmen a lot more under control and not so overwhelmed."
The measure, adopted by the NCAA's board of directors, says, "In men's basketball, a student-athlete who is enrolled in summer school may engage in required weight-training, conditioning and skill-related instruction for up to eight weeks (not required to be consecutive weeks). Participation in such activities shall be limited to a maximum of eight hours per week with not more than two hours per week spent on skill-related instruction. An individual who is not eligible to use the exception to summer school enrollment (Bylaw 220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168) may participate only during the period of the institution's summer term or terms (opening day of classes through last day of final exams) in which he is enrolled."
Stacey Osborn, associate director of public and media relations for the NCAA, said the board "adopted this rule in January because student-athletes who enroll in summer school, particularly early in their academic careers, tend to experience enhanced academic success during their collegiate enrollment."
Coaches envision athletic benefits, too.
Oregon State places student-athletes in its BEST Bridge Program, a summer opportunity with a mission "to help recruit, retain, develop and graduate students as scholar athletes." Like similar orientation offerings, athletes earn credits while learning about their new lives as college students prior to the arrival of the general student body. It's an academic boost.
And that's helpful, says Beavers coach Craig Robinson, as limited access to coaches had affected the athletic development of young players in the past.
Robinson and his assistants met recently to discuss the best scenarios for their new access to players. He said he hasn't pinpointed specifics yet -- players don't start summer school for another month -- but he's hopeful that the arrangement will enhance his program.
"I think it's just going to be an enormous help for the young players, especially for the ones coming out of high school," he said. "They come earlier than most of the other summer school folks, and it helps bridge the gap between high school and college on an academic front. And this is going to serve as a bridge program on the court, where they'll have a chance to work out with the guys as well as get used to the rigors of playing and having homework and really learning the speed of the game."
For all players, the summer presents an opportunity to bond with teammates. For incoming freshmen, it's also an essential period that helps them demonstrate their dedication and commitment to more experienced players.
Belmont's Kerron Johnson said his first summer session alleviated some of the future hassles he may have encountered without that early connection to his new teammates.
Johnson learned the do's and don'ts from the squad's upperclassmen. And he convinced them that they could depend on him, a crucial display for an incoming freshman point guard who played 20 minutes per game during his first season in 2009-10.
"When the game is on the line, they're the ones passing you the ball. I think it's a way for you to prove yourself that you can hang at that level," Johnson said.
Michigan State guard Keith Appling also touted the benefits of a summer arrival for freshmen. Appling's best lessons were gleaned on the floor in the months prior to his first year of Division I basketball, he said.
Michigan State hosts a notorious round of pickup games each summer. Former Spartans return to East Lansing and battle current players in feisty matchups.
In Appling's first experience with those annual battles, he played on a team that needed one more bucket for the win. Appling had a clear path to the basket.
But he was a freshman. And it doesn't work like that for young players.
Former All-American forward Draymond Green challenged the naive guard.
"My team had game point, and I thought I had a wide-open layup and [Green] just fouled me like it was playoff basketball and I just thought it was open gym, man. The intensity level was just so high, it was crazy," Appling said. "It was a wake-up call. Nothing will be easy, you're going to have earn every basket."
With more offseason access, however, coaches believe they now possess the power to create structure for players who sometimes rely on pickup games and individual gym sessions with random trainers to improve during the offseason.
Entering college, young players may not understand the offseason expectations and demands at the Division I level. Now, however, coaches will have the freedom to check on their players' progress as they prepare for their freshman seasons.
"It shortens the learning curve, gives guys an opportunity to understand how hard they're going to have to work," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "So much of that learning curve in the past has taken place in September. Now we get to spend a lot of time in July and August with them on the court."
Rice's program boasts one of the top frontcourts in America. Canadian prep star Anthony Bennett, a top-10 recruit from the 2012 class, signed with the team last month. Connecticut's Roscoe Smith, who might be eligible next season, recently announced plans to transfer to the Runnin' Rebels. Khem Birch, a former All-American forward who left Pitt and will be available after the fall semester, joins Mike Moser, one of the top players in the country, on a frontcourt depth chart that few programs can match.
But if Rice -- and other coaches -- is anticipating sizable contributions from key newcomers but can't develop proper bonds and relationships within his program, he'll miss their potential.
Goodwin said the new rules will foster chemistry because young players will have more access to coaches and one another.
"That's a big key because usually players come in freshman year not really knowing what type of coach they have because they don't get to talk to them as much," he said. "Now, seeing that we get to do that, I guess me and the coaching staff and the team will have a stronger relationship."
Most rule changes draw concerns about abuse. But Izzo said that's not a worry. Rule-breakers will always find ways to skirt the law, he said, but bending the new measures on access will only hurt players.
"I don't think there's going to be a lot of paranoia. And I don't think coaches want to spend exuberant amount of hours with their players in the offseason," he said. "Kids are already getting too burned out; there's so much AAU activity."
Goodwin sees positives with the rules on summer access, too. Going to summer school in July will help him make the transition to college. The opportunity to meet with his coaches once he arrives will also prepare the talented forward for the rigors of his new life as a Division I athlete. Plus, he'll avoid the move-in day crowds in the fall.
"Going there right when school starts, it's like mayhem because you've got new students coming in, everybody coming back from the previous year, so it's going to be pretty crazy," he said.
Wait until Goodwin and his freshmen peers around the country are standing in line at the campus laundromat for the first time.