‘It elevates us’: Aldrich examines season of change for Longwood

Published 1:09 am Monday, September 4, 2023

It’s a season of change for the Longwood Lancers. On the court, they add 10 new players. The Joan Perry Brock Center, their brand new arena, was just dedicated on Friday, Aug. 25. And off the court, the program has to juggle a new college basketball landscape, thanks to Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals now being offered to student-athletes. 

“There’s just such shifting sands recruiting wise,” Longwood coach Griff Aldrich said. “Historically, when it came to recruiting, everybody talked about facilities, housing and that was the main focus when you compared school versus school. Now you add in NIL and different things like that.”

Now when we say NIL, the new rule allows college athletes, and high school students in some cases, to get endorsement deals and sponsorships. Athletes can sign deals now with specific companies and brands, wear branded gear during games and even start their own businesses.  One example of that here has been the local Bojangles franchise, which has signed several Longwood players to NIL deals. 

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What makes it more challenging is that NIL is constantly growing. As of Aug. 1, 17% of all Division I athletes had signed an NIL deal, according to a Sports Business Journal study. That nearly doubles what we saw in the first year of the project. And now, that same study found, 75% of student athletes consider NIL possibilities when choosing a college. 

“It’s a seismic shift in college athletics,” Aldrich said. “But I think we also have to be wise. You look at Justin Hill, transferring to Georgia. You’re gonna have a hard time keeping a kid like that in any situation. I think yes, we are going to be able to retain (players) through NIL and I think we’ll be able to attract players through NIL, but I don’t think it’s the panacea. I don’t see the day Longwood is giving kids six-figure NIL deals to prevent them from transferring to a Power Five conference. What we’re doing is building a sustainable program that operates on a higher level.” 

Longwood builds a better home 

NIL is part of that, but there are other puzzle pieces in the construction. The Joan Perry Brock Center (JPB) is one of those. 

“Look at the JPB,” Aldrich said. “It elevates us facility wise. The facility is going to be absolutely fantastic and it’s going to be a huge feather in our cap. It checks a huge box for people.” 

A 2022 study done by Tudor Collegiate Strategies backs that up. The study found that “the year before completion (of a facility) saw basketball teams’ recruiting efforts improve significantly.” 

The JPB will seat more than 3,000 fans for basketball games, while concerts and other performances can seat more than 4,000. Designed after places like Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium and Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse, the goal was to help build the program through the gameday feel. 

“One of our historic challenges has been our facilities,” Aldrich said. “And what I think this does, this raises us to be more on par with the other great facilities in our league. Look at High Point and Asheville. Now you’re elevating the program and the quality of the facilities.”

But Aldrich also wants to be realistic. Yes, this addresses one of the previous issues. But it’s not an automatic guarantee to land a player. The team’s play on the court can help with that. And this year’s squad is already taking some positive steps in that direction. 

Undefeated in Europe

With so many new players on the team, Aldrich felt some bonding time was needed in order to build team chemistry. Thanks to a group of donors, the Lancers took advantage of an NCAA rule that lets teams take summer tours once every four years and headed to Europe, stopping first in England and then playing three games in France. 

“These trips are really valuable, especially when you’re bringing so many new guys together,” Aldrich said. “On our roster, we’re gonna have basically 10 new members of the team. There’s a lot of chemistry that needs to be developed and built.”

Spending 10 days with each other helped achieve that, Aldrich said. Winning three games against European talent didn’t hurt either. 

Now Aldrich feels it’s hard to judge preseason scrimmages. On the one hand, the Lancers won all three of their games in France, with two of them not even remotely close. But on the other, it’s still preseason, with new faces still learning the gameplans. 

“I think one of the things we’re trying to determine is what specifically can you take away, because basically several of the contests were pretty lopsided,” Aldrich said. “You don’t want to read too much into it but you also don’t want to ignore anything positive or negative. One has to be kind of careful when evaluating these exhibitions in August. But we learned a lot about our players.” 

They have a new arena, new faces and some new tools to work with. Now the Lancers just prepare to apply all this to the rest of the NCAA, when their season starts later this fall.