Burton Sampson, Austin Luke, Tyler Hadden, Taylor Barnette and Josh Lester walked out of practice covered in sweat with the rest of the men’s basketball team, but on game day they were noticeably divided from the rest of the team, wearing dress clothes instead of a uniform.
The five student-athletes are all redshirt freshmen basketball players, meaning that they practice with the team but won’t play in any games.
According to the NCAA, a college-bound student-athlete may obtain athletic scholarship in the first year of enrollment and may practice in the first regular academic term, but is not eligible to compete in the first year of enrollment.
“You go through all of the practices and you do all the drills and weight lifting, everything a player would do. But you have to sit out for the game,” Lester said.
The decision to redshirt freshman year is mutual between the coach and the player.
Belmont men’s basketball assistant coach James Strong said the reason this decision is variable depends on the player.
“Sometimes when you’re recruiting somebody, you see a lot of potential in them; you see they have a lot of room for improvement but that they may not be able to help you right away,” Strong said.
Other times, Strong said, it has to do with others players in their position. If there is a senior player in their position that will “play a lot of minutes” then they might choose to redshirt the player so they don’t waste a year of eligibility.
Strong emphasized that while the redshirt is an academic redshirt, where players must maintain a minimum of a 2.0 GPA to redshirt and a 2.3 GPA for a full qualifier, academics are not an area of concern at Belmont, who notched the 2012-2013 OVC Academic Award.
“At other schools it could be they’re not academically where they’re supposed to be so you give them a year to focus on academics and not worry about the basketball part of it,” Strong said.
Strong said that when this year is taken advantage of, it could be very beneficial for the player.
“You get to mature and develop parts of your game that aren’t where they need to be,” Strong said.
There can also be academic benefits to redshirting, including getting an academic year taken care of in order to get off to a good start, Strong said. The fifth academic year also presents the opportunity of grad school or a double major.
Lester calls this year a “good warm-up year,” because he is able to keep getting stronger and learn about the way that the team works. But, the feeling is bittersweet.
“I love cheering on my teammates, but it’s tough sitting on the bench,” Lester said. “I wish I could help out right now. I know I could be doing something for the team.” Lester said.
Despite sitting on the bench for his first year, Lester believes he would make the same decision to redshirt again.
“People have told me it’s the best decision they have ever made when it comes to basketball,” Lester said.