A recent trend among some of the successful sports teams at Long Beach State is the recruitment of international athletes. They travel thousands of miles to devote multiple years of work to a program, while putting trust into a coaching staff they’ve never met in person.
The presence of foreign-born players has become impactful for many 49er teams this academic year. Long Beach has teams on both sides of the spectrum, from the California-centered style of recruiting exhibited by baseball to the women’s tennis team being comprised of athletes born outside of the U.S.
A team’s need for talent from specific types of student-athletes has played a role in several Long Beach State programs going international to fill those requirements for certain sports.
While some teams have a mixed bag of athletes from home and around the world, the women’s tennis team is known for a tendency to travel abroad for its talent.
All seven of the team’s players this season were scouted internationally, hailing from countries such as Spain, India, France and Brazil.
Head coach Jenny Hilt-Costello said although her team is foreign-born, this was not intentional on her part, or the athletics program.
“As a coach, my philosophy is to recruit the best available player that wants to be here, and that includes American and international,” Hilt-Costello said. “We just happen to have more [international players] on our team because it works out that way; it’s not that they’re more appealing.”
While she said there’s not a preference for international players, the team has only recruited four women from the U.S. since 2009, as far back the team’s archived roster goes. This may seem like a difficult process of recruiting players, but for a team that’s won 14 conference titles in the last 16 years, it’s unlikely Hilt-Costello will change her methods any time soon.
Although the tennis program is a strong selling point for international players, what often draws students to Long Beach State is the chance to play tennis while getting an education, which is rare in most overseas programs.
“The interesting thing is international tennis students don’t have this opportunity in other countries, of getting their education paid for and playing,” Hilt-Costello said. “The biggest thing is ability to play while getting their degree when you talk to these student athletes on why they want to play here.”
Since recruiting internationally has become more popular, many networks have opened up to keep track of players and schools, then matching them up with each other when needed.
Hilt-Costello uses these networks, sometimes contacting them when the team has an open spot available. Once the school expresses interest in a player, that student travels to the campus for a tour and works out in front of the coaching staff. If the athlete isn’t able to make it to Long Beach, they choose the school based off pictures of the city and verbal communication, making the choice of who to invite to the team more difficult for Hilt-Costello.
“The ones that don’t visit, we don’t get to see them play in person so that’s a little difficult,” Hilt-Costello said. “It makes it harder to get to know them and their play technique.”
Despite these small disadvantages, Hilt-Costello has seen success through her team of international players during her tenure.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see more teams follow the trend of recruiting international as the men’s basketball team is beginning to recruit non local student-athletes.
The departure of transfers last year played a big role in the men’s basketball program recruiting overseas this past season. With positions needing to be filled, head coach Dan Monson needed to find an alternative.
“Well, again that was a need-[based] situation where we had to go late in recruiting in April last year,” Monson said. “Players locally and from around the state [had] already prominently made decisions.”
Two players Monson recruited to play in Long Beach this season were freshman guard Edon Maxhuni from Finland and forward Milos Apic from Serbia. Both were spotted by Monson and his staff after playing at Sandy Springs Friends School in Maryland.
“I’ve really liked their attitudes,” Monson said. “[They are] hungry to do anything they can to be a good teammate and not so worried about themselves as some of the American kids can be.”
Maxhuni played a big role in Long Beach’s season, contributing 6.2 points per game and starting 15 games. Apic sat out as a redshirt this year, but will stay on the roster next season.
“It’s been refreshing having them,” Monson said. “We are not on the radar to do that every year, but I would do it again because it has been successful recruiting those two guys.”
Not every squad from Long Beach extends its scope of recruiting outside U.S. borders. The Dirtbags’ coaching staff has made it a point to take care of their backyard due to monetary benefits and the rich local talent. Their 2018 roster shows all 32 players hailing from California.
“We’re able to get more seasoned players [in California] that are used to playing in a much bigger environment, where the speed of the game is similar to that at the college level,” baseball head coach Troy Buckley said. “These players have more metal and can adapt to the atmosphere much more quickly and easily.”
Because of California’s year-round sunshine, prospective players are able to get in a whole 12 months of training. This is unlike other parts of the country and the world, where ball players are forced into a winter offseason and the best they can do is practice indoors.
The baseball program is alloted 11.2 scholarships per season based on the in-state tuition rate. This factor further dissuades teams with over 30 players from recruiting outside the U.S.
“The cost of out-of-state tuition is certainly a factor,” Buckley said. “We can fundraise based on what we want to do and who to recruit, but there are ramifications.”
The structure of scholarship availability along with the large pool of above-average talent gives no incentive for baseball to explore international, or out-of-state, options.
“We are very fortunate to live in a state that is fertile with quality players,” Buckley said. “We don’t have to go out-of-state a lot to get what we are looking for.”
The tennis team started the recruiting of international student-athletes, but with men’s basketball being the one of the well-known sports on campus, going out of the states can be the domino effect for other programs.