The desire to make tennis a pathway to higher education for its junior tennis players is a foundational element of the mission of SPORTIME and the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. Part of that mission is connecting those rising players with collegiate coaches and programs, and to better do that, JMTA launched the inaugural College Recruiting Combine in 2016.
The combine is a weekend-long event that gives select rising high school sophomores, juniors and seniors, from around the country and beyond, JMTA students and non-JMTA students, the opportunity to showcase their technical and tactical tennis skills, and their athletic abilities, in front of coaches from top colleges and universities. The event had to take a year off in 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, but returns in 2021 with even more offerings.
“One of the driving forces at JMTA is our commitment to preparing our players for college tennis, and to helping them to find the colleges and universities that best suit their needs” said John McEnroe. “After an amazing first four years of the JMTA Combine, we are excited to be expanding the JMTA Combine in 2021 to include more coaches and more students, and we are confident that it will be a great resource for both.”
The fifth annual JMTA College Recruiting Combine will be held the weekend of June 26-27 at SPORTIME Randall’s Island. The Combine has become an invaluable resource over its half-decade, providing a unique opportunity for both players and coaches to meet and make their respective sales pitches. It also has helped ease the anxiety of the college recruiting process a bit for those who have participated.
“High school players should see the Combine as a fantastic opportunity. With coaches from around the country, from different divisions coming in, a strong impression can truly be made,” said Daniel Pellerito, a junior at William & Mary. “It is a more intimate setting compared to playing a tournament, where coaches usually arrive with a set agenda. At the Combine, players have the opportunity to gain exposure to college tennis at the same time as they develop a variety of skills that can't be learned anywhere else. I felt that the event focused really well on the development of the participants into future college players”
Gabriele Brancatelli, the Port Washington standout who is headed to Purdue in the fall, reaffirmed that:
“I was able to learn about how recruiting really works, and the specific attributes needed to be a successful student-athlete in college,” he said. “I suggest that all prospective college-athletes should participate in the event. It’s a great way to learn a lot about the process. It teaches you what coaches look for and puts you in contact with many schools.”
The Combine has become a meeting ground for players and coaches to connect with each other, but even if you don’t meet your future coach at the event, just participating has benefits.
“The Combine helped me a lot in the process, because by listening to the other coaches speak about their school’s processes, and just by speaking with other coaches in general, it familiarized me with what college coaches are looking for in a player,” said Commack star Emily Tannenbaum who is headed to Annapolis to join Navy. “The Combine is a great experience for high schoolers looking to play college tennis. Some players, up until playing at the Combine, have never played in front of a college coach before, so it’s a great way to learn how to deal with the pressure of a coach watching you.”
Benji Grossman, currently a sophomore on the MIT Men’s Tennis team, echoed that sentiment.
“I first did the Combine during the summer heading into my junior year, and it was my first time experiencing what it was like to have college coaches looking at you,” he said. “It gave me the chance to get on the radar of these coaches and develop connections. When I came back the following summer, I felt more comfortable and was able to use the event to my full advantage. They also have tests to measure strength, speed, agility, stamina and more to allow coaches to not only see a player’s tennis ability, but also get a sense of their athleticism. Those tests allowed me also to compare myself to other players and realize which physical attributes I needed to improve.”
The Combine continues to build upon its previous successes each year and that will remain the case in 2021. Thanks to JMTA’s new streaming platform, players will have the opportunity to play in front of more coaches than ever before, with coaches not only attending in-person, but also virtually. There is already a strong list of committed coaches from some of the top programs and conferences in the country, including coaches from Brown, Baylor, Cornell, Dartmouth, Penn State, William & Mary, Wake Forest, and many other top programs, with many more coaches expected to confirm their attendance before the Combine. Representatives from prestigious leagues, including the Ivy League, ACC, Big East, SEC, Big 10, Patriot League and NESCAC attended in previous years, and are expected again this year.
“One of the great things about the Combine is the drive we have to make this event the very best of all the college recruiting exposure opportunities in the entire nation,” said Jay Harris, the Combine’s Director. “At the conclusion of every Combine, we do a ton of evaluating with our incredible team, and then we work to produce significant improvements each year.”
Players will also receive athletic performance assessments, and will be invited to participate in Sports Vision Testing and in a College Coaches’ Panel Discussion. Combine partner, Tennis Analytics will be video-recording all matches and will offer participant packages, including match videos with detailed analytics. Included for each Combine participant is an integrated recruiting package, including the match videos, available digitally to both participants and coaches at the touch of a button on their personal Player Portals.
“Jay Harris is a visionary in the college recruiting process, and is always willing to try out new and creative ideas, so I believe the Combine is only going to keep growing,” added Grossman. “It stands out because it is a multi-dimensional event where you can go get exposure to college teams, learn about the recruiting process and compete with players from all around the world.”
For coaches, the Combine has created a one-stop opportunity to see hundreds of potential recruits, and not only to meet with them, and to watch them compete, but to assess all the aspects that make up a collegiate tennis player. Even if the coach can’t attend in person, the new live streaming feature will allow coaches from across the country to watch matches and to evaluate tennis and fitness performances of potential recruits.
“Jay [Harris] has done a great job in putting this together, and each year it’s gotten better,” said Hofstra Men’s and Women’s Tennis Head Coach Jason Pasion. “It’s not just the tennis; they do a lot of on-court fitness testing which really helps to highlight the athletic capabilities of a player. I found my top player, Shawn Jackson, at the Combine a few years ago. He was a junior at the time and really caught my eye. When I headed to Hofstra, he committed and it has worked out really well.”
Pasion also explained that the pandemic has dramatically affected the recruiting process, as the recruiting “dead period”, the months during which coaches can’t have face-to-face contact with players or parents, or even watch players compete, was extended until the end of May for Division I coaches.
“This year, the Combine is more important than ever,” he said. “There haven’t been a lot of events and tournaments have been limited. As coaches, we haven’t been able to really travel, so this year’s event is so crucial to our recruiting.”
Making sure it’s always at the forefront of innovation, the Combine’s new live streaming platform and online player portal ensures that all aspects of the process are covered, and makes it convenient for both coaches and players.
“We, of course, were very sad to have had to cancel last year’s Combine, so that is part of what will make running this year’s event very sweet,” Harris added. “This year the need for our event is so intense, as so many of the players have missed out on important opportunities to get seen by college coaches, and coaches are desperate to meet players. There is definitely a new kind of buzz circulating the across the nation about this year’s Combine, and I’m very excited to see it all come together this June 26 and 27.”
You can learn more about the Combine by visiting www.SportimeNY.com/JMTACombine.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org