Basketball: Jake Phillips and the growth of Prep Hoops
Jake Phillips loves the game of basketball.
He played his high school basketball at Brainerd High School and when he graduated in 2003, he was good enough to play college basketball at Division III Carleton College. He torched the net from three while being an all-conference point guard twice in his four years playing for the Knights.
After his playing days were over he started coaching high school, club and Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU basketball with Nick Carroll, who played college basketball at Division III Hamline University. Phillips and Carroll noticed something happening in Minnesota when it came to the recruiting process with college coaches.
“We both had gone through the recruiting process as players and as coaches,” Phillips said. “We recognized the information gap between high school players and the college coaches recruiting them.”
So they decided to do something about it and started Prep Hoops to give high school basketball players some exposure and help fill the gap between high school players and college coaches. When they got feedback it was clear they struck gold.
“The response to the website was overwhelmingly positive, so we decided to try our model of hiring contributors to produce rankings and content in other states,” Phillips said. “We focused on the Midwest at first, but over the last few years we've expanded to 31 states across the country.”
Phillips is co-founder and CEO of Prep Hoops and one of his first hires was Jared Nelson. Nelson graduated from Bethel University in 2016 with a degree in journalism and worked with Prep Hoops prior to graduation. Nelson remembers in 2013 meeting Phillips for the first time at a Caribou Coffee when Prep Hoops was just one boys basketball website in Minnesota.
Nelson interned with Prep Hoops in the spring of 2013 and kept in touch with Phillips and Carroll until graduation when he got hired as communications manager. He is in charge of all content published to the web and praises Phillips for his hands-on leadership as CEO.
“He oversees everything in the company,” Nelson said. “Nothing is too big or too small, obviously he is the top dog, but he also unloads the dishwasher and whenever we have a delivery he’s the first one out there unloading boxes.”
For the first year Nelson was a full-time employee, there were only four employees working at Prep Hoops. Co-founders Phillips and Carroll, Nelson and developer Travis Anderson all sat around together and grew Prep Hoops into a recruiting website monster.
“It's been incredible to watch the company grow from a side hustle into a full-time job with 15 full-time employees and roughly 200 writers around the country,” Phillips said.
Phillips credits playing and coaching college basketball as one of the main motivations to start Prep Hoops and give high school basketball players a chance to be seen and read about by college coaches.
“I realized how difficult the recruiting process is for college coaches at the Division III level,” Phillips said.
Now, Phillips estimates Prep Hoops is publishing around 1,500 articles per month and runs 20 tournaments and over 30 showcases a year around the country. He’s confident it will continue to grow.
Over time, Prep Hoops has turned into more than just a boys basketball recruiting website. It now has expanded to girls basketball and volleyball in hopes of giving value to athletes in other sports as well.
“We see a huge opportunity to build girls basketball, volleyball, and potentially other sports over the next five years through both coverage and events,” Phillips said.
Running a website highlighting high school athletes comes with its trials. Phillips receives emails and calls about how some athletes don’t get covered enough while others do. However, he does not let the critics get into his head.
“For every email complaining about lack of coverage we have another thanking us for the opportunities that opened up after being written about on our website or after attending one of our events,” Phillips said.
Phillips still considers Brainerd his home. His parents live in Brainerd and he loves visiting them when he gets the chance. He now lives in Minneapolis with his wife Katie and they have two sons. Nelson says his kids will often stop by the office.
“This company is not the only thing Jake has going on in his life,” Nelson said. “He is a very present and active father.”
Recently, Phillips and Prep Hoops launched RecruitMe. This website helps student athletes navigate through the recruiting process to help them get to where they want to be. RecruitMe and Prep Hoops work hand in hand in making sure high school student athletes can been seen by college coaches and hopefully make that recruiting process easier for both the athlete and the coach.
Prep Hoops has gone through changes since it started -- the biggest change being it has expanded all over the country into 31 different states. Trying to replicate the Minnesota website has been a rewarding challenge for Phillips as they hope to grow bigger.
“We have connected with some fantastic writers around the country that are just as driven by our mission statement as we are,” he said. “We have a fantastic team of employees, many of whom played sports in college and went through the recruiting process themselves. Working with driven people who believe in our mission makes it a lot of fun to go to work each day.”