January 16, 2010

The Crazy Changing World of Recruiting

Kevin McCarthy

You’re probably familiar with this abbreviated description of an assistant college basketball coach: "will drive to the ends of the earth to see a prospect in order to possibly discover an unearthed nugget." After all, recruiting is the lifeblood of coaching tenure. Part and parcel with this is the conventional thinking that any head coach desiring the same college address for a long period of time welcomes the ‘mining’ dug by his assistants.

Well, maybe.

In some cases.

But possibly not the majority of time.

At least in California.

It’s always dangerous to offer boilerplate generalizations because not much in life is a black/white proposition -- shades of gray exist throughout everyday living. What applies to this individual or that situation, doesn’t apply in every scenario.

But if you talk with a number of those affiliated with college basketball recruiting -- trainers, club team and high school coaches, even those parents who have their egos rightfully in check and therefore can speak with sensibility-- a picture develops that changes have taken place within recruiting of late. Again, these developments do not apply to all and what constitutes a trend is next to impossible to define and determine.

But something is afoot.

Let’s begin with what topics consistently cropped up during the conversations (and do apply “in some cases” to each of the following):

"The coaches in the profession have changed -- a lot are not California or west coast guys"

Assistants are being brought in who aren’t familiar with the territory surrounding a college and, rather than going out and visiting the local and regional high schools and junior colleges (say within a three hour radius), calls are made instead -- if they are made at all. If there is such as thing as a Law of Recruiting, it’s this: recruiting is a person-to-person, give-and-take relationship-driven activity -- cell phones, however handy, will never replace human interaction.

"The recruitment of some kids never happened or was actually slow because so many teams didn’t think they could get them"

This suggests some staffs have an inferiority complex and/or lack of confidence that negatively affects their recruiting possibilities. Granted, the blue chippers are still going to end up at Arizona and UCLA regardless of the campaign a Western Athletic Conference, West Coast Conference, Mountain West Conference, Big West Conference or Big Sky Conference member undertakes but below that level are a number of kids who can be swayed. Is it really too much of a cost of time and money to undertake an initial reach out in order to determine possibilities?

"The assistants don’t have the stones they used to"

In a lot of yesteryear situations, there was a veteran assistant coach on any number of teams, someone who commanded the respect of the head coach and could pretty much offer what he thought without any negative repercussion. A number of the current team coaching dynamics prevent a young-ish assistant from really pushing for a player. The newbies are lacking the gravitas required to ‘go to the mat’ with the head man or woman over a possible recruit.

Paired with the previous situation is: "the first question we (trainers, club team and high school coaches) get asked is who else is recruiting the kid?"

Unfortunately, the question is asked to determine the level of a prospect. What is happening more than it should is that a visit to go out and see the kid in person once or twice won’t be undertaken unless the ‘quality’ of the other pursuers indicates the value in doing so. This sounds like a lack of confidence in one’s own ability to evaluate a prospect.

"All of this this is taking place in the west but not necessarily in the other three areas of the country"

Apparently, coaches elsewhere are more willing to take the word of trainers, club team and high school coaches about the value of a prospect and the worthiness of taking a look or having a kid in for a visit. It’s almost like there is like a fear of being first in the west in some situations.

Plus, here’s a goodie even if it is a singular situation: "I got a call from a new college assistant coach about one of my kids. He obviously was calling because someone he knew gave him a tip about the player. My kid wasn’t going to be able to play and succeed at that level and I told him so. A week or so later, they sign him. Guess what? Now, he’s no longer there."

That’s one of the factors behind the high numbers of transfers -- players being forced out or departing on their own -- taking place.

There are other obvious contributing factors. A number of kids are being seen for the first time in July -- there’s been no groundwork laid and relationships developed because of the elimination of the April recruiting period.

Also, having so much ‘information’ available at the touch of a keystroke can create a degree of passivity and if there is a deadly sin in recruiting, it’s lethargy.

Granted, much of the above is going to rile up a number of coaches. Either they will be thinking this doesn’t apply to them and therefore they shouldn’t be painted by such a wide brush or they will see themselves in some of these descriptions and not like such incriminating anecdotes.

In response to that: sometimes the truth stings. Trainers, club team and high school coaches, while also not infallible, aren’t making this up -- their feelings are based upon their experiences. If coaches don’t see themselves in what is expressed above, then just keep on keeping on and the proverbial chips will fall where they may. If you are witnessing yourself, sharpening up your effort can only benefit everyone in the recruiting equation.