July Notes

Just finished the NCAA live recruiting period in the month of July:

  • It’s not what it used to be.  The NCAA now allows 3 four-day recruiting periods in consecutive weeks, from Wednesday at 5:00 to Sunday at 5:00.  When I last left division I 9 years ago, July was a free-for-all, with the recruiting period running from July 6-31 without any dead periods.  That was a lot tougher, because you felt like you couldn’t take any days off without missing something important.  In the current system you get two full days off after each period – the travel can still be tough, but it’s not as bad as it used to be.
  • It’s not what you think.  It’s not just a bunch of coaches sitting in a gym all day watching basketball games.  Well, OK, it is what you think.  That’s exactly what it is – but it’s not as easy as you think.  It wears you out more than you would think, and it’s important to find a time once or twice during the day to take a break.  Most of the tournaments have games that start at 8 AM and run until 11 PM.
  • It’s a great place to learn.  You find yourself sitting with different coaches from all different levels and school throughout the country.  I spent a lot of time this period with Rodney Morton, the head coach at Southern Indiana.  We talked a lot about program culture and approach, and it’s really helpful to learn from a successful head coach with a different perspective.  I found myself next to CJ Lee a bunch, who was just hired by Mike Maker at Marist, and played and worked for John Beilein at Michigan.  It was great to hear his perspective on playing and working for one of the best coaches in the country.  Sitting with coaches from all around the country gives you a great chance to learn.
  • AAU coaches are dedicated people.  Most of these guys are just doing it because they enjoy coaching and are trying to help kids out, and they are traveling with them for weeks at a time to give them the opportunity to play in these tournaments.  They deserve more credit than they get.
  • Evaluating players is not easy.  Trying to determine if someone is good enough for your level and will fit your culture in these tournaments is difficult.  There are so many factors that may affect how a player looks – the competition might not be very good (or might be really good), they play a ton of games in a short period of time, he might be playing with a group he’s not familiar with, and his team likely doesn’t have a lot of practice time.  It takes a lot of time to know for sure on a kid, and you don’t really have a lot of time.
  • A great staff is vital.  Having guys that are comfortable on the road, who really enjoy evaluating talent and who know what fits your culture is crucial.  It’s just impossible for the head coach to get out and watch every kid you are going to recruit, so the assistants can make a big difference.  I realize every day how lucky I am to have the talent on staff at Maine that we have.
  • It’s not that much of a grind.  The travel can be tough (getting home on Sunday was brutal for a lot of coaches because of bad weather in the middle of the country), but overall everything is manageable.  We are sitting in air conditioned gyms (for the most part) watching basketball games.  It can wear you out and it takes some focus, but it’s not exactly hard labor.  We are very lucky to do what we do.

July Recruiting Approach

Recruiting approach is always an interesting discussion.  There are so many factors to consider – need, fit, culture, talent, character, etc… so there is no one path that works best.  Every year, every team, every school, every coach may necessitate a different approach.

In my first years as an assistant at Providence College – before I was allowed out on the road per NCAA rules – I took note of the results of our recruiting.  I couldn’t really evaluate recruiting on the front end because I wasn’t out on the road, so I evaluated it on the back end.  I was evaluating the results of our recruiting in February and March by looking at the shortcomings of our team and making note of our best approach.

Take a look at the things you are not in February and March, and recruit those things in July.  Whatever your team is missing during the season, those are the things you should be looking for on the road.  At Providence we would almost always talk about how our team wasn’t tough enough come February and March – so one approach I developed was to recruit toughness.  Coach Welsh was also very demanding on his point guards at Providence, and I noticed the ones that made it were pretty special – John Linehan, Donnie McGrath.  Many of the point guards we recruited ended up not being point guards for us at Providence, so I made note of the value of recruiting true point guards.  I don’t think you can ever have too many.  Since I took over at Rhode Island College I’ve tried to recruit a point guard in every recruiting class.

Joe Wootten, the great high school coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Virginia and the son of legendary high school coach Morgan Wootten of Dematha, said this to me in one of my first years on the road – “The things that coaches recruit in July are not the same things that win them games in March.”  Avoid falling into that trap.  If there are things that you are constantly talking about with your staff that your team doesn’t have during the season, those are the things you need to find on the recruiting trail.  So it’s not as simple as just going out and getting the best players you see.  It’s finding the guys with the right level of talent, but also those that fill those gaps.  Every head coach has certain things they really value, and that is what should be valued on the road in recruiting.

There is a well-known political quote made popular by Mario Cuomo  in the mid-80s that politicians “campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.”  The idea is that campaigning is about selling a vision, the great ideas and inspiring quotes that get you elected.  But governing is more about tough decisions and what is best for the masses.  In a lot of ways we recruit in “poetry” but we coach in “prose.”  The things we look for on the road are often the flashy, athletic, natural talent characteristics that we feel we can’t teach.  The things we say to recruits are all about on selling our program and making what we have to offer look as appealing as possible.  But when we run our programs we are not selling, we are much more direct with the message.  The sole concern is what is best for the program, and individual feelings aren’t as important.  We recruit in poetry, but we coach in prose.  We don’t always see in July the things we need to win in March.

Taking stock of what is keeping your program short of winning a championship is where recruiting should start.  Evaluating the talent and character of 17 and 18 year-olds is a difficult task, so having a clear vision of exactly what you need is crucial.  The things you don’t have enough of in February and March are the things you should be looking for in July.