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Evaluating the NCAA’s new June recruiting landscape

June became a month where scholarships were earned while prospects played with their high school teams. 

A list of college coaches in attendance was featured on the wall at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.
A list of college coaches in attendance was featured on the wall at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

That was quite a month of June for Illinois high school basketball.

Different in its landscape and importance, June became a month where scholarships were earned while prospects played with their high school teams.

Throughout the month I had conversations with an endless list of college coaches at all levels. We discussed the changes in the revamped recruiting calendar, where evaluations have become almost equally shared between the club circuit and the traditional high school basketball team.

Here are some thoughts, perspective and ideas from the busy month that does not include any talk on individual players or high school teams.

➤ The overall impression of the evaluation calendar –– at least as it pertained to watching players with their high school teams –– was positive.

I do think college coaches came in with a very open mind when it came to evaluating players with their high school team. Even before the two “live” June weekends took place, coaches expressed interest and excitement in getting out and seeing prospects play in a new, different environment. Throughout the two weekends of play the most common response from college coaches was somewhere between “I really like this” to “this is great.”

➤ The positive impression the high school events had on coaches was near unanimous. A very informal poll of mine that I took, which included just 32 Division I coaches from all levels, including some assistants and some head coaches, had college coaches mostly all supporting some kind of evaluation of players with their high school team. There were three coaches of the 32 who were lukewarm to the idea but refused to give a thumbs-down or vote no.

➤ College coaches commented how they loved seeing players in their more traditional roles. By that we mean seeing them play what is perhaps their natural position, or being the go-to guy or how they run a team and show leadership.

➤ College coaches were also able to see players actually “play” rather than be a 10 to 12-minute player (sometimes less) role player off the bench for their loaded club team.

Without singling out specific names, there were definitely individual players who were finally seen in June who may not otherwise have been seen in club basketball. They played the entire game, they had the ball in their hands, they were allowed to go make plays and, as a result, earned more interest and even offers coming out of June than they would have in July because of their club team’s makeup and sharing of minutes.

In some cases, with some specific players, this was by far the biggest benefit of college coaches seeing prospects play with their high school team.

➤ Make no mistake about it: There is a definite need for club basketball. Simply put, it’s still the best way possible to get the most bonafide prospects and next-level players together under one roof and in one weekend event. College coaches are able to get so much work done in that setting.

Also, club basketball elevates the level of play and competition. Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of really bad club basketball teams and some pretty dreadful club basketball tournaments and events out there. There’s basketball for everyone, right?

The Riverside-Brookfield Shootout on Saturday.
The Riverside-Brookfield Shootout on Saturday.

But the high-level club basketball scene is at a completely different level from a speed, quickness, athletic and overall talent perspective. If that opportunity exists –– and it does through high-level club/AAU basketball –– then we all need to take advantage of it. College coaches need to evaluate in that setting and the best players need to play in that environment.

Everyone benefits from playing better competition and rising to the occasion, but that is especially true and needed for the most talented players. As an example, events like the Nike Peach Jam sort out the best of the best. It’s just at a completely different level than anything you would ever see in any high school gym.

➤ The amount of offers that came out of the two “live” weekends in Illinois are a good thing. Players were seen. Players performed. Players picked up offers and opportunities they didn’t have just weeks earlier. That’s the whole purpose, right? It also showed there are different ways to evaluate and find players. There is no one way of earning a scholarship.

➤ There is a perception that some of the offers extended these past few weeks may have come in a bit of a rush, that some of the offers may have been premature. By that we mean some players may have been offered at a level they may not be best suited to play at in college. But that happens all the time –– in AAU basketball, during fall open gyms and while watching players with their high school teams. That has a way of sorting itself out over time.

➤ Also, by and large, at this time –– heading into your senior year –– the interest you receive and level you are being recruited at is most likely accurate. It’s not always the case as there are some rare, late-developing players out there who have yet to blossom. But here is too much information out there, too many eyes, too much video and too many places to be seen for players to fly under the radar.

➤ Here are some random thoughts and direct quotes from college college coaches in regard to the high school “live” events …

“This was needed. We just can’t get out as much during their high school season, and most of us really like seeing them with their high school team.”

“I really liked seeing them in a different environment, particularly with them most often being the leader of the team.”

“It’s great to see them there, in that setting, and then being able to go out and follow up with them and watch them in a different setting in July.”

“Only bad thing about it is often times it’s not the highest level of competition. I saw some good players do things against bad players too much.”

“The high school events need to work on their scheduling if they want college coaches and the players to get the most out of it.”

“I liked it a lot. But we still need more time to see the AAU teams.”

“You can get a really skewed evaluation in certain situations when watching them with their high school team. There is some non-formidable competition.”

“I really like watching them in the structure of a high school team.”

“Watching them interact with their high school coach and teammates they’ve played with a long time is beneficial. I get to see a little more of a leadership role as the guy rather than just one of the guys.”

“I like the balance of high school vs. AAU. Just very different settings.”

“There are pluses and minuses when watching them with their high school teams. It’s a little more structured, which I like to see them playing in.”

“If it’s not an over-recruited area, I think it’s easier to find a hidden gem when watching the high school events and players with their high school teams. But Chicago is so heavily recruited and you get the word out on all these kids anyway, that I’m not sure that will be the case or not here.”

“I really enjoyed watching them with their high school teams. I don’t know enough about the teams and programs here in Illinois, but I have to believe there would be a way to make it a little better in terms of all the good teams and all the good players together?”

“Some of the scheduling was a joke with the high school events.”

➤ I do feel bad for the head coaches and the college programs out there who truly value and place importance on the scholarship offer process, because the offer has been devalued by too many.

As one college head coach said to me in a conversation, “I think of our offers as gold.” Extending an offer to a kid really means something to a lot of coaches. But there aren’t enough coaches today who view it that way, and it’s partly due to how the recruiting landscape and process has changed. It has started to feel as if college programs are almost forced to extend offers in some cases just to show a kid and his family they are interested.

I do always wonder what the percentage of instant commitments there would be if a prospect and his family immediately said yes when offered. Yes, there are plenty of legitimate offers out there and coaches who would take a commitment on the spot. But if you think every coach or every program would take the immediate commitment of every player it offers, you’re naive to this new wave of recruiting.

Coach: “Johnny, I know this is going to be a process for you and you may be months or a year away from committing, but we would love to have you here and want to offer you a scholarship.”

Player: “OK, coach, I’ll take it.”

Coach: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, Johnny. This is a big decision for you. Go home, take some time to think about it, get you back for another visit, and we’ll circle back …”

➤ Of all the “live” events that took place in Illinois, college coaches commented most positively on the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout. The big advantage was every game was played in one facility.

The Riverside-Brookfield Shootout had a leg up heading into this particular new June. Riverside-Brookfield coach Mike Reingruber has done a masterful job of running what has become the centerpiece of summer basketball in Illinois over the years. That experience just carried over into this year’s “live” version with the best field of teams and players while continuing with the on-time, well run, organized three days of basketball at R-B.

➤ While the low-major and mid-major college coaches were very positive, high-major coaches seemed to take more of a ho-hum approach and thought a little less favorable of the high school events. And I get it.

There just weren’t enough high-major prospects for those high-major coaches to spend a big chunk of time in one place. And with the timing being so short –– Friday night to Sunday night –– it doesn’t leave a lot of time to travel to other events without wasting valuable time.

But the list of players high-major coaches need to see is shorter. And they do also have other opportunities to evaluate, such as the NBA Top 100 camp in June.

➤ Bigger is not always better. Yes, the size of these “live” events expanded to a much larger number in terms of team participation. Some have seriously reached their limit in terms of getting close to watering down the talent level, both from an individual and team standpoint.

While it’s important for as many players to be seen as possible, everyone also must come to the realization of what these two weekends are meant to be for: college coaches evaluating players. Thus, the more teams without any players is only a detriment to the process.

➤ There is a way to circumvent the above problem of too many teams and not enough players. And that’s to simply establish a way to have multiple “live” events, allowing the potential and possibility for players to be seen, while also still catering to the college coaches, their valuable time and the state’s very best players.

There can be an event –– a premier event –– where the best players and best teams are competing against each other and then another event during the same time, preferably nearby, where college coaches (if they really want) can go and see other specific players. But time and space is precious during these six days of evaluation.

This is done at the club basketball level. Check out the Peach Jam on the Nike EYBL circuit this week. It’s OK to do this at the high school level as well. It’s just a different mantra that high school basketball people have to wrap their head around.

➤ Multiple sites are bad. College coaches hate it. And it does a disservice to the kids as you’re putting coaches in cars for 45 minutes here and another 20 minutes there instead of laying eyes on players and getting actual work done. Again, a slightly smaller number of teams, teams with actual college prospects, all under one roof is ultimately the best route to go during these “live” weekends.

➤ Please do away with the potential of playing four games in one day, no matter the length of the games. And playing eight games in 48 hours needs to go away as well. That’s an easy fix.

➤ The one negative I repeatedly heard regarding the new, revamped recruiting and evaluating calendar is the upcoming NCAA College Basketball Academy Camps held throughout the country. Without having even gone through it yet, almost every coach dreaded the camp process. And from the number of top players going to these camps –– the Midwest regional camp will be in Champaign later this month –– the majority of top players have opted out of going to them anyway.