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The pitfalls of July

By Joe Henricksen

Although my wife would disagree as she lounges outside by the pool as I sit at a computer writing this on a sunny, 95 degree day, during what is called a “dead period” — July 16-21 — July has many pitfalls.

Pitfalls? Yep. Pitfalls.

Let me count the ways. Here are the Hoops Report’s current July Pitfall Five.

1. The money being thrown around is absolutely absurd.

“It’s sick,” said a dad after paying $60 for his wife and two teen-aged kids to watch their son and brother play one AAU basketball game on one day this past July.

“Paying this — being forced to pay this — makes my skin crawl,” a Division I head coach said after spending $225 for a booklet of rosters, player names and phone numbers. “And it costs $100 more to have my assistant here.”

“Hey, at least it’s $100 cheaper than two years ago,” added another coach.

Yes, forced. There are some events in July that won’t allow a coach — and I don’t care what coach it is — in the building if the required $200 to $300-plus isn’t paid. It is refreshing when an event (like the recent Saint Louis Summer Classic as an example) at least makes it optional for a college coach, allowing them in the event for a $10 or $15 day pass without obtaining the booklet. That’s a nice change-up for coaches as opposed to spending hundreds of dollars for rosters they already have from the previous six events and tournaments they’ve watched in other venues.

Says another coach, “The thing about July that is most disgusting is that people are making a living off this [stuff].”

And coaches do this … event after event after event throughout the 20 days of the July evaluation period, with packet totals spent over the course of the month in the thousands of dollars for one school. Now there are some well spent tax dollars and booster money from our state institutions of higher learning.

The poor Division II, Division III and NAIA college coaching staffs, with very limited budgets, are often forced to skip an event here or there, or not bring an assistant with them, because it eats too much into their basketball and recruiting budgets.

This is one of the best-kept dirty secrets in the basketball world that no one even talks about because it’s not in the mainstream media or even in mainstream society. Aside from a few college coaches spewing off about it in recent years (and the prices actually coming down just a little), it just goes on and on. It’s as dirty as Dr. Troy on an old episode of Nip/Tuck. Really, it’s just basketball geeks and junkies (like myself), college coaches and AAU people who are even aware of it. Try telling all this to the common man in America with no attachment or connection to this basketball underworld and it’s mind-blowing to them.

“Let me get this straight, Joe,” they ask. “Colleges are forced to pay admission to a basketball tournament to watch AAU teams for a few days, upwards of $200 or $300 just to get a roster and watch them play? And 200 or so colleges pay this for totals of $40,000 or $50,000? And they do this over and over and over?”

Yep.

Again, the money being spent –by everyone involved — is appalling. Players, coaches, teams, parents … It’s ludicrous. We’re talking plane trips across the country, multiple nights in hotels, gas and meal money, uniform money, multiple shoes, $500 tournament entry fees, major dollars from shoe companies spent on team sponsorships, uniforms and tournament entry fees, $15 for a fan to watch high school kids play summer basketball, college coaches paying $275 and more for a booklet of names and phone numbers. It’s endless.

And, yes, it’s stupid.

Screw it! The Hoops Report is getting on this gravy train and running an event next year. Done.

2. The recruiting and evaluation calendar is messed up.

The evaluation calendar is severely flawed. The magnifying glass used during 20 days in July is unfortunate for everyone involved. Fortunately, that calendar, according to everyone in the business, is about to change next year. That’s a good thing. Hopefully it’s not a subtle change.

The final three or four days of the July evaluation period can be dangerous. The players — and the evaluators and coaches watching them — are tired and disinterested for the most part. By this point, it’s become a babysitting ritual. “Lets show up to the prospect’s final few games to show our interest.”

This is how we are supposed to get our best evaluation on players? When many of these players are exhausted and fatigued? Players today are stretched thin, partly because the high school program requires so much of them during June, which is now the only time given to the high school coach due to AAU. Then July hits with a flurry of events, sometimes playing seven games in three or four days and following that up with travel and another event that asks for six or seven games in three or four days.

The evaluation calendar needs to be stretched out. Players change. These kids improve, get worse. They mature, find better AAU fits, level off, plateau, add a jump shot, add two inches, get injured. But the biggest evaluation tool is a 20-day window in July? That’s not a severe pitfall?

There are so many other options as opposed to just focusing on a 20-day period over the course of one month — again, a small window in the development of a teen-aged basketball prospect. For starters ….

Knock five or so days off the July period. Eliminate the two 10-day periods and go with two seven-day stretches instead.

Add a couple of “live” evaluation weekends in the spring. The club teams are playing several weekends in the spring anyway. Why not let the college coaches get back to watching them in April for a couple of weekends?

Move up official visits. Right now official visits can be made in the fall of a prospect’s senior year. Move that date up to April of a prospect’s junior year, thus players can officially visit anywhere from April to October. And with that, allow coaches to watch them workout and play while on campus. What a valuable and controlled recruiting tool that would be.

Why not have a designated weekend in June for college coaches to watch high school shootouts? “I would love to see prospects a little more with their high school team and in that controlled setting, with real coaching, when plays are called, real reaction to game-like situations,” said one college coach.

There needs to be a better fix.

3. Twitter is running rampant.

Full disclosure here … I do not twitter (probably will sooner than later out of necessity) or follow any one single twitter account out there. For whatever reason, never felt the need. But twitter has gone bonkers. And now it’s impossible not to see or hear about tweets, whether it’s sent to you, reported to you, emailed to you, texted to you, told to you or its found on a website.

If there are people out there who think following pro athletes and Hollywood celebrities via twitter is ridiculous, try telling those same people there is an obsession following teen-aged tweets from high school basketball players! And not only caring about what is said, but re-tweeting what they say as if it is important or of interest in their own daily life!

I can hardly wait until people follow high school players throughout their school day this fall and winter. … “Just finished biology test. I might ask Molly out during lunch. She be looking real good. Practice in 4 hours!” … Ugghhhhhh! Serious? Who cares?!?!?! (No, I’m not a 75-year-old).

(And a cautionary note to you players out there. Please watch what you’re tweeting. A teenager tweeting what he is doing from hour to hour is only asking for trouble. You’re not making millions like pro athletes who can afford the dumb-#%! tweets they send out and the ramifications from those tweets.)

And how about the 4,245 media/talent/internet evaluators –just in Illinois — (yes, made-up number but it sure does feel that way) tweeting throughout July?

There are more tweets being sent out this July in the high school basketball world than ever. It’s taken on a life of its own. “Johnny Rimrattler is BLOWING UP!!!”“Tim Jumper just made 3 shots IN A ROW! I like his shoes!” …. “Virginia Tech, SMU, Boise State, Fordham, Georgetown and Coe College watching D.J. Ballhawk” (Hmmm, or maybe another player on D.J.’s team, perhaps?) … “Michael Ondablock just tied his right shoe while making eye contact with the Syracuse assistant. He may have winked. I don’t know. Will ask after game if it was a wink.”“Did I mention Johnny Rimrattler is BLOWING UP?!?!?!!!” … “Tim Stretchadee is sooooo long. Not sure if he can play. But he long!” … “The recruitment of BooBoo Wingman is taking off, GOING THRU ROOF!”

(On another note, the phrases “blowing up” and a player’s recruitment “going through the roof” or “soaring” as it pertains to high school basketball prospects needs to be replaced. Why the need for a thesaurus here? Because with twitter, the internet, dads and moms, AAU coaches and the 4,245 media/talent/internet evaluators EVERYONE is “blowing up” and EVERYONE’s recruitment is “soaring.” It’s getting hard to decipher reality from fiction with all the “blowing up” and “soaring” that’s going on these days. And when exactly is that “blowing up” breaking point?)

4. Evaluating vs. Recruiting in July.

We used to talk and write just about the offers players received. Cool. Solid, interesting recruiting news, for sure.

Then it became necessary to compile a list of schools that are recruiting a prospect, whether there was an offer given or not. OK, fair enough.

Now it’s become a must that anyone and everyone writes/tweets/talks about what college coach was simply watching a player. Stupid. And another pitfall. Here’s why.

Hey, that’s what college coaches do — they watch, they evaluate. Certainly doesn’t mean coaches are interested or even like every player they watch. It’s a process, but it leads to soooo much mis-information for fans and the kids that are playing (and their parents) after they hear or read that a particular school or coach was seen taking in their game. They get that perception in their head, especially with younger players, and it’s tough to break away from it when reality sets in.

Many times the recruitment of a prospect is stretched out so long because they continue to think the schools that were mentioned with them — often inaccurately — are and will be “recruiting” them. But in reality those coaches and programs were just doing their homework.

It’s July. Coaches are in a gym all day. They’re going to watch someone — even if it’s not a particular player they are recruiting.

No, they’re not recruiting you, kid. They watched you. And guess what? You’re not good enough. And it doesn’t matter if you read it somewhere that says you are or that this school and that school are interested in you.

Do you know how many times a player has been mentioned on a website, message board or blog as being closely watched or even recruited by a certain college when that coach or program has zero interest in the kid that was being reported on? It’s provided plenty of chuckles with college coaches when the reports aren’t close to reality. And who loses in that situation? The kids, the parents and the right level of basketball program that should be recruiting him. DBTH!

5. July isn’t fair to the coaches or players.

We can write about the feel-good stories and opportunities July provides, with hundreds of players being found and scholarship offers being earned. But there is a reason we have averaged 300-plus transfers a year (over 400 this year) the past several years. The aforementioned evaluation calendar in pitfall No. 2 on this list is a big culprit. July’s “over-evaluation” is a large factor in the disgruntled player leaving or a coaching staff giving a little push out the door once the player is on campus and all parties realize the player doesn’t belong.

The microscope in July is so intense, so cut-throat now, that more and more mistakes are made. And it’s no fault of the coaching staff, due to the fact the window of true evaluation is so small. As mentioned before, coaches need to see these players in different scenarios, not just a 20-day gauntlet in July.

Coaches can get out during the season to see players with their high school teams, but it’s awfully difficult, especially for college programs not geographically located near a recruiting hotbed (i.e. Iowa State, North Dakota State, etc.). Plus, college coaches are so busy with their own seasons and focused on their own team during the winter. It’s difficult to schedule travel time and to see a whole lot of prospects from December to March.

The spring and fall evaluations, where college coaches go to the high school to see kids work out with the high school team, are mostly worthless evaluations. They are there to show their interest, see some young kids, work up a sweat in an open gym and build relationships with the high school coaches and a player’s handler.

So that leaves us with July. Those 20 make-or-break days where players are often on makeshift teams, sometimes uncomfortable or out of position and playing AAU-style basketball.

There are players who just might go through a week-long slump — or even a two-day downer. Sometimes that’s enough for some coaches, who may be getting their first glance at the player, to move on. Remember, there isn’t much time to waste in July and there are a whole lot of players to see.

Maybe the player’s fit on that particular AAU team is bad. Maybe an AAU teammate gets all the shots. Maybe the kid is lugging around with a nagging injury for a week. And during those last few days of July, maybe the kid is just done, completely spent, the shell of himself after playing 60 games with his high school team in June and multiple AAU tournaments in July.

No, there is no chance of a mis-evaluation in those circumstances is there? Ha!

And then the opposite happens. A kid plays out of his mind for a couple of days, goes on a basketball scoring binge, flourishes in an AAU setting (but couldn’t react to a team defense or a called play by a coach if it was in a different setting). But coaches get excited, sometimes ecstatic, and feel they found a sleeper and pull the trigger and offer the player. Oops.

There are definitely times where the Hoops Report sits back, especially those first few days of July, and giggles at the immediate love affair there is over a few players. Just as there are times when the Hoops Report has watched a player play so well the previous few months (with no college coaches watching) but struggles at an event in July and his stock fades.

There are just so many different scenarios that can happen that impact the level of recruitment a player receives based on those 20 days in July.

Here is yet another example: A player is a low-major prospect at best, suddenly a mid-major plus offers based on two fantastic days of play and everyone else starts scrambling to find the kid and make sure their first evaluation wasn’t a mistake. In reality, the mid-major plus school is wrong, but it’s a snowball effect regardless and the kid is sitting there with offers no one dreamed he would get. And 18 months later the kid is transferring.

So there you have it. The pitfalls of July. Glad August is here. We need a break. Time to join the wife and jump in that pool.

Next? How to make the AAU/Club basketball scene better (more tolerable?) next year.