Hey, these coaches can recruit, too

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$1.4 million.

That’s the average salary of the 68 head coaches who led their teams to the 2011 NCAA Tournament, according to a USA Today study. The eight head coaches in the CCIW, one of the top Division III basketball conferences in the country, make roughly half that figure–combined.

There is obviously big money in big-time college basketball, with higher stakes, intensified pressure and more demands than at the Division III, Division II or NAIA levels. Nonetheless, the coaching staffs of those small college basketball programs have taken a leap forward in the amount of time and work they put in.

Over the past 10-15 years there have been many changes the Hoops Report has seen in the basketball recruiting world. One of the significant changes has been the increased workload small college basketball coaching staffs now put in on the recruiting trail. There is no comparison in the hours now spent recruiting compared to the 1980s or even 1990s.

For starters, there are so many more high school basketball events in the offseason than 10-15 years ago. AAU basketball has a busier schedule than the NBA. When it comes to the ultra-busy month of June (Thank you, AAU, for at least letting the high school coaches have June still), the traditional high school program runs full throttle for nearly 30 days.

Plus, the recruiting calendar and restrictions for small college programs, especially Division III and NAIA schools, is much more wide open than Division I. The amount of days these coaches can be out evaluating quadruples the number Division I coaches can be out. With so few recruiting restrictions, there are several Division III recruiting stories I’ve heard that are outrageous when it comes to how many times a particular coaching staff has watched a small college prospect play during a season.

And try being a small college basketball coach dealing with the starry-eyed, unrealistic teen–and their parents–who believe they are Division I prospects. These coaches deal with the same routine year after year. The coach makes contact in the spring or early summer of the prospect’s junior year. Initially, the early sales pitch made by coaches is scoffed at, looked down on and ignored. The coaches know the drill, accept it and wait for the recruiting dust to settle six or nine months down the road.

While there seems to be 347 different players and parents who think Division I basketball is in the cards for them, they fail to realize the actual number of Division I players in Illinois per class is in the neighborhood of 35-50. In addition, the majority of people have zero idea the level of basketball that is played in some of the top small college basketball conferences around the country.

Just as there is in Division I basketball, there is good and bad when looking at the many small college programs that recruit the Chicago area and the state of Illinois. The Hoops Report hasn’t put together a “Super Six” list of small college coaches as it has in the past for Division I assistant coaches, but there are many that stand out in the Division II, Division III and NAIA ranks.

Some work extremely hard, some not so much. Usually — but not always when it comes to small college basketball — it shows. As far as the many Division III, Division II and NAIA programs across the state of Illinois and neighboring states, there is a lengthy list of coaching staffs that do an outstanding job. But there are also a few that just get after it and push it a little more than others.

At the Division III level, head coach Chris Conger and the Lake Forest College basketball staff set the bar in terms of getting out and working and evaluating high school talent. When it comes to Conger and his assistants — Dewayne Evans, Ken Davis and Kyle Taber — there isn’t a staff that is in high school gyms and sees and evaluates more prep and AAU players than Lake Forest.

Said one small college basketball assistant coach to me while in a gym this past summer, “If Lake Forest isn’t here then why am I here?” To which I responded, “You missed them. They’re over there.”

While the list of scholarship programs at the Division II and NAIA level in Illinois is much shorter than the Division III list, Lewis University sets the tone. Coach Scott Trost, a veteran grinder on the recruiting trail, has put together an impressive staff in Adam DeMong and Neal Young. These three are constants when it comes to getting in gyms across the Chicago area, while also reaching heavily into Indiana and Michigan. With the time commitment put in and relationships built by this staff, Lewis continues to have a presence with Chicago area players and coaches.

When it comes time to single out individual assistants, it’s not easy. There are dozens of small college basketball assistants who are the “regulars” in gyms, who scour the area 12 months a year, put in the time and surpass the recruiting and evaluating effort of the average coach. But if the Hoops Report had to single out one assistant at both the Division III and Division II levels that stands out from the rest of the pack in terms of being seen, right now those two would be Tom Jessee at Augustana and Josh Wolfe at Wisconsin-Parkside.

Jessee is everywhere on the recruiting trail, doesn’t waste time and is constantly involved with the top small college talent. He is a veteran assistant coach (beginning his 17th season) for one of the top Division III programs in one of the premier Division III conferences. He’s been instrumental in helping head coach Grey Giovanine land terrific recruiting classes over the years. When the right situation and fit presents itself, Jessee is more than ready to be a small college head coach.

Wolfe, who is in his sixth season under head coach Luke Reigel, is the recruiting coordinator at Parkside. He landed Homewood-Flossmoor’s Jeremy Saffold, who has become one of the top players in the GLVC. Now, if only Wolfe could receive $5 bonus every time he crosses the Wisconsin-Illinois border. Wolfe and Parkside are persistent in recruiting Illinois with countless trips to Illinois gyms, no matter the month of the year.

They may not be after the McDonald’s All-Americans or out recruiting the top 150 players nationally. They may be looking beyond even the top 30 players in the state of Illinois. But the fact is there will be 100-plus players from this state looking to play small college basketball somewhere, and while many of these recruitments are under the radar and aren’t being tweeted or written about, they can be heated. And because these small college coaches put in the countless hours and endless drives across the city, suburbs and state –making FAR less money than their Division I counterparts — the recruiting losses hurt them as well. These coaches can recruit, too.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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