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Andy Katz | Correspondent | June 14, 2019

Coaches see positives as they adapt to a new summer recruiting calendar

2019 One Shining Moment

The goal to evaluate as many basketball prospects as possible in a controlled, certified environment hasn’t changed.

The number of days college coaches can evaluate prospective student-athletes from April through July is nearly the same. Many locations are similar. A few of the regular stops on the recruiting calendar also still exist, like the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina. 

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But this year, coaches will have several new dates on their recruiting calendars as college basketball evolves to meet the recommendations from the Commission on College Basketball. For the first time, college coaches were able to attend this month’s National Basketball Players Association’s Top 100 camp. There will be events in June that college coaches will be able to attend as the NCAA looks to engage the high school community in the summer recruiting process. And the new NCAA College Basketball Academy will make its debut in July.  

In many ways, these changes are taking college basketball back to a time like that of the 1990s and early 2000s, when the recruiting scene was dominated by the Adidas ABCD Camp in New Jersey and the Nike camp in Indianapolis — both structured events with drill stations and games, held in early July before AAU and summer team competitions took over for the rest of the month.

But it all presents a challenge to college coaches, prospective student-athletes, tournament organizers, high school and summer-league coaches and scouting services: Give this change a chance before a full evaluation is performed in the fall.

“I hope that we can get a better evaluation of the prospective student-athletes,’’ said Xavier coach Travis Steele. “I love the fact that we will be able to evaluate a prospective student athlete in all three areas: one, high school team; two, AAU team; three, camp setting. I think prospective student-athletes will really benefit because there are more overall days that they will be evaluated.’’

Altering the recruiting calendar was going to happen once the Commission on College Basketball deemed it a necessity a year ago. Fighting this change was moot. But some suggestions from coaches — such as keeping at least one weekend open in July for evaluating team competitions (such as the Peach Jam) — were heard and implemented.

“The NCAA has been very transparent in the messaging,’’ said Colorado coach Tad Boyle. “The first year isn’t going to be perfect. We’re going to learn a lot. … I don’t want to jump to conclusions. We’ve got to take a wait-and-see approach. As I look at the calendar, it feels like we will recruit more in June or about the same or less in July.’’

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Coaches see benefits to the change. First, they hope it means prospects won’t get beaten down by the schedule and travel. And for the first time, coaches were allowed to attend the NBPA top 100 camp June 13-14.

Coaches will also get two weekends — June 21-23 and June 28-30 — to evaluate certified high school and two-year college events. This year, 41 high school events representing 46 states and Washington, D.C., have been certified, and another six junior college events are being held. While California, rich in athletic talent, is among the four states that isn’t participating this year, that could change in the future. Remember, this is year one. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and Iowa State’s Steve Prohm are among the coaches hoping all high school associations get on board with the change.

“I’m really hoping to see some guys that we saw in April and been following over the years,’’ said North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts. “For the first time in June, we will get to see guys play with their high school teams and all-star camps. The positive is that in June and July, we will be able to evaluate them play in several different settings.” 

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner agrees.

 “I’m really excited about the June portion of it, being able to see high schools and prospects in their high school setting in the last two weekends of June,’’ Pastner said. “This will be good for further evaluations. It will be interesting to see how every state association does it.”

Opening those recruiting opportunities in June is a big change. Until this year, June was historically a dead period for recruiting. But coaches see benefits in that change.

“One benefit in June could be the opportunity to watch prospects play with their high school team,’’ said Tulsa coach Frank Haith. “I also like the fact that the June dates are for shorter periods of time. It cuts down longer periods of time that kids are on the road. Some of these events are more local or regional in nature. I always thought we had kids out there too long, especially as the summer drags on.

“The June dates should give schools a chance to see the kids fresher instead of after 30 summer league games, and after a busy spring and long weekends.”

Haith thinks coaches may see prospects performing at their best in June. Overall, coaches acknowledge it will be a learning process.

“I think it is going to be a transition for everyone,’’ said Penn State coach Pat Chambers. “I am still not sure what to expect for June, July, but hope our staff will be able to watch and evaluate the same amount of kids we were able to with the old calendar. I think one potential benefit may be that you will have the opportunity to view kids in three separate settings: (high school), AAU and camp.

“If this is the model we are going to continue, I hope we get to a point where all high school teams participate in the June events.

July will bring a significant addition to the recruiting circuit. The NCAA College Basketball Academy, which will have life-skills components as well as skill instruction, will run from July 22-28 (the first day college coaches cannot attend). The four regionalized sites for 2019 are on the campuses of UConn (East), Houston (South), Illinois (Midwest) and Grand Canyon (West). Each site will have more than 400 players, split evenly between two three-day camps at each site. 

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Notre Dame coach Mike Brey gave credit to the NCAA staff for pulling off the organization of the basketball academies with less than a year’s notice, and stressed that coaches should keep their minds open in the first year as organizers learn what works and what adjustments should be made.

“We have to have open minds for all of it,’’ said Brey, who is also the current president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. “We know we have to fully evaluate and adjust after year one. I love the feedback I’ve gotten from high school coaches that we will be able to evaluate prospects with their high school teams.”

The majority of coaches with whom I communicated agreed that the academies deserve a first run before evaluating their performance. Of course, there are some who already have made up their minds. They expect top players to be absent and evaluations to be less than stellar. 

But Vermont’s John Becker joined Brey in saying coaches will need to keep an open mind and be patient during this first year.

“I think we will all have stronger opinions once we have been through a summer,’’ said Long Beach State coach Dan Monson. “The same for the players.’’

Tom Herrion, a longtime assistant and former head coach who is now an assistant at South Florida, sees the value in a model that harkens back to a time when high school competition and camps were the drivers of evaluations.

“It appears to me that there could be greater opportunities for some kids, who haven’t gotten the exposure through the AAU circuits, could benefit the most, especially through the NCAA regional camps,” Herrion said. 

Herrion added that having at least one weekend in July for the AAU events was key to seeing the high-level programs. That coveted weekend, July 11-14, was preserved in the new calendar.

Adjusting to a revised recruiting calendar is, quite simply, nothing new for those who have been coaching for the past 10, 20 or 30 years.

“As has been the case,” said Herrion, “our calendar has experienced change and there is no doubt that, although many have concerns about the new model and calendar, we will all find a way to figure it out and make it work.”

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