Sunday, July 08, 2001

Recruiting shorter, not sweeter

New rules make it tougher, coaches say

By Neil Schmidt and Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ready, set ... recruit. And hurry. Today begins college basketball's summer recruiting season, a two-week stretch — today through Saturday, then July 25-31 — when coaches can make in-person evaluations of prospective recruits. Previously a hectic 24-day stretch, it has been condensed this year into a frenetic fortnight.

        “I can't say I'm happy about (the change),” Xavier coach Thad Matta said. “But there isn't a coach in the country that is.”

List of players being recruited by UC and Xavier
        The rules change is the NCAA's way of getting a handle on the burgeoning summer circuit, in which coaches and high school players crisscross the country to see and be seen at various camps. But coaches contend the 10 fewer days will lead to guesswork recruiting.

        “You don't see near as many kids,” Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said. “I think (coaches) are going to make a lot more mistakes, and that's going to affect kids. It's not right.”

        The theory is that the top players still will get plenty of visibility, but the next tiers of players will get fewer looks. That could lead to mismatches: poorly spent scholarships on a school's part, unhappiness on a player's part.

        Combined with the new “5 and 8” rule, in which schools can't sign more than five players in any one class or eight in any two-year span, that makes decisions on each of the 13 scholarships even more critical.

        For example, Matta inherits an XU team with just 10 scholarship players this winter because of unexpected departures by Lloyd Price, Khalil Nixon and Brandon McIntosh. XU has two seniors-to-be, Kevin Frey and Alvin Brown, which gives Matta five scholarships to spend in the next 12 months. But if junior center David West turns pro early, or any other Musketeers leave, Matta won't be able to fill those scholarships.

        UC has four scholarships to give — to replace the departed Antwan Jones and seniors-to-be Steve Logan, Jamaal Davis and Immanuel McElroy — but no more. Because they signed four players for their incoming class, the Bearcats would have a total of eight over two years and be similarly stuck if other underclassmen leave.

        Several other schools — such as Arizona, which lost three underclassmen to the NBA draft — also might not be able to use all their scholarships.

        That adds to the pressure of this month.

        “We've changed our travel plans probably 10 times in the last few days to make sure we're doing what's best for our staff and the kids we're recruiting,” Matta said. “One of the big keys is not trying to cover all the places and doing a bad job of evaluating all the players.”

        Big events — the Nike All-American Camp and adidas ABCD this week, and adidas Big Time and AAU nationals the last week of July — get bigger. Smaller ones suffer.

        “You can't get to all the places,” Huggins said. “There's going to be kids under-recruited because of it.”

        Coaches can combat this by accelerating the process. With most players signing early in their senior years, the recruiting starts earlier. XU, for instance, just got a verbal commitment from Angelo Smith, a 6-foot-8 forward from Indianapolis Lawrence North, whom Matta had been courting for a year.

        “What (the shorter recruiting period) does is put a premium on underclass recruiting,” Matta said. “You get out and see them when they're juniors; then when it comes to the July period, you have to really zero in.”

Top players being recruited by UC and Xavier

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