RECRUITING IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM

We’ve all seen it coming. We’ve talked about it for years. Kids are
leaving college earlier or not going at all. Coaches are faced with
new recruiting challenges. What happens when you recruit a kid and
they decide to head to the NBA instead of college? How do you replace
kids after only one season? These issues are changing the way coaches
approach recruiting and coaching.

Although they may not agree with a recruit’s decision, very few
coaches will take a hard-nosed stance against a player leaving school
early. The ramifications of doing so could be damaging to a coach’s
ability to persuade new recruits to become a part of their program.
Almost every good high school player has aspirations of playing in
the NBA. By taking a stance against players coming out early, a coach
risks planting a seed of doubt in the mind of a prospect about
whether this is the coach to help him get to the NBA. Just look at
the negative publicity that Mike Krzyzewski received after the
William Avery incident a year ago.

Most coaches have embraced the idea of kids leaving school early
publicly. Roy Williams gently stated that DeShawn Stevenson would be
better off attending school but that he supported Stevenson’s
decision. But what does Roy do now? His recruiting class hinged on
getting the multi-talented Stevenson. Stevenson doesn’t show and the
Kansas recruiting class looks weak. Mississippi St. has been burned
now in consecutive years. Think if they had Jonathan Bender on their
squad this year — instead of sitting on the end of the bench for the
Pacers — and have him joined by Mario Austin next year? Talk about a
devastating force in the SEC. Unfortunately the devastating duo is
only tearing up the hearts of Mississippi St. fans.

So, do you quit recruiting Blue Chippers who could bolt after a short
college stint or maybe even before they step foot on a college
campus? You can’t. Yes it’s a risk but Roy Williams has to recruit
players like Stevenson and hope that the basketball gods give them a
break. Lately, the basketball gods seem to be putting dreams of
dollar signs in the heads of the youngsters.

Some programs have adapted better than others. St. John’s was aided
by the possibility of Erick Barkley leaving school early for the NBA
draft. Omar Cook, Hoops4U.com’s number one rated point guard,
probably would have had second thoughts about attending St. John’s if
he thought Barkley was staying two more years. UCLA Coach Steve Lavin
recently said that the possibility of players leaving early actually
helped him in recruiting this year. Can’t you just hear John Wooden
saying the same thing?

All-in-all it’s a different world. You learn to change. Duke lost 4
players off of last year’s team to the NBA draft and was ranked
number one going into this season’s NCAA Tournament, playing a ton of
freshman. Teaching in the short-term is a premium. You have to get
kids ready to play at a younger age. Talent has to play now.

It will continue. It’s a by-product of the time in which we live.
Give to me now what I can earn tomorrow is our creed. We’re products
of the Internet age where everything is available at the click of a
button (depending upon your modem). Kids will keep leaving early as
long as the NBA keeps paying them and coaches will have to find new
players. Recruiting and coaching will continue to change. But then
again, hasn’t it always?