The Basketball Recruiting Timeline
photo credit: sportapex.com
There is no doubt that before you win on the court or on the field, you must first win the battles in recruiting. For most coaches that means identifying talent as soon as possible and start the laborious process of creating relationships. However, in comparing these two sports from a prospect to signee standpoint, you need to understand the recruiting timeline.
This timeline is where the world of college hoops and that sport with the ball that bounces funny differ in the grandest of ways.
The beginning point of schools and their interest in a recruit is getting younger and younger in basketball every day. Why? Because the players are much closer to competing at the actual pace, speed, and physicality of the college game as compared to football.
Last month, at the AAU 8th Grade Nationals, one team started a frontcourt of 7’0”, 6’8”, and 6’4”. That’s right, 8th Grade! There are a lot of college teams that do not have that kind of size on their team. Rarely was there a single team that did not have at least one player 6’6” or taller. The games were played above the rim. Just like a college game. The skill sets of perimeter players were on full display in terms of ball handling, slashing, creating, etc.
So, as a college coach, you can evaluate talent at a young level. This is what the AAU and the summer basketball culture has created.
Football is totally different. Can you imagine seeing 8th grade teams and trying to project which players might become recruits? The game is played way below the college level because of many factors. Thus, the evaluation of these players happens much later in their high school careers.
Why is this difference in the timeline so important you ask? Here is the bottom line for 99% of college basketball coaches. IF YOU ARE NOT INVOLVED WITH RECRUITS BY THE TIME THEY ARE SOPHOMORES, YOU WILL NEVER GET THEM AS SENIORS!
The formula that screws up many college coaches is as follows. One, a player transfers, which opens up a scholarship, so you just find someone to plug in. Refer back to the timeline golden rule. Ok, maybe you have to sit on that scholly for a year. Two, that great player you have has decided to go pro. Sometimes a wise decision, sometimes not. This opens up a ride that you may or may not have planned on. No prob, find another! Oops, refer back to the timeline golden rule. Okay, maybe you have to sit on that one too.
The other situation that makes the timeline relevant is when there is a coaching change. Usually, changes are made when a program is down and void of the necessary talent to compete in that league. Don’t even think about judging a coach until that timeline has run its three year course. Or sometimes a coach might benefit from the previous regime only to have the timeline snap reality back into the program.
Take for example Trent Johnson at LSU. He inherited a veteran and talented team in his first season in Baton Rouge. They went 27-8, lost to North Carolina, the eventual NCAA Champion, in the second round, but more importantly, had a boatload of seniors that the Tigers also lost. Watch out, here comes the timeline. The following year LSU went 11-20. The next year 11-21. With the timeline over, LSU rebounded this season to go 18-15. However, Trent Johnson, perhaps beating the posse out of town, moved on to TCU. Now, watch as Johnny Jones tackles the timeline.
It is one thing to have class balance in your recruiting if everyone stayed four years. The timeline would not come into play as much. But when you throw in transfers mixed with one and dones, it is easy to see why programs have a hard time filling the voids. And don’t come at me with John Calapari and Kentucky. He is the rare exception to beating the timeline. How does he do it? That is for you to decide. But even he is not immune. Two of the Cats key contributors this season will be transfers themselves.
So the next time your favorite team loses a player transferring, or has one go pro, or you have a coaching change, just remember the recruiting timeline. Remember its effect. Because you cannot win ON the court before you win OFF the court.
Mark is a former assistant at Purdue and South Florida. He also serves as an analyst for for ESPN, Fox Sports Net and the Florida Gators radio network.