The travel isn’t the only stressful part of the recruiting process for elite high schoolers

2 Comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. — There has been plenty of discussion this July about just how exhausting the three week live recruiting period can be for players and the coaches, when they are either playing or evaluating at events across the country for 15 days in a 19-day span.

The things players will do to earn a scholarship, and the things that a coach will do to try to advance his career.

That’s not the only part of the process that is exhausting for these players, however, particularly the country’s biggest names. The sheer volume of games and the fact that they are so spread out — not only across the country, but in one city; more than 50 courts were used during the final live period weekend in Las Vegas alone, while the second weekend featured major events in Washington, D.C., Milwaukee and Los Angeles — means that many media members and coaches will only have one or two chances to see your team play. First impressions mean a lot, and if you don’t perform well, they may not be back.

“You don’t ever want to disappoint,” said Allonzo Trier, a top 30 recruit in the Class of 2015. “To be advertised to be this good, that means that every single game you play, there’s someone that hasn’t seen you play. If you don’t live up to it, then there’s a guy that’s seen you play on your bad day. He doesn’t think you’re that good.”

That’s a lot of pressure to heap on a teenager playing his third game of the day in an event a couple of time zones away from his home. It will help with evaluating to a point, as the cream generally rises to the top in a stressful situation, but since the majority of the nation’s best players are already known by the summer before their senior year, it can be difficult for a borderline Division I prospect to try and earn himself a free education.

“I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming, I would say I’m grateful,” Abdul Malik-Abu, a top 50 prospect in the Class of 2014, said. “Some kids would wish to be in my position, with college coaches after them every day. I just take it in stride.”

Perhaps the most overwhelming part for these kids is the crush of attention after every game they play, particularly for those that are uncommitted. Coaches are texting them, reporters are in their face with microphones and their twitter mentions and blowing up while their only concerned about figuring out how to find a way to get something healthy to eat that won’t leave them too full to play again in a couple of hours.

“After every game, man, at least three times. I get interviewed a lot,” Rashad Vaughn, an uncommitted, top ten guard in the Class of 2014, said. “Sometimes it does [get overwhelming], but at the same time, this is what comes with it. You’ve got to live with it. You can’t hide from it, so you’ve got to embrace it.”

Vaughn said his phone buzzes at least seven times a day, every day, with calls or text message from coaches, and that doesn’t take into account the reporters that are reaching out to him.

That’s how it was for top 20 recruit JaQuan Lyle before he committed to Louisville. “Before it was really crazy, I got a lot of calls and texts every day, every week.” After every game he played, he would do at least four interviews, Lyle said, and that at least three times in every interview he would be asked about his school list and if he was committing. Part of the reason for that is that he’s an Indiana native that was being recruited by Louisville and Indiana — two places with rabid fan bases and massive media contingents — and Lyle certainly was welcoming of the attention. But as an example of what he was dealing with, the first time that Lyle spoke to the media at the the NBPA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, VA, he was swarmed by at least 10 reporters while three cameras zoomed in on him.

I witnessed it, because I was one of the reporters with a recorder in his face.

And it’s more media attention than I’ve seen given to some all-conference players and future lottery picks after a college game.

“It’s a big change,” Lyle said of the attention that he’s gotten since committing to Louisville this month. “Not that many reporters will interview you after the game. … Every once in a while I still here from a school, but I tell them I committed.”

James Blackmon, a top 40 recruit from Indiana, committed to the Hoosiers as a freshman in high school and has never waivered. He says that he still is interviewed after AAU games in July, but that it’s always the same Indiana reporters and it’s more laid back when he isn’t getting grilled about the status of his recruitment.

Blackmon said that he was never concerned about the attention, just preparing himself for the next level.

“Getting interviews because you’re not committed and stuff like that, it really wasn’t a big deal to me,” he said. “Just being more mature and seeing what I’m going to do at the next level. There’s guys that like that attention, and it’s probably why they wait it out. But I felt like that wasn’t a big deal. You can have it at the next level if you keep working at it.”

To a man, every prospect that I talked to said they looked forward to getting the recruiting process over with.

Lyle said committing took away a lot of the stress of July, and that he “you just get back to having fun” and playing basketball. Vaughn said “I can’t wait to commit”, although he emphasized he thought it was in his best interest to wait until the spring to make a decision. Malik-Abu said he is “looking forward to making my decision” and that when he does, it’s “going to be a relief.”

No one in the class has received more attention that the nation’s top point guard and the nation’s top big man — Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor — who have made it quite clear that they want to go to school together.

Jones hasn’t had an issue with coaches calling too much — he made it quite clear early on that he didn’t want his phone to be ringing off the hook, and the coaches still in the mix are the coaches that have respected that — but he said that he’s still ready to have the process overwith.

“It’s been such a long process, so much goes into it. Once I make a decision I’ll be happier.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Wednesday’s Three Things to Know: Duke blows out Louisville, Texas Tech falls to Oklahoma State

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

1. DUKE PICKED UP ITS FOURTH STRAIGHT WIN IN IMPRESSIVE FASHION (DESPITE MISSING MARVIN BAGLEY III ONCE AGAIN).

Duke was, once again, missing freshman star Marvin Bagley III with a knee injury, but it didn’t seem to matter too much as the Blue Devils ran past Louisville for an 82-56 win. Grayson Allen had 28 points to pace the Duke offense while Wendell Carter Jr. continued to look strong on the interior without Bagley.

CBT’s Rob Dauster explores Duke’s recent stretch without Bagley and wonders if the team might have a better defense without the All-American big man.

2. OKLAHOMA STATE UPSET NO. 6 TEXAS TECH AS KANSAS NOW HAS A ONE-GAME BIG 12 LEAD.

The Cowboys dropped the Red Raiders in Stillwater to earn a Big 12 upset win in this one. But the bigger story is Kansas assuming sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with another Texas Tech loss. The two Big 12 leaders are still scheduled to meet in Lubbock on Saturday as the Red Raiders will get a chance to even things up with the Jayhawks in the conference race.

First, Texas Tech has to get senior guard Keenan Evans healthy again. Hampered by a toe injury the past two games, Evans didn’t look close to 100 percent on Wednesday night. An unhealthy Evans is a big reason for Texas Tech dropping a few games.

3. VIRGINIA TECH GETS THE NIGHT’S BIGGEST BUBBLE WIN

On a busy Wednesday night for bubble teams, no team did more for its case than Virginia Tech. The Hokies took advantage of a depleted No. 15 Clemson in picking up an ACC home win.

While Virginia Tech has looked like a safe bet to make the field thanks to some big wins, the win on Wednesday gives the Hokies a fifth Quadrant 1 win — a huge safety net for a team trying to get in the field.

CBT’s Rob Dauster has more on Virginia Tech’s NCAA tournament hopes while he also breaks down the rest of Wednesday’s bubble action in Bubble Banter.

No. 5 Duke’s defense turns up again as Blue Devils look like title favorite

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Duke is back!

After drubbing Louisville 82-56 in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night, the Blue Devils have now won four straight games despite the fact that they have been playing without Marvin Bagley III during this stretch.

Grayson Allen is back, too. He finished with 28 points on Wednesday night, making six threes and handing out threes assists. He entered Wednesday night averaging 22.3 points and 5.3 assists in his last three games, the first time all season long that he has scored more than 19 points in three consecutive games. He’s shooting the ball with confidence. He’s been moved into more of a playmaking, lead guard role in the half court offense as Coach K has transitioned back to being the focal point on that end, the first time he’s been in that role since his sophomore season.

Wendell Carter’s been on fire, too. He missed his fourth-straight double-double by a single rebound on Wednesday, but he did finish with 18 points, six assists and three blocks. In four games without Bagley, he’s now averaging 16.3 points, 10.5 boards, 3.0 blocks and 3.0 assists.

But that’s not why Duke is winning these games.

It’s not why I’m sitting here saying that Duke is back.

The reason why I’m warming up to the idea of Duke finding a way to be a Final Four team again is because they’ve figured out a way not only to just get stops, but to be damn good on the defensive end of the floor.

During this four-game stretch, Duke has not allowed a team to break 1.0 points-per-possession against while holding three of their four opponents to 57 points or less. In those four games, they’ve allowed 0.883 PPP. If they did that over the course of an entire season, the Blue Devils would be third-nationally defensive efficiency* behind only Virginia and Cincinnati. In the process, they’ve managed to climb from 79th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric to 27th, which is precisely the kind of drastic defensive improvement that the 2015 team made. They were in the 60s and 70s in adjusted defensive efficiency for much of the season. They were 37th before the tournament started. They were 11th when they cut down the nets.

And it begs the question: Is Duke better without Marvin Bagley III?

Lol.

No.

Don’t be stupid.

Marvin Bagley III is an alien. He makes every single team that he is on a better one.

What will be interesting to see is how Duke integrates him back into the team when he finally does return to the floor. There are two things that have allowed Duke to improve the way that they’ve improved over the course of the last two weeks, and both of them involve Bagley in a pretty significant way:

  1. The ball doesn’t stick as much offensively as it did when he was on the court. That’s why Allen’s been able to play the way that he’s played of late. The middle of the floor has also opened up because Duke’s gone away from trying to run high-low actions as much as they did before. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better to run offense this way, but you cannot convince that it’s a bad thing that Allen is back into a rhythm.
  2. Much more importantly, however, is that Duke has turned into a very good defensive team in this zone, and the biggest reason for that is the activity of Javin DeLaurier. Bagley is a terrific athlete, but he’s more of a five at this level than a four and he’s also a guy that is not an instinctual or, frankly, energetic defender. DeLaurier is more mobile and, since he’s not really a threat offensively, he can burn off of his energy on that end.

Bagley wasn’t the lone culprit for Duke’s defensive problems.

The bigger issue may have been simply that the Blue Devils vacillated between playing man and zone until these last four games, and Coach K fully embracing being a zone team has allowed them to figure it out. As one high-major coach put it to me, it’s better to be great at one defense than it is to be good at seven of them. Duke is doing that now.

But there is valid reason to be concerned about playing Bagley and Carter together simply because playing them together has been an issue defensively before.

Maybe that means that, instead of seeming them on the court together for 30 minutes a night, they’ll each play 10 minutes with DeLaurier at the four and play together for 20 minutes. Maybe it means that instead of being awesome defensively Duke is simply good enough, and maybe good enough is all they need to make a run in March this season.

And maybe the answer is that Bagley returns and is ready to defend the way that he needs to defend.

We’ve seen that happen, too. Remember the Miami game?

Whatever the case may be will play out over the course of the next six weeks. The one thing that is clear, however, is that these Blue Devils are suddenly a whole lot more intriguing than they were two weeks ago when they lost at North Carolina.

*(For those looking at KenPom, raw points-per-possession and KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric are two different numbers. The latter is the former adjusted for strength of opponent.)

Williams helps No. 19 Tennessee beat Florida 62-57

(Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Grant Williams bounced back from one of his worst performances of the season to score 23 points and No. 19 Tennessee beat Florida 62-57 on Wednesday night to hand the Gators their third consecutive loss.

Williams had a season-low five points Saturday in a 73-62 loss at Georgia. The Tennessee scoring leader responded Wednesday by shooting 8 of 13 from the floor and 7 of 8 from the foul line.

Florida trailed nearly the whole way, but threatened in the final minute.

Chris Chiozza made a basket to cut Tennessee’s lead to 60-57 with 24.5 seconds left, and he got fouled by Williams in the process. But Chiozza missed the ensuing free throw and couldn’t get Florida any closer.

Jordan Bowden made a pair of clinching free throws with 14 seconds left.

Admiral Schofield had 16 points and eight rebounds for Tennessee (20-7, 10-5 Southeastern Conference).

Jalen Hudson had 13 points for Florida (17-11, 8-7), and Chiozza and Keith Stone each added 11. Chiozza also had nine assists and six rebounds.

Florida was seeking a quality road win that could boost its NCAA Tournament credentials.

The Gators entered the night 65th in the RPI and have a demanding schedule the rest of the way. Florida hosts No. 12 Auburn, visits Alabama and hosts Kentucky in its final three regular-season games.

The offensive struggles that have hindered Florida lately carried over. Florida had more turnovers (eight) than baskets (seven) during a first half in which it shot 26.9 percent overall and 1 of 10 from 3-point range.

Tennessee closed the first half on an 11-1 run to go into the locker room with a 27-18 advantage.

The Vols extended the lead to 10 early in the second half, but Florida crept back into the game while Williams was on the bench with three fouls.

Florida was trailing by just one point when it had two chances midway through the second half to regain the lead, but Deaundrae Ballard missed a 3-pointer on one possession and Dontay Bassett missed a baseline jumper the net time the Gators had the ball.

Tennessee then created some distance by going on a 7-0 run that included a Jordan Bowden dunk and five points from Schofield.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators continually misfired from 3-point range for most of the night. They missed 15 of their first 17 3-point attempts before making four of their last seven. By the time they finally started to heat up, they already had dug themselves too deep a hole.

Tennessee: The Vols got big efforts from their two top players — Williams and Schofield — and didn’t back down when Florida finally started making its shots down the stretch. Tennessee preserved its lead by going 13 of 15 from the foul line, including 9 of 11 in the second half.

UP NEXT

Florida: Hosts No. 12 Auburn on Saturday.

Tennessee: At Mississippi on Saturday.

VIDEO: George Mason stuns Saint Joseph’s with second buzzer-beating win this season

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

George Mason knocked off Atlantic 10 rival Saint Joseph’s with a ridiculous buzzer-beater for the second time this season on Wednesday night as Ian Boyd was the hero this time.

The Patriots went the length of the floor to attempt a game-winning shot as a loose ball ended up in Boyd’s hands at the top of the key just before the game ended. Boyd launched a quick prayer and knocked it down to give George Mason the unlikely win.

Earlier this season, the Patriots won on another buzzer-beater over the Hawks when Otis Livingston II buried a contested 30-footer to win that one. By this point, Saint Joe’s is probably hoping to avoid George Mason in the Atlantic 10 Tournament after the two devastating losses they’ve already endured.

Harper, Okeke lead No. 12 Auburn to 90-71 win over Alabama

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

AUBURN, Ala. — Jared Harper scored 21 points, Chuma Okeke had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 12 Auburn beat rival Alabama 90-71 Wednesday night even without ailing star Mustapha Heron.

Down to seven scholarship players, the Tigers (24-4, 12-3 Southeastern Conference) turned a five-point halftime lead into a blowout thanks largely to big performances from Okeke and Malik Dunbar off the bench.

Auburn responded with Heron out with a stomach ailment one game after center Anfernee McLemore was lost for the rest of the season to an ankle injury.

Collin Sexton scored 25 points to lead the Crimson Tide (17-11, 8-7).

Bryce Brown scored 18 points for the Tigers despite shooting just 3 for 14 on 3-pointers. Harper also had six assists.

Okeke, who figures to be a key figure on replacing McLemore, scored 13 points in the second half and finished with a career-high. Dunbar also turned in his top performance with 14 points. Desean Murray had nine points and eight boards.

Auburn took command with a 17-2 run after having its lead cut to one early in the second half.

Sexton made 8 of 12 shots for the Tide, but other top scorers struggled.

John Petty, who had eight 3-pointers and 27 points in the Tide’s January win, missed his first eight attempts and finished with three points.

Donta Hall came in hot but had just seven points and five rebounds. Backup point guard Avery Johnson Jr. scored 10 points.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama: Had won five straight games over ranked teams and could have made a big statement for the NCAA Tournament. Came into the game giving up a league-best 65.6 points in SEC games.

Auburn: Moved a step closer to clinching its third SEC title and first since 1999. Game had to be a confidence builder for players like Malik Dunbar and freshmen Okeke and Michell.

UP NEXT

Alabama hosts Arkansas on Saturday.

Auburn visits Florida on Saturday night.