What is the July evaluation period, and why is it so important?

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This Wednesday, July 9th, at 5:00 p.m. kicks off the 2014 July evaluation period, one of the most crucial stretches of the year for any college basketball team across the country.

But there are many fans out there that may not be aware of what a “live period” is or what it means for coaches and the players they are recruiting or plan to recruit in the future.

The NCAA rulebook is thick and it is scary and it is often confusing, but when it comes to the recruiting calendar, things are fairly cut and dry, particularly during the spring and summer months. The way it works is like this: there are only certain times during certain months where coaches are allowed to be on the road scouting and evaluating players. These are called evaluation periods, or “live periods”, and during a usual calendar year, there will be five of them: two in late April and/or early May and three during July.

The two live periods in the spring span just 48 hours each, stretching from 5:00 p.m. on a Friday through 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday. (Note: this year, due to the way that Mother’s Day, Easter and SAT weekends fell on the calendar, there was only one live period this spring.)

RELATED: 15 players you’ll hear a lot about this July

In the summer, it’s a bit different. For three consecutive weekends during the month, coaches are allowed to evaluate prospects from 5:00 p.m. on a Wednesday until 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday. What that means is that during a 15-day stretch in the middle of the summer, these high school players will be in gyms across the country, essentially auditioning for the coaches that they hope to one day play for.

Audition is the proper word to use here as well.

No in-person contact is allowed between the college coaches and the recruits or the families of the recruits. It’s strictly an opportunity for scouting and evaluation, which creates a surreal environment at the events that take place. Family, friends, AAU coaches and the athletes themselves are all ushered onto one side of the court after entering the gym through one entrance. The college coaches are fenced in on the other side of the court after entering through a different entrance.

How a staff will go about traversing the country and utilizing their time during the live period will differ between programs.

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A team like Kentucky or Duke will already know which players in the junior class they are targeting. They aren’t evaluating or scouting as much as they are following. When you see Mike Krzyzewski and two of his assistants sitting court side for someone like Diamond Stone or Henry Ellenson, you know it’s because Coach K is looking to add that particular big man. A general rule of thumb: the more staff members that are at a game, the more of a priority that recruit is.

But that’s not the only reason you’ll see a coach stalking a recruit. If a recruit is already committed, don’t be surprised to see an assistant — or, if he’s important enough, the head coach — front and center at every game he plays during the live period, a tactic known as “babysitting.”

At the high-major level, assistant coaches are the ones that do the leg work, identifying talents and picking out who would be the best fit within the team. When the head coach shows up in the stands, it’s to show just how badly that program wants that player. Tom Izzo can only be in one place at a time. If a kid that Michigan State is recruiting sees him at a game, that’s a sign that they want him to be a Spartan.

It’s also worth noting here that only four members of a coaching staff — the head coach and his three assistants — are allowed to be on the road at a given time. So even if it’s just an assistant from, say, Arizona watching Allonzo Trier play, it should still be a sign to Trier that Arizona values him. They can only be in four gyms at a given time.

For smaller programs, the idea is to get out and see as many players as possible, trying to identify who can play at their level and who will fit in with their program and style of play. Quite often, the player that stands out during a game isn’t the player that a particular coach was trying to recruit. For example, Delaware head coach Monte’ Ross once told me a story about recruiting former Blue Hens sharpshooter Kyle Anderson. He walked in a gym during a grassroots tournament to see a team play on one court, but as he was walking to his seat, he saw Anderson, who was very lightly recruited in high school, hit a pair of threes. He decided to watch the game for a minute, and Anderson ended up having a huge game.

He started for the Blue Hens as a freshman.

There’s another difference between high-major and low-major programs: budget. The scope of grassroots basketball is bigger than you probably realize. During each of these live periods, there are events going on all across the country, and some programs are going to be recruiting players that are playing at the same time in cities hundreds or thousands of miles apart.

For a power program, this means private jets. Don’t be surprised to hear about Coach Cal making an appearance at the morning session in Philly only to show up for the afternoon games in Indianapolis. The ability to fly thousands of miles on a whim allows the biggest and richest programs to recruit players from all over the country.

For the mid-major teams, a priority is put on proper evaluation and landing local talent. For example, Stephen F. Austin won 30 games last season and knocked off VCU en route to the Round of 32 in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Of the six players that played more than 20 minutes per game for the Lumberjacks, two were from Texas, one was from Missouri, one was from Oklahoma and two others went to a Junior College in Texas.

Coaches aren’t only looking to find hidden gems, however. With the proliferation of grassroots basketball, the Internet and social media, and the myriad of scouting websites, players that are overlooked are few and far between. That’s why stories like those of Otto Porter and Ron Baker are so incredible.

No, what these coaches are looking for is a development track. They’ve seen a lot of these guys play when they were younger. They watched high school games in person or on film. They’ve attended workouts. How have the recruits progressed? Is the skinny kid getting stronger? Did the chubby two-guard lose some weight? Has the dunker’s jumper gotten better? Did he improve his ball-handling? Or add a jump hook? Or utilize his ability in the pick-and-roll?

That’s a lot for a coaching staff to work their way through, and they only have 15 days to do it.

And that’s what makes July’s live-recruiting period so important.

VIDEO: Michigan celebrates plane crash survivor Austin Hatch’s Senior Day

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If you don’t know the story of Michigan senior Austin Hatch, you should.

He’s survived two plane crashes in his life. The first, in 2003, robbed him of his mother, 11-year old sister and five-year old brother. In 2011, to celebrate his commitment to the Wolverines, Hatch’s father flew them up to the family’s vacation home, but the plane crashed into a garage killing Hatch’s dad and his stepmom and leaving Austin critically injured.

He had a severe brain trauma, a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken collarbone, and in order to manage the swelling in his brain, he was put into a medically-induced coma for eight months.

He managed to return and even played for the Wolverines during the 2014-15 season, but he eventually made the decision to retire from basketball at the end of the year. He did, however, remain a part of the program and on Sunday, during Michigan’s Senior Day, he warmed up with the team and was introduced to the crowd as a starter and no, I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying:

Bubble Banter: All of Sunday’s bubble action in one place

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

SETON HALL
NEBRASKA
HOUSTON
TEMPLE
PENN STATE

Gamecocks reserve guard Kory Holden leaves team

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Injured South Carolina guard Kory Holden has left the team.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin announced Holden’s decision Saturday, before South Carolina took on No. 10 Auburn at home.

Holden is a 6-foot-1 fourth-year junior who had sat out last season for the Gamecocks after transferring from Delaware. He was expected to be a big part of South Carolina’s backcourt this season with the departures of guards Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice, P.J. Dozier and Justin McKie from last year’s Final Four team.

Instead, Holden played just 14 games off the bench and missed the past 11 games with a hamstring strain. He had averaged about 11 minutes and 3.4 points per game this season.

Saturday Recap: Kansas, Villanova earn big wins, Michigan State matches largest comeback win of last decade

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

What’s the best way to shake off a 3-for-18 day that included a 1-for-13 showing from three-point range? By making nine straight three-pointers the next game.

That’s exactly what Notre Dame senior point guard Matt Farrell pulled off in a Saturday afternoon ACC road win at Boston College. With the Irish desperately needing wins to stay in the NCAA tournament picture, Farrell let it fly for 37 points while going 10-for-12 from three-point range.

Farrell also added seven assists and only turned the ball over twice even though he navigated Notre Dame’s high-octane offense through the full 40 minutes.

RELATED: All of Saturday’s Bubble Banter in one place

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • MIKAL BRIDGES AND DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova: With Jalen Brunson having a slow afternoon, these two picked up the slack for Villanova. Bridges knocked down four first-half three-pointers on the way to 25 points for the Wildcats. DiVincenzo helped extinguish a Xavier second-half run with some big three-pointers, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
  • CALEB AND CODY MARTIN, Nevada: Playing its first game without starting point guard Lindsey Drew, the Martin twins stepped up in a road win at Utah State. Cody played point guard and dropped 30 points on 13-for-18 shooting while adding nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. Caleb added 23 points and six rebounds.
  • JOEL BERRY II, North Carolina: The senior point guard put together a solid overall game in a road win for the Tar Heels over Louisville. Berry finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists while knocking down five three-pointers.
  • FLETCHER MCGEE, Wofford: You might remember the junior guard for his performance in helping the Terriers stun North Carolina earlier this season. McGee had a monster outing to top that game in a win over Chattanooga. Knocking in a school-record 11 three-pointers, McGee had 45 points on 17-for-26 shooting.

TEAM OF THE DAY

Mark this one down as a tie. Kansas and Villanova both picked off fellow top-25 teams. More importantly, they both end Saturday tied for first place in their respective leagues after entering the day in second place.

Although the Jayhawks needed some help and got it with Baylor’s huge upset win over No. 7 Texas Tech, Kansas deserves credit on its own for its second-half, double-digit comeback win over No. 20 West Virginia. Now tied atop the Big 12 with the Red Raiders, Kansas will get a crack at Texas Tech in Lubbock next Saturday.

As for the Wildcats, they continued their domination of No. 4 Xavier with a convincing road win over the Musketeers. While Villanova has struggled with perimeter shooting the past few games, they had no such issues in this one as 11 first-half threes helped them gain control.

GAME OF THE DAY

As if this season hasn’t produced enough insane outcomes to begin with, things got even crazier on Saturday when No. 2 Michigan State rallied to beat Northwestern for a Big Ten road win.

The Spartans found themselves down by 27 points and still came back to win. It matches the largest comeback from the last decade of college basketball. The Big Ten has never had a bigger men’s basketball comeback.

It was a strange game in which the Spartans didn’t even need star sophomore Miles Bridges to have a big game to win one of the biggest comebacks in college basketball history.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

This win probability chart from Michigan State’s unlikely victory over Northwestern is ridiculous. We all understand how you feel, Chris Collins.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

We went this long without talking about Trae Young, so here’s the mandatory update. Texas actually came out of this one as the big story thanks to a huge Big 12 road win over Oklahoma. Dylan Osetkowski paced the Longhorns with 21 points while Young finished with 26 points on 7-for-21 shooting. This one really helps the bubble case for Texas.

Syracuse and Baylor were among the other teams earning huge bubble wins on Saturday as the Orange beat Miami and the Bears knocked off No. 7 Texas Tech. The Red Raiders also lost Keenan Evans to injury in that one as another this is yet another subplot to keep an eye on in the hectic Big 12 race.

Another wild day in the SEC as three ranked teams lost to unranked teams. South Carolina took down No. 10 Auburn but the biggest news in that one could be the Tigers’ loss of leading shot blocker Anfernee McLemore to injuryGeorgia raced past No. 18 Tennessee behind a big effort from Yante MatenAnd Arkansas earned another important resume win by handling No. 21 Texas A&M.

Of course, you can’t talk SEC with Kentucky as the Wildcats had some positive news. They snapped a four-game losing streak as Kentucky took down Alabama.

In the ACC, No. 14 North Carolina won its first game at Louisville as they knocked off the Cardinals.

Williams leads No. 9 Gonzaga over Pepperdine 81-67

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Pepperdine had closed within two points with more than seven minutes left, and forwards Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie of No. 9 Gonzaga rose to meet the challenge.

Williams had two dunks and a block, and Tillie hit a couple of 3-pointers, to sink the Waves 81-67 on Saturday night.

“I’m playing with confidence,” said Williams, who had 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks for his sixth consecutive double-double. It’s rebound first. Points will come second. It’s been working for me.”

Coach Mark Few said Williams’ exceptional play during February was not a surprise.

“When he plays assertively, athletically … he’s a handful,” Few said. “He’s cutting loose a little bit.”

Tillie and Josh Perkins each scored 15 points for Gonzaga (25-4, 15-1 West Coast), which has won nine consecutive games and remains in first place in the West Coast Conference.

Colbey Ross scored 21 points for Pepperdine (4-24, 1-15), which has lost seven straight.

“Give them credit,” Williams said about Pepperdine. “They played a hell of a game out there. It was gut-check time.”

Gonzaga has won 35 straight games against Pepperdine dating to 2002. The Waves have not won in Spokane since 1998.

“They dialed it up defensively late in the game and got on a run,” Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson said of Gonzaga.

“We talked about not letting the crowd get in our heads, but it did,” Wilson said. “They went on a couple runs and the more the crowd was in the game, the better they played.”

Gonzaga hit four 3-pointers during an early 20-6 run to take a 26-12 lead.

Gonzaga began missing and Pepperdine clawed back to trail just 34-28 late in the first.

The Zags led 39-32 at halftime, after holding the Waves to 41 percent shooting.

Three 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half lifted the Bulldogs to a 54-40 lead.

But the Waves came back and a basket by Trae Berhow cut Gonzaga’s lead to 66-64 with 7:32 left. Tillie hit a 3-pointer and Williams dunked to push Gonzaga’s lead back to seven.

The Waves were scoreless for more than six minutes, missing seven shots, as the Zags built a 77-64 lead.

“In the end we were solid in the last four minutes,” Few said. “We were making plays at the end. We started the game well, but we couldn’t quite put them away (until the closing minutes).”

WEIRD SHOOTING

Gonzaga shot nearly 57 percent from 3-point range (13 of 23), but just 53 percent from the free throw line (8 of 15). Pepperdine shot 41.4 percent in each half.

TWENTY FIVE WINS

Gonzaga has won at least 25 games for 11 consecutive seasons, trailing only Kansas’ streak of 12. “That’s really significant,” Few said. “Those are hard to come by. I don’t take them for granted.”

BIG PICTURE

Pepperdine: The school announced earlier this week that Coach Marty Wilson, in his seventh season, will not return next year. “I was blessed to be able to coach at my alma mater for seven years,” Wilson said. “Not many people get that opportunity.” Few said the close game was a sign of how much Wilson’s players respect him. Nine of the Waves have missed games with injuries this season. Ross leads all WCC freshmen in scoring at 14.3 points per game.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs and No. 3 Villanova are the only teams in the nation that have six players averaging at least 10 points per game. The Zags are seeking a 20th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. This was senior night for Williams and Silas Melson.

UP NEXT

Pepperdine plays at No. 15 Saint Mary’s next Thursday.

Gonzaga, which wrapped up its home season on Saturday, plays at San Diego next Thursday.