ARLINGTON, Va – Recruiting is a fickle science.
As much as any coach or recruiting pundit wants to claim that they can watch an AAU game and pick out who will be the best collegiate players, so much of a program’s recruiting success can come down to dumb luck. Were you in the gym on the right day to see the right kid, or did you give up on a player too quickly after one poor performance.
The former happened to Delaware head coach Monte’s Ross, and the latter nearly did.
Jamelle Hagins is the best big man in the CAA, and there really isn’t much of a discussion to have on the matter. The 6-foot-9 senior is coming off of a season where he averaged a double-double, 12.4 points and 11.1 rebounds, while swatting away 3.0 shots on a nightly basis. But the first time Ross saw Hagins play, he had no interest in the Roanoke, VA, native.
“I was in Vegas and my assistant sent me to see him, and he played three minutes,” Ross said at CAA media day last week. “I’m like, ‘I would like to like him, but he didn’t play, so I don’t know.'”
Luckily for Ross, he had a coaching staff that believed in Hagins, enough so that the same assistant made a trip down to Roanoke over Christmas, a trip that Ross responded to by saying “I think you’re wasting your time, but if you want to, go ahead and watch him.” Eventually, his staff convinced Ross to give Hagins another look, and they offered a scholarship. Hagins picked the Blue Hens over Radford.
“It was the best recruiting trip that he twisted my arm to go on,” Ross said. “That’s recruiting, though. It came down to us and Radford for him, and now he’ll be the best big man in the league.”
And that’s not the only stroke of luck Delaware had on the recruiting trail. At one AAU tournament, Ross and his staff, on the trail for a shooter, happened to walk by a court and see a kid hit a three. By the time they reached the other end of the court, the same kid had hit another three. They decided at that point to stop and check out the rest of the game, and the kid eventually went for 40 points. His name was Kyle Anderson, and he was a 6-foot-2 guard from Illinois. He didn’t have a profile on Rivals.com and he wasn’t graded as a recruit on ESPN.com.
Anderson started 30 games for the Blue Hens as a freshman and averaged 8.9 points.
It hasn’t all been luck for Ross, however, as the biggest reason his team was picked to finish second in the CAA are the two smallest guys on the floor, Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt.
Saddler is a proven scorer; he averaged 18.8 points as a sophomore. Where Saddler needs to improve is in the efficiency department. With the talent surrounding him on the roster, shooting 39.1% from the floor and turning the ball over 3.2 times per game (for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.55:1) is no longer acceptable.
“One of the things that we’ve really talked to him about this summer was, ‘You have to cut down on your turnovers,'” Ross said. “We consider a bad shot a turnover, so be more selective in the shots that you take.”
Ross wants to see Saddler embrace the role that Charles Jenkins played for Hofstra and Damian Lillard player for Weber State. Those guys not only put up massive numbers, but they did so while posting efficiency stats that made Kenpom salivate. “That will allow him to elevate his game,” Ross said. “Maybe he didn’t fully trust it when he was younger, but now he trusts the talent around him and I think that will lead him to making better decisions and also taking better shots.”
One of the guys that Saddler will need to learn to trust is Threatt, who capped off his freshman year in dramatic style. Over the last eight games of the season, Threatt averaged 19.6 points while getting to the line an incredible 92 times during that stretch.
It will be interesting to see how Ross will spread shots and touches throughout his lineup, as both Saddler and Threat are talents that like to have the ball in their hands. Too much talent is a good problem to have, however.
It’s why the Blue Hens find themselves in a unique position heading into the season: as “the targeted and not the targeter.”
“It’s [a different position for us], but it’s a position I like better than being at the bottom,” Ross said.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.