Recruiting coordinators play pivotal role during summer months

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It goes without saying that the month of July is an important one in college basketball circles. Many current players spend the month on campus taking summer school classes while the newcomers take advantage of the relatively slow pace to get acclimated to their workload both on the court and in the classroom.

But while the players are on campus, the head coach and his assistants are on the road, scouring the country in search of the players capable of helping them hang a banner in the rafters. Essentially July underlines the importance of the recruiting coordinator, as he’s the assistant who addresses the task of determining where the program’s recruiting targets will be and which coach (or coaches) need to be present.

This process begins well before the summer months, as coaching staffs have a total of 130 days to use during the season in order to evaluate prospects on their high school teams. With the two spring open periods (one in April and another in May) essentially being one weekend apiece, it’s important that a coaching staff takes full advantage of their opportunities to see players during the winter.

To read through NBCSports.com’s series on July’s live recruiting period, click here.

“From our perspective the first thing we try to do is evaluate kids before the spring,” California assistant Gregg Gottlieb, who also leads the program’s recruiting efforts, said in a phone interview with NBCSports.com.

“We’re allowed 130 evaluation days during the season, and the better job you do with the previous year’s class the more time you have to get ahead in terms of evaluating kids for the following year.”

The summer open periods are helpful for a coaching staff, as coaches are able to observe how players have (or have not) progressed. But a lot of the scouting work that’s required to figure out whether or not a player will fit into a program has been completed by the time coaches are able to hit the road during the offseason. And to be frank, this had better be the case given the limited opportunities programs have to hit the road.

“One of the reasons why I like seeing kids in the spring and then going back in the summer is that there’s a three-month time period, so you can see who has improved,” said Gottlieb. “You’re seeing different things, or maybe they haven’t changed at all and other people have passed them.”

The summer months can be as much about being seen as they are about observing the prospects, meaning that the staff has some work to do when it comes to pinpointing which players are priority recruits and who should make appearances at said player’s games.

Of the four coaches (head coach and three assistants) on a staff only three can be out on the road recruiting at any given time, and this rule is taken into consideration when discussing schedules for open evaluation periods.

“The other thing, from a recruiting coordinator standpoint, is figuring out where all these [prospects] are playing and how you’re going to maximize seeing the kids you want to see,” noted Gottlieb. With the sheer number of grassroots events, not to mention the fact that they’re spread out across the country, those travel plans can be more complicated than some realize.

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Recruiting during the summer is challenging enough for an established coaching staff. And for a new coaching staff, the juggling act makes it even more important that the new staff stick to its guiding principles. That’s the case at Longwood, a program with an entirely new coaching staff led by head coach Jayson Gee.

This is where connections come into play, and that’s true for any program much less ones with new coaching staffs. Both Gee and recruiting coordinator Andy Farrell have a wide array of connections in the recruiting world, which helps to not just open doors but also make sure that the doors opened are the right ones.

“We have to follow our key recruits, but in between those games we have to look at kids where you have relationships with their coaches,” said Farrell. “Luckily coach Gee’s been a coach for 25 years so he has a lot of relationships. So we always look at all the teams in an event, where in between games we can take a look at teams that someone on the staff has an established relationship with.”

New coaching staffs miss out on the opportunity to evaluate players during the winter, making it even more important that the staff sticks to the tenets meant to be the foundation of the program. Establishing a new program may lead to there being more opportunities to add players, but the programs that enjoy the most success tend to avoid straying too far away from their most important tenets.

Coach Farrell noted the program’s six-member incoming class and three sophomores when discussing the need to keep the program’s core beliefs in mind when out evaluating players at July events.

“We don’t necessarily want to cast too wide of a net where we’re going to lose some of those values because we do have a foundation,” said Farrell. “The foundation that we’re laying is based on toughness, coachability, style of play and defense. The net is widened some, but only because of coach Gee’s 25 years of relationships.”

Depending on the program, the recruiting coordinator’s been hard at work putting together an itinerary of sorts for the coaching staff  weeks and months in advance. But the one thing that doesn’t change is the importance of understanding the kind of player who will fit into the program.

Championships are ultimately won in March, but reaching that point is almost impossible if a program doesn’t put forth the proper amount of work in July.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.