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.