FILM SESSION: Some ‘recruiters’ can coach, too

AP Photo

One of my favorite follows on twitter is Ben Asher, who is currently the Director of Basketball Operations at Siena. Asher, a former graduate assistant at N.C. State, has made a bit of a name for himself as an x’s-and-o’s maven, using the hashtag #PlayOTD (play of the day) to highlight a specific set from a coach each and every morning.

If you’re a basketball nerd, it’s awesome. If you’re an aspiring coach — or a coach in need of some new plays — he’s a must-follow.

On Monday morning, Asher posted the following SLOB (sideline-out-of-bounds) play from Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl, and it’s interesting for a number of reasons:

For starters, this may have been my favorite play of the entire season. The first clip that Asher uses is from the end of regulation of Auburn’s upset of LSU in the 2015 SEC tournament. I specifically remember tweeting about it when it happened. It’s a beautifully drawn-up play.

Except that it wasn’t just drawn-up in the huddle. That’s a play that Pearl pulled out of the holster a number of times this season, as Asher noted.

And here’s where it gets interesting: Three of the four examples that Asher uses in the video above come when Auburn is playing LSU. Not only was that set already on film for LSU’s coaches to see, but it had already been run against them — successfully, I might add — twice that season!

The kicker?

It came literally one possession after LSU coach Johnny Jones ran America’s Play, a baseline-out-of-bounds play that gets its name because every coach at every level of the game runs it. I remember running it in middle school:

One of the conversations that I’ve always found fascinating is determining who is considered a good coach — a quality basketball mind — versus who is deemed to be nothing but a recruiter.

Bruce Pearl is often thought of as a recruiter, as a salesman whose biggest strength is his ability to convince high school kids that playing as SEC retreads is a good idea. It worked at Tennessee and, to date, it’s working at Auburn, as he’s landed commitments from Mustapha Heron and Austin Wiley, potential McDonald’s All-Americans in 2016 and 2017, respectively, after bringing in loaded classes in 2014 and 2015. There’s no arguing the fact that he’s one of the nation’s elite recruiters.

Jones is a terrific recruiter as well, with his 2015 class the best in a run of talented classes that he’s brought into town. Jones added the No. 1 player in the class in Ben Simmons as well as five-star guard Antonio Blakeney, four-star guard Brandon Sampson and Arizona transfer Craig Victor.

Pearl has won at every stop he’s been. He turned Southern Indiana into a Division II powerhouse. He made Milwaukee one of the nation’s best mid-majors. He turned Tennessee into an SEC power when he was there, at one point getting ranked No. 1 in the country.

And he did all that despite the fact that he’s only had three players reach the NBA in a coaching career that is approaching its third decade: C.J. Watson (who was a senior on Pearl’s first Tennessee team), Tobias Harris (who was a star on Pearl’s worst, and final, Tennessee team) and Scotty Hopson (a top ten prospect that was a late-second round pick and a one-year NBA player after three seasons in Knoxville).

Jones has spent three seasons underwhelming at LSU, with last year’s 22-11 record and first round NCAA tournament exit being the best season of his tenure.

Bruce Pearl is a terrific recruiter.

But the man can coach a little bit, too.