As the college basketball regular season winds down and conference tournaments at all levels begin, here's a look at the state of recruiting and what's going on behind closed doors.
More demand than supply
We've said it all winter long and nothing has changed: The cupboard is nearly depleted with lock high-major players in the 2011 class. Ben McLemore (St. Louis/Christian Life Center Academy) continues to keep the fan bases of Kansas and Missouri on their toes. Newly minted star Otto Porter (Sikeston, Mo./Scott County Central) lists Missouri as his leader and Trevor Lacey (Huntsville, Ala./Butler) sounds like a Kentucky or Alabama recruit. Once those three phone in their picks, that's it for members of the ESPNU 100.
When demand exceeds supply, the outcome is predictable: Players will get recruited above their talent level.
It's not easy for most college teams to sit on scholarships. The basic tenet for the majority of programs is the acquisition of talent. Once the season ends and the staff assesses its roster, the initial reaction is to go out and try to fix the talent deficit or plug any perceived holes as quickly as possible. At this stage in the recruiting calendar, we're confident that high-major programs will reach onto the recruiting lists of mid-major schools and it'll trickle down to the lower levels as well.
Keeping in mind that these recruits are young, impressionable kids, it would take an extremely focused and mature young man to pass on the chance to play at the highest level. Oblivious to the fact that he'll get looked over almost instantaneously, the tractor beam pull from the BCS-level programs is often too much to resist. This phenomenon drives the midlevel schools bonkers but at least in the spring they can see it coming and plan as needed.
Smart staffs on the mid-major level who are in tune with the landscape of college basketball will handle rejection with an eye on the future. The smart play if you're a mid-major school that loses a player to one of the big boys is to keep your cool. Knowing that player well, the coach is quick to understand that a year from now, after the recruit sits and watches other players actually play, he may receive the return telephone call with the prospect on the other end wanting to transfer. When you're No. 2 on the food chain, you plan wisely for the future.
If you don't plan well for your future, there's a good chance someone else will have plans for your recruits.
Striking a balance
Across the country, college basketball programs are focused on their current season and doing whatever they can to make the NCAA tournament. Conference tournaments are kicking up and this is the last chance for many teams, especially the lower and mid-level programs, to go dancing. Until they lose, their focus is 100 percent on surviving and advancing. Inside those offices, every day is an extension of the season. Great assistants will strike a balance behind the scenes between keeping up with a recruit's progress and staying the course with his team's preparation.
However, once the finality of the year ends, most staffs, especially the assistants, will hit the road. They'll take in as many state championship games as possible, looking for late-blooming seniors experiencing postseason success and just about any underclassman they can conjure up an evaluation on. New names such as seniors Greg Whittington (Columbia, Md./Oakland Mills) and once-injured power forward Christian Behrens (Kent, Wash./Tahoma) have been making their rounds through college hoops offices recently; Whittington was just offered by Maryland and California has its eyes on Behrens.
This is a great time of the year to see what kids are made of because competitive situations remain the best gauge of character and talent and these evaluation opportunities cannot be replicated. It's also a time of the year when the window to get out and see high school kids before their season ends closes quickly. Assistants have to be in the loop on where a recruit's team stands at all times. Snap decisions on which games to attend and where to deploy the head coach must be made and resources used wisely. For most, this is the final competitive chance a staff will get to see an underclassman until the July evaluation period.
Coaching carousel carnage
No one in the business is comfortable speaking publicly about someone else's recruits, nor should they be. However, the reality of the situation is that a number of college coaches are about to lose their jobs. With every firing or hiring there is a chance for another program to poach a player who signed with the old staff. It's college basketball's answer to cannibalism and at this stage in the game, could be the best way to gain a good player.
Typically, when a coach leaves a program, there's a knee-jerk reaction by the recruits he's signed to get out of their letters of intent. A good athletic director will step in and save the players the program truly covets by pledging to keep the players informed during the hiring process in return for them sticking with their pledge until the new coach is hired. A skilled athletic director can buy his new coach time so that he can make a pitch to salvage the relationship. However, while the hiring process continues, voices in the player's head are commonplace.
Whispers get louder and seeds are being planted behind the scenes by parties on each end. A player may ask his high school or AAU coach to send out feelers. He's usually looking to gauge the prospect of him attending another school if he opts out of his letter. College coaches also have a role in this process. Through intermediaries they might let it be known that their school would recruit the prospect if he gets out of his letter of intent. It's a gray area on both sides but it's the nature of the business.
Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.