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Rating the club scene

College coaches value a coach who is in it to help the athletes. ESPN.com Illustration

He isn't your typical girls' club basketball coach. For starters, he moonlights on the collegiate level (or vice versa). He has nearly 600 career victories at all levels he's coached. He has been named coach of the year at state and local levels in high school several times, and twice at the national level in the NAIA.

Still, it isn't just the sense that he's one of them that college coaches think Russ Davis of the Cal Swish and Vanguard University (Costa Mesa, Calif.) is the best in the business.

"His teams have always been extremely well-coached," said one head coach who has had as much recruiting success in recent years as any. "They play as a team, have fun together and very few jealousies appear while they are playing together. You don't see those kind of 'my turn' shots on his teams even though he's had several Division I players on the same roster."

As part of its eight-part conversation about recruiting issues, ESPN HoopGurlz asked a cross section of more than 20 college head and assistant coaches and recruiting coordinators whom they considered the best club coach or program in the country. Davis, who guided the Swish to the Nike Nationals title in 2009, was the runaway winner, earning eight nods, or more than 25 percent of the votes cast. Three -- Kimberly Davis-Powell and Essence, Tom Insell and the Tennessee Flight and Boo Williams -- finished next with three votes apiece.

One coach said Davis-Powell "doesn't go across the country to recruit players. She wins with what is in her own state or right next door. Also, she treats all college coaches the same, regardless of how big or small the school they represent."

Another said the Insell's Flight players get challenged in the toughest tournaments, don't avoid anyone and improve through competition.

Yet another said Williams' players "are disciplined and work hard."

One college coach, echoing a widespread sentiment about club coaches, said "the best ones put the kids first and are not caught up in being recruited themselves."

While college coaches were specific about what they liked about club programs and coaches, they were equally specific about what they didn't like.

A few prominent club programs did not fare well in the poll because they were singled out for "deceptive" practices such as recruiting players from other teams, bending rules and steering players to certain programs.

"The club coaches don't think we notice a lot of things," one head coach pointed out. "But we really do."

One program was cited by several coaches as having "probably illegal" relationships, as one put it, with some college programs. Another club coach was singled out for "always having his hand out, asking what's in it for him." It bothered several college coaches that a number of club coaches try to leverage recruiting situations into college jobs.

One club coach was labeled a good teacher, but downgraded for screaming too much and berating his players during games. Negative bench demeanor and apparent disorganization were cited by several college coaches as club-coaching turnoffs. One college coach guesstimated that fewer than a quarter of all club teams were adequately coached.

"There are good people who are in it for the right reasons," one college head coach said. "And a group not doing it for the right reasons. We know who those people are. I know who I can trust and who I can't."

The discussion was not dominated by criticisms, however.

Other club coaches or programs receiving votes from college coaches included James Banks of Gym Rats; Brian Crichlow of West Coast Premier; Cy-Fair Nike Elite; DFW Elite; Georgia Elite; Ralph Gesualdo of Midwest Elite; Elbert Kinnebrew of Cal Sparks; North Tartan; Philly Belles; Philly Comets; and Sports City U. Though he has transitioned from coaching to program director at North Tartan, Bill Larson was mentioned by several college coaches as being honest and up front during the recruiting process.

In our next and final installment of this discussion, we ask college coaches what they would most like to change about recruiting. There is some mention of coaching and developing recruits, but a lot of the things they like about club coaches is embodied in the effusive praise aimed at Russ Davis.

"He doesn't get in the middle between recruits and the college programs," one college coach said of Davis.

"He teaches the kids how to play, not just to press and run and jump," said another.

Another coach said Davis "is in it for the kids and not looking for a ticket to the next level himself."

Interviewers for ESPN HoopGurlz included Lisa Bodine, Chris Hansen, Kara Howe, Mark Lewis, Glenn Nelson and Kelvin Powell.

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.