Every July, high school players descend upon multiple cities around the country to play at least two games a day in a host of premier national AAU events. As these events pit most of the elite and above average talent in the country against each other, college coaches and scouts flock to scout and rank the players.
Often these events host thousands of players representing hundreds of teams, playing in upwards of 14 gyms depending on the size and the prestige of the event. With games starting as early as 8 a.m. and sometimes ending after 11 p.m., the almost month-long timeframe represents both a paradise and daily grind for players, college coaches and scouts.
Welcome to the infamous "Summer Evaluation Period," complete with lots of travel, early mornings, late nights and, at least for this talent evaluator, unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical fitness. This period allows college coaches to sit in the gyms and watch targeted players, but the NCAA prohibits the coaches from have any contact with the players while they play at these events. This year, the NCAA has selected July 6-15 and July 22-31 as the summer evaluation period.
Different meanings for different players
Nike, Adidas and Reebok all sponsor a number of major AAU events across the country that bring hundreds of teams competing in numerous brackets for titles. These events during the summer evaluation period provide college coaches and scouts with the opportunity to evaluate literally hundreds of prospects in one place.
Events during the summer evaluation period also frequently feature matchups between elite AAU organizations and elite players from all over the country. College programs and scouts alike have the ability to rank the best prospects based on head-to-head matchups -- a dream situation, especially given the fact that a good amount of these college coaches might not have the chance to watch many of these prospects in person because the high school basketball season directly coincides with the college basketball campaign.
During the more popular events in the summer evaluation period, players of different levels of notoriety use strong individual performances in different ways to cement their national standing. While a more established elite prospect might use this period to further his status as one of the nation's best ballers, other less-heralded prospects will use their strong play in tournaments stacked with competition to announce their presence on the national scene.
A player not held in high regard could use impressive play to bolster his standing and reputation on the national landscape during the spring evaluation period in April. If the previously "undiscovered" player continues to play well into July, he could use the thoroughly scouted premier events during the summer evaluation to strengthen his position as one of the best players in the country, all while performing in front of a vast number of college basketball coaches. Conversely, a well-known player's basketball reputation could take a hit if that player has a number of uninspired performances during the summer evaluation period.
A bigger role
With the NCAA flirting with the possibility of doing away with the April evaluation period, the July period might play an even more significant role on the national recruiting scene. Though not having the April period might not drastically affect well-known prep stars, the talented, lesser-known players relish as many opportunities as possible to display their wares against the nation's best.
Schools that have not finished offering their allotment of scholarships for the upcoming season have to do double duty during the summer evaluation period.
--Richmond assistant coach Jamal Brunt
Ending the spring evaluation period will also affect coaches as well, in particular the mid-major programs that do not have the money to compete with the seemingly infinite budgets of high-major college basketball programs. These mid-major programs depend on having the ability to see a number of prospects at one event.
Richmond assistant coach Jamal Brunt believes the summer evaluation period, which already holds a great deal of value for a program, would take on even more significance in the absence of the April period. Though Richmond discovered two solid recruits during the summer evaluation period last year, Brunt believes taking away April would deal a significant blow to mid-major programs.
"If they [the NCAA] take away April, July would be jam-packed with events," Brunt said.
"It may not hurt the major programs, but we [Richmond] as a mid-major school recruit by numbers as opposed to names, and losing April would mean that we lose a significant chance to see players. We do not have the same budget as major programs, therefore we rely on April and July to see as many kids from different regions as we possibly can."
Brunt believes the summer evaluation period could also provide unique challenges for a program, especially if that program has not finished their recruiting for the upcoming season.
"Schools that have not finished offering their allotment of scholarships for the upcoming season have to do double duty during the summer evaluation period," Brunt said.
"Not only do they have to look for players for their immediate needs for the approaching season, they also have to make sure that they look at the underclassmen for their future. If you have completed your recruiting for the upcoming season, your team can go through the summer evaluation period events with your focus squarely on the younger prospects for the future."
New Hampshire assistant coach Jean Bain echoes the importance of the summer evaluation period. With the timing of July period coming close to the beginning of the school year, Bain feels July sets the table for the beginning of the year.
"July is absolutely huge for us," Bain said. "We get a chance to reevaluate kids that we originally thought were not good enough, and watch them play against top-notch talent. Being that August is a dead period and we start bringing kids up for visits in September, July is the time that allows us to really establish our program with recruits."
Though NCAA regulations prohibit college coaches from talking with prospects at these summer events, prospective recruits expect to see coaches at all of their games. With each event having a number of venues for a particular event, organizational skills will complement a coach's evaluation skills during the hectic period.
"We have to get in on kids early on in April and we use July to make our presence with that kid stronger," Bain said. "If we are recruiting a player, we make sure that we are at all of his games at a tournament, which means that we have to be organized. I make an effort to know who I am going to see and what team they play on before I go to an event.
"We basically follow our recruits around to their games, and we have to know where they are, given the amount of gyms for each event."
While the vaunted summer evaluation period is tedious for players, coaches and scouts, they can all breathe a collective sigh of relief once it's over -- and start looking forward to the upcoming basketball season.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.