As I write there are 199 certified events listed on the NCAA's Web site for the July recruiting period. There were two events listed as cancelled and I would imagine maybe a few still trying to get their paperwork right. I think it's safe to say we've reached a new level. Not a good one, mind you, but a new level nonetheless.
The summer evaluation period is more saturated with events than Pat Summit is with championship rings and banners. In and of itself, that's not a problem. Where the road gets difficult is when decisions have to made and everybody involved has an agenda.
"This tournament is loaded, you need to be here"... "We've got some of the top players in the country"... "There's going to be over a hundred coaches in attendance." Every year players, coaches and evaluators hear these dubious pitches. They come off sounding strangely like Obama and McCain looking for the athletic vote. Often these claims are about as valid as some of the economic and defense plans offered by that dynamic duo.
Club teams and players have to decide where to play, college coaches have to decide where to recruit and the evaluators and media have to be in the right gyms. Each has certain goals to accomplish during the annual 20-day, NCAA sales event. The problem is, all those groups base their decision in part on what the others are doing, and as a result, things begin to get a bit cloudy. On top of that, with so many events these days, things are watered down and those decisions are getting tougher and tougher.
Fact: The players want to be seen by the college coaches. Yes, they want to get better and play against tough competition, but in the end, July is the time to be on the stage. Club coaches know which events have the college coaches every year and they want to get their players the opportunity to be seen.
Naturally, it's not as easy as that. The club coaches have a few other considerations as well. In today's economy the cost has moved into the forefront of decisions. Entry fees, travel and accommodations add up quickly and change the options they can realistically consider. Of course you honestly can't look at summer events without mentioning sponsorships. A lot of club teams are obligated through their ties to Nike, adidas, Michael T. White and some others. As part of the "family" they have to attend a certain number of their benefactor's tournaments. You can't bite the hand that feeds you, or in this case, puts the shoes on your feet. It's not a simple process to figure out and there will always be plenty of second guessing.
Having only a total of 20 days and with only three of their coaches permitted in the gym at any one time, college coaches have a delicate challenge in deciding where to spend their time. Their first commitment has to be to the current recruiting class they're hoping to sign in November. Recruiters have to be in the gyms where their top recruits are playing and, take my word for it, those players know who's there. As a coaching staff, we always had players whom we needed to see one more time or maybe one of our staff hadn't seen yet. Those have to be fit in and preferably early in the month. Next consideration has to be given to the "top" kids on their junior and sophomore lists.
After deciding who we need to see and figuring out where they'll be we face the obstacles of what coach goes where and travel. The head coach can't be everywhere, but there are places they need to be seen so their schedule is usually done first. Geography helps make a few decisions, too. There are times we want to be places we just can't get to. With only 20 days you've got to be on the sidelines in the gym, not in the security line and at the gate. Red-eye flights are means to an end and hey…we can sleep in August, right?
Another thought is where can we see the top young kids? Coaches always are trying to identify the players that are two, three and four years down the road and one or two of those events will always make it on the itinerary. If there is an "open" time slot after all the other considerations, we look for somewhere we might see a lot teams in hopes of finding the one we missed. It's very difficult to justify spending time at an event that doesn't fill one of these needs. Coaches want to get the most for their money and it's not unusual for a university to spend $25,000 to $30,000, or even more, on recruiting in July. If bad choices are made the numbers don't add up. (See earlier Obama and McCain reference!)
The evaluators and media have it a bit simpler. Find where the best players will be and book a ticket. It's not quite that simple, but it's not too far off. There are more and more recruiting services and media representatives in the gym during the summer than ever before. Recruiting services are trying to identify and rank the best players by class and position. They sell their product to college coaches and they have to provide the most accurate and comprehensive list possible. Based on that they have to be at events they know will have top-flight competition as well as a large number of participants.
The best way to be seen by these services is to be at established tournaments that have a history of scholarship level players. The media can make their decisions from several viewpoints. They can cover the events and the results. They can follow high profile players and their stories or they can identify, evaluate and rank athletes. Usually it's going to be a combination of all three, but keep in mind that they are driven by who might be reading or watching.
A quick thought on those rankings. Lately, they seem to get a lot of interest, but they need to be kept in rational perspective. Whether by a recruiting service or media, they are merely opinion, not gospel. With 200 events it's impossible to see every player each time they play or even to always catch them at their best. College coaches aren't going to base their final recruiting decisions on any ranking other than their own. Yes, how well you can play is more important than where you're ranked. Trust me, college coaches are good at what they do and if you can play, they'll find you. And if you still don't like your ranking, here's a hint: Work harder and play better.
The incredible number of events makes for a lot of difficult choices each summer. Before you ask, "Why weren't you at this event or that event," think of all the considerations that go into making a summer schedule. Not one coach, evaluator or reporter wants to miss a player or team they need to see. You can't make everyone happy so you have to focus on your own needs and keep yourself happy.
Mark Lewis is a columnist and national evaluator for ESPN HoopGurlz. Twice ranked as one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the game by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, he has more than 20 years of college coaching experience at Memphis State, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Western Kentucky and, most recently, Washington State. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.