As recruiting for the senior class hits the homestretch and the initial signing date in November creeps closer and closer, some prospects still have not decided their academic and basketball futures. Sure, a large number of commitments have been made and those athletes and their families are glad to have the process behind them. At the same time there are quite a few who have narrowed their lists but still can't pull the trigger on an offer that will be the one they hope won't leave them second guessing as they sign their National Letter of Intent.
Generally I've always tried to offer suggestions that were reminders of things that might be important to keep in mind in recruiting. This time around I thought I would take the opposite approach and share a few thoughts on some considerations that just may not be quite as important as they might seem on the surface. These things certainly matter if they're important to you, but in the bigger scheme of things aren't the kinds of factors you'd emphasize as you choose or eliminate a program.
Easily one of the more overrated and often too influential aspects of some player's decisions are the athletic facilities that a university has to offer. It's hard for anyone to walk into a massive, high-tech, first-class arena and not be impressed. When you've been playing club ball in crowded multi-court facilities all over the country and lining up for high-school games in gyms that predate the Eisenhower administration, your first instinct might be to say to yourself, "This is it, I'm home." A reality to keep in mind though is that no player ever became a success because of 15,000 seats or an enormous, animated video scoreboard. That happens on the floor -- and they're all 94 feet long and 50 feet wide.
A separate practice gym and top-tier strength and conditioning facilities are a big asset, but again not the kind of things to hinge your decision on. No doubt they make the day-to-day training and work you have to do convenient, easier and more enjoyable, but nobody has been named All-America because they didn't have to share the floor with other teams in the athletic department.
The locker room might be the window dressing that most often obscures the recruit's view. Cinematic quality video, concert sound for music, technologically advanced lockers with video, lounge area and computer workstations, access to unlimited sports drinks or water and museum quality displays of trophies, photographs and graphics all combine to create an environment that has the average recruit starry eyed and asking "Where do I sign?" It's true that, as an athlete, you spend a lot of time in the locker room and all of these amenities will make the "workplace" much more comfortable, but by the time you're in the middle of your freshman year, it's still going to be just a locker room.
Another aspect of the recruiting process that often gets more attention than it should is the program's shoe contract or equipment deal. I was guilty to the fullest degree of promoting this when I was a recruiting coordinator, acting as if a particular logo on our shoes or uniforms made our school a better option than another for an athlete. When a coach has you on campus and tells you that you get unlimited pairs of shoes, cross trainers, running shoes, travel warmups, fleece sweats, travel bags, jackets and polo shirts, they're not telling you anything about their coaching ability or style. A lot of bad coaches hand out a lot of good equipment. Down the road there'll be no logos on your cap and gown at graduation anyway.
The previous success of a program deserves a lot of consideration but again has to be tempered against the value that recruiters will try to put on it. Past success may be an indicator of the potential for more, but it's certainly no guarantee. When considering the performance of a particular school or coach you have to narrow the time window as well as the setting of their achievements. Even a program coming off its best year in history needs to be looked at through their whole body of work rather than that one shining moment. Look at the last five seasons and consider the won-loss record, graduation and transfer rates as well as the caliber of recent recruiting classes. A coach waving around her or his first and only championship ring or another showing off a 10-year-old NCAA watch both need to be taken with a grain of salt.
That special connection or great relationship with an assistant coach is important, just not to the degree that you might think. The dynamics of your interaction with that individual are going to change once you're on campus and that coach is focused on the next recruiting class. That's not to say that they'll start to ignore you but things aren't going to be just as they were in the recruiting process. They won't be bad, just different. Additionally, it's always important to keep in mind that professionally a lot of assistants are more mobile in the job market than Kobe getting open for a game winner. They can be a great resource in your process but a risky reason in your decision.
One of the greatest distortions in the recruiting process is the visit to a campus during a football weekend. The setting at big football schools on the weekend of a home game bears little resemblance to the daily atmosphere and environment that normally surrounds the campus. It's a great time to visit and a lot of fun, but not an accurate gauge of what you might find once you show up as a freshman. It's no coincidence that recruiters are always trying to get you to visit, both officially and unofficially, when kickoff is scheduled on their home field. Enjoy the fun, but don't let it cloud your vision.
Somewhat along the same lines is the assessment of a program on the basis of the school's other teams. Just because the men's basketball team or some of their other sports have achieved a certain level of notoriety doesn't mean that the school's women's program is cut from the same mold. Name recognition of a school for athletic success can be tremendously misleading and easy to get caught up in. It's the equivalent of dating someone because of their famous brother. If you're invited to other athletic events it's a great opportunity to visit with the coaches and get on campus, but not an indicator that the programs have any more in common than the name on their jerseys.
All of these things absolutely have their place in the formulation of your opinion about a university, its basketball program and the people who want to play a part in your college career. Your ultimate decision will result from the combined impression of the school and program and how that matches up with what you're looking for. Recruiting and all of its fluff and superficial focus often has recruits basing decisions on things that really don't make one school or program any better than another. When it's a tough decision between two or three programs, make sure that the defining qualities you ultimately rely upon are the substantial ones that will serve you and the goals you set for yourself as a student and an athlete.
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Mark Lewis is the national recruiting coordinator 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.