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'Holy Grail' differs for each recruiter

The women's basketball coaches we spoke to each had a different list of characteristics when it came to the ideal recruit. ESPN.com Illustration

If you are a particular kind of player and worried that you might be out of vogue for the college game, rest assured. We conducted discussions with college coaches and recruiters in an effort to reveal the "Holy Grail" of recruiting -- the ideal prospect, regardless of need, current or future rosters or recruiting classes.

The consensus from the first of our eight discussions with college coaches about recruiting: There is no consensus.

To wit, here are some of the types of players that were flagged by the more than 20 college coaches we consulted:

  • Athletic, multiple-position player.

  • Big, mobile and skilled post.

  • Long, athletic and speedy 6-foot guard.

  • Long, athletic, 6-2 wing who can get to the basket.

  • Talented athlete who overachieves academically.

  • Tall guard who can shoot.

  • True point guard.

Of that list, point guards drew the most attention. The job description for that position keeps getting more demanding. In addition to being able to run an offense, point guards these days need an ability to make plays, need advanced leadership skills and extra drive, according to college coaches.

The ideal point, according to one prominent assistant, "has the whole package -- great vision, excellent passer, vocal leader, quick and athletic -- can break defense down and go by people, can hit the 3, the pull-up and get to the rim, makes players around her better and has good size and is mentally and physically tough."

Several coaches believed this level of player is rare.

"Playmakers or all-around 'developed kids' are harder to find because kids don't get in the gym and just work on fundamentals anymore," one said. "They just play in a lot of tournaments."

Other coaches bemoaned the propensity of what should be "inside" players to shy away from contact and shoot jumpers from the perimeter. "I feel like every post wants to be a guard and every club coach pushes every player above 6 feet out to the perimeter," said one head coach. "In truth, in the WNBA, all the forwards are 6-1 or 6-2."

Many noted the overall deteriorating shooting skills of today's prospects.

"The game is more physical, so not being able to shoot makes you easy to guard," one coach warned.

We asked our participants to put aside need and the current status of their programs, but it was obvious they could not. As one coach pointed out, "The best player in the wrong system wouldn't get you the results you're looking for." So obviously recruiting is driven by need and circumstances -- and those vary around the country like cravings at a buffet.

Though there isn't a specific type of player most coaches have in mind, there are certain qualities that seem to be trending. Off-the-chart athletes were popular in the not-so-distant past, but coaches now want more. They want drive and focus.

"Talent is a big piece, but we always struggle to find that kid who has innate ability to holding herself accountable to being good," said one head coach who has worked on both sides of the country. "And that's what I would want over anything else -- someone who wants to be really good -- as in not just saying, but doing. This is a kid who's not OK with the status quo. She has vision for the future. This generation right now likes to be told what to do. … Four to five years ago there were more kids who understood that accountability piece. It was more about looking for talent because kids were much more disciplined. Technology and media attention have changed kids tremendously. Kids aren't as invested to work in the gym every day. They need to Facebook, and Twitter, and check out what all the media outlets are saying about them. It didn't used to be like that. Kids want instant gratification. And so do their parents. There seems to be no long-term investment into working hard, being accountable and letting natural progression happen."

Another coach said: "This is definitely different than four to five years ago. You used to be able to just win with one thing, like great shooting or athleticism. Now you have to be able to think and play. You can't just do one or the other and win at the highest levels."

One mid-major head coach lists his priorities, in order: athleticism, skill, savvy. In the past, he would take two of the three as long as one of the qualities was athleticism. Now he'll take any two, but all three, for him, would be the "Holy Grail."

Another coach defined this kind of recruit as a "difference player, on and off the court." Such a player might produce points by creating for teammates, be a "natural recruiter" because others want to play with her and value the college experience as well as the university and its culture.

Coaches get more specific on their preferences between physical attributes, skills and intangibles in our next installment. For now, one assistant coach in the East may have best captured the general sentiments on the "Holy Grail" topic.

"Five Maya Moores," she said, referring to Connecticut's three-time Wade Trophy winner. "A great kid who is an overachiever academically, who is personally passionate about everything she does. And they do everything that way. A kid like Maya Moore -- a special player with high academics. Those come every 7-8 years."

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.