I’ll be the last guy to tell a college coach at any level how to do his job. With so much turnover and unrealistic expectations in their profession, college basketball coaches have a lot on their plate. Obviously the lifeblood of their success are the players in which they recruit. Besides winning the games a coach’s second biggest priority is to continue to be a factor in the game of recruiting.
Coaches today have so many resources at their disposal. Technology has changed the way they get their information. Fifteen years ago before there was internet they had to get their information by picking up a phone and calling their countless contacts, their scouting services, or by jumping in a car and going to see kids. Today with all of the websites, televised games, and webcasts a coach can get information in 5 minutes that would have taken them hours if not days to get before. Sometimes I think they have too much information at their disposal when it comes to identifying players.
I’ve been to thousands of AAU and high school games. In that time I have spent a lot of time with college assistant and head coaches while evaluating players. I’ve engaged in hundreds of conversations about players with them. Some impressed me and some not so much. The first question 9 out of 10 coaches would ask when talking about a kid is “who’s recruiting him?”. It is this statement that gets a lot of coaches in trouble when evaluating kids. Sometimes that is an important question as if you are an ACC school and a player impresses you but he or she is only getting interest from division 2 or 3 schools that may leave for reason to be concerned. I’ve always been impressed with a coach that enters a gym sits away from anyone with no scouting report or prior knowledge of anyone in the gym and could pick out players that can help their program.
I think as a society its like a never ending popularity contest of who to recruit. It’s so important for coaches to try to be in with players that are being sought out by their piers. There are so many players that are overlooked by programs because they are in a sense from the land of misfit toys. They aren’t big enough, athletic enough, or aren’t being courted by the right program. I think coaches fall into the trap of where a player is ranked or rated that they forget about the reason they sign players is how they can perform when given the opportunity. We are all guilty of wanting players that have big reputations. More times than not that player never really lives up to the hype. You have no idea of the amount of games that I have attended where there was this over hyped player that was a sophomore 6’8 that had all the tools of being great. They usually played power forward although everyone said they’ll be this Lamar Odom type of Phenom that can play four positions. Every college coach would be fixated on this “phenom” and would foam at the mouth with the idea of landing them.. Along with him would be this 6’6 undersized power forward that everyone would say the same thing about. Their knock on him would be that he was too small to play power forward at their level and didn’t have enough skill. The “phenom” would end the night with 6 points and 2 rebounds and had zero affect on the game unless you count the uncontested alley-oop and the cherry picking fastbreak score. The 6’6 kid scored 14 points 11 rebounds and 3 blocks. After the game you would mention the fact that the “misfit” had an impact on the game and how he just makes winning plays. All the college coaches and scouts want to talk about is the length and athletic ability of the “phenom”, and how he has things that you can’t teach. I shake my head at times on how people think as far as evaluating players. They always want to point out the faults in the junkyard dog players that get things done but aren’t as sexy as the big athletic players.
If you fast-forward seven years what you usually see is this. The 6’6 kid would go on to a mid major program where he gets named to the all rookie team and the program is for the most part runs through him. With that his confidence goes through the roof and by the time he’s a junior he’s one of the best players in the league and his game has flourished. His activity and toughness allowed him to get in a college game because his coach can count on that skill to have an impact on the game. The “phenom” signed with a high major, but physically his first year was limited in his playing time. That great athletic ability and length that scouts and coaches spoke of during his high school years only help him on fast breaks and non contested plays. His sophomore campaign didn’t really get much better for him as he struggles with his body as well as his confidence. Since he hasn’t developed any skill that he can hang his hat on and his coach can call upon his playing time struggles to get any better being only a sporadic 10 minute a game guy. At the high major level he notices that those lob plays and fastbreak dunks that he lived on in high school were few and far between. He’s not the biggest guy anymore, not the most athletic, or not the most feared. He’s currently sitting out as he decides to transfer to another high major program that is desperate for players where he’ll spend the rest of his non-productive career riding the bench.
Obviously this doesn’t happen in all cases, but happens more times than not. There is some kind of infatuation with upside in the game of basketball. There is no question that some players take more time to develop, and by identifying these players early can gain a college coach an advantage. Problem is that in most cases that player with upside never really materializes into the player that they should have become. You can blame it on a player plateauing too early, or not working hard enough , as well as a laundry list of reasons of why they don’t make it. The issue that I have is that so many of these upside guys are taken and the players that get things done on the court but don’t pass the look test get left at the side of the road.
I’ve also admired the coaches that could go in a gym and pinpoint the players that can help them. Scouting reports or listening to fifteen people about who to take isn’t needed. The veteran coach can put blinders on and go to a gym and identify who the basketball players are and who aren’t. I think so many coaches get themselves in trouble by overlooking players that don’t exactly look like the norm. They may be under sized, a little slow footed, or cant jump to the moon. I think at the end of the day its about getting players that can do something when given the opportunity. It all comes back to having a skill that can get you in a game. Sure we all want the big time athlete or 6’9 small forward that can put the ball on the floor like a guard. But how many times does that player that everyone is in your ear about actually pan through.
Currently I am in Rhode Island watching The National Prep School Invitational. An event that has about 25 prep school teams form all around the country. For the past three days I’ve heard form countless scouts and college coaches their thoughts on certain players. It’s the same lingo from most that this guy will be a pro, this other guy has so much potential, and so and so has so much length. My common first question that I come back with is if you throw this player in a game what can they actually do. For those who like the upside guy they don’t have an answer. I get lines like he’s got a great motor, great second jump rebounder, he can score the basketball, and my personal favorite he’s got great ball skills. I think I need to get my copy of the book Basketball Scouting Lingo For Dummies, because some things just don’t register.
Hopefully something will change in the future. Maybe coaches will start taking chances on players that don’t exactly look like the prototypical player that they recruit. Take a chance on that undersized shooting guard that can make down shots or that 6’6 power forward that struggles scoring but gets every rebound. I think there is a lack of skilled basketball players at all levels of college. I think for the most part they all have this cookie cutter cut out of a player that they have in their heads to recruit. I think sometimes you just need to put your blinders on and trust your instinct of what player can help you win and not worry about how they’ll finish in the beauty contest.
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