Coaches hold and fold when re­cruit­ing in Ve­gas

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SCOREBOARD - Highly sought prospects

LAS VE­GAS — North­ern Ari­zona men’s bas­ket­ball Coach Jack Mur­phy fol­lowed the di­rec­tions turn by turn as he worked his way from a high school north of Las Ve­gas to one to the south.

The GPS said his fourth stop of the day was just around the cor­ner, but when Mur­phy ar­rived at the turn, the road was closed be­cause of con­struc­tion.

He could see his des­ti­na­tion, but with at least three more games to see and a red­eye flight to Toronto com­ing up, Mur­phy turned his car around.

“I’m go­ing to have to skip it,” he said of stop No. 4. “I’ve got to pack be­fore head­ing to the next game.”

Mak­ing snap de­ci­sions is part of the game col­lege bas­ket­ball coaches play dur­ing the live re­cruit­ing pe­ri­ods.

Coaches from most, if not all, 351 Di­vi­sion I men’s bas­ket­ball pro­grams de­scend upon Las Ve­gas to watch the na­tion’s top re­cruits dur­ing the last week of July, which serves as the fi­nal of three eval­u­a­tion pe­ri­ods dur­ing the month.

Dozens of tour­na­ments play si­mul­ta­ne­ously at close to 100 sites across the city, with roughly 1,200 teams com­pet­ing in high school gyms, per­form­ing arts cen­ters and the Cash­man Cen­ter, a 98,000-square foot ex­hibit hall op­er­ated by the Las Ve­gas Con­ven­tion and Vis­i­tors Au­thor­ity.

Gym floors at many of the high schools were split, so two games could be played si­mul­ta­ne­ously. The Cash­man Cen­ter was split into seven courts, in­clud­ing a show­case court with ex­tra bleach­ers for the big­ger games.

The open­ing-night mar­quee game in the Adi­das Up­ris­ing sum­mer cham­pi­onships fea­tured South Carolina’s Zion Wil­liamson and SC Supreme and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s LaMelo Ball and Big Baller Brand

More than 3,000 peo­ple crowded around the court, in­clud­ing sev­eral NBA play­ers, and 80,000 or so watched a Face­book live stream of the show­down be­tween top-10 re­cruits. More than 1,000 peo­ple were turned away — LeBron James re­port­edly among them — and the Las Ve­gas Po­lice Depart­ment was called in to help con­trol the crowd.

“It’s amaz­ing how big this has be­come,” In­di­ana Coach Archie Miller said.

At the grass roots level, the re­cruit­ing process starts with iden­ti­fy­ing po­ten­tial re­cruits, of­ten be­fore they’re in high school. Coaches track their progress, reach out to the ones they’re in­ter­ested in and watch them play as of­ten as pos­si­ble.

The Las Ve­gas tour­na­ments of­fer play­ers an op­por­tu­nity to show what they can do against some of the na­tion’s best play­ers. Every coach is not only look­ing to fill spots in his next re­cruit­ing class, but to build classes three and four years down the road.

Coaches head into eval­u­a­tion week with a list of play­ers they’re ac­tively try­ing to sign, re­cruits who may have caught an as­sis­tant’s eye.

Mur­phy went to watch a young point guard who caught the at­ten­tion of an as­sis­tant the pre­vi­ous week, but he left at half­time af­ter the kid missed three 3-point­ers, two

free throws and had a cou­ple of turnovers.

Coaches who are gun­ning hard for a re­cruit want to be seen, not only by the player but his par­ents as well. Re­cently, Rice’s Scott Pera brought three as­sis­tants while watch­ing a point guard he was try­ing to woo to South Texas.

“You’ve got to let them know you’re in­ter­ested,” said Pera, named Rice’s head coach in March. “Some­times that means hav­ing four peo­ple in the front row.”

Top-tier re­cruits like Wil­liamson, Ari­zona’s Marvin Ba­gley III or high schooler Bol Bol — son of the late Manute

Bol, the 7-7 former NBA cen­ter — are on the court, it’s usu­ally the blue­blood coaches in the stands, like Ken­tucky’s John Cali­pari, Kan­sas’ Bill Self or North Carolina’s Roy Wil­liams.

Coaches at smaller pro­grams look for play­ers who have fewer stars next to their names in the re­cruit­ing rank­ings or have been over­looked for what­ever rea­son.

“It is a lit­tle tougher at our level, but we find play­ers who fit our needs,” said Brian Katz, en­ter­ing his 10th sea­son at Sacra­mento State. “Ev­ery­one is here for the same rea­son.”

AP file photo

such as Bol Bol (above) get seen by hun­dreds of coaches dur­ing the July eval­u­a­tion pe­riod for Di­vi­sion I bas­ket­ball coaches in Las Ve­gas. Bol Bol’s fa­ther, the late Manute Bol, played in the NBA for 11 sea­sons.

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