Coaches hold and fold when recruiting in Vegas
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.”
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.