The first week of recruiting is in the books, and we were able to get out to tournaments in different areas of the country to see a lot of teams and players. All 4 members of our coaching staff were somewhere in Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Reading and Springfield within the first 5 day period the NCAA allows you out to recruit.
Recruiting is an art, not a science. In a lot of ways it’s a beauty contest, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are a lot of things that I see and like that another coach may not value, and vice-versa. In July we are taking snapshots of these kids playing 2-3 games per day over a 4-day period and trying to determine talent, competitiveness, character, coach-ability and so many other elements that may or may not fit into our program. Recruiting is hard. Coaches are presenting their schools in the best possible light, and the kids are trying to show the coaches the best of what they have to offer. Getting to know the kids, their situations and learning what is real is a challenge.
Because of the way it is structured by the NCAA, July is essentially three 4-day sprints. You really can’t afford to take any time off from the gym because you are so limited in the time you have to evaluate. Over a 4+ month period of time we essentially get just these 12 days to evaluate, so you don’t want to miss anything. You are lucky if you can get to 2 different events in one of the 4-day periods, because you don’t want to waste too much time traveling. Matt and I drove from Reading, PA on Friday up to Springfield. Antone went from Reading to Philly, and Zak flew in to Springfield from Indianapolis to Springfield late Saturday night and got to the hotel at 2:30 in the morning. The games on Sunday started at 8 AM, and we needed to be in the gym. The travel isn’t easy, but the time in the gym is valuable.
Not that any of us are complaining. One of the things I love about our staff is we all love being in the gym watching kids play. It’s something that is fun and competitive – trying to find the guy that no one else notices, or trying to pick up one or two subtle things that tell you a certain player is the right fit for your program that no one else will catch. It’s important to love recruiting, because it’s easy to make an excuse not to watch that last game or go somewhere to recruit. Our staff loves watching the games because we love watching the games, not just because it’s an important part of the job. That has me excited about the talent we can bring to Orono.
Recruiting is important, but there is a difference between recruiting and evaluating. Most coaches know who the good players are and who they need to go see and get seen by. But watching a kid play isn’t necessarily evaluating him. There is a difference between how a kid played and how good he is. If a kid has to play well for you to like him, I’m not sure you are doing a great job evaluating. We watched some kids that we really liked that went 2-11 that night and turned the ball over a few too many times – but they showed the quickness, toughness and talent that will fit into the culture we are building at Maine. How you play isn’t always a reflection of your natural ability. But how you look is usually a good key for evaluation. Likewise just because a kid goes off for 25 points doesn’t make them good enough to play for us. Sometimes a kid has a great game and looks really good, but still may not have the natural ability to play at the division I level. Production is very important, but evaluating is about how their ability will translate to the division I level and how it will fit into your culture and program. That is the challenge when you are evaluating talent.
One difference that we have to adjust to has to do with the way we recruit. At Rhode Island College we had a presence in the gym with a lot of great teams and players, and we had to wait until those players slipped through the cracks and realized they weren’t going to get the right scholarship. When we saw players that we liked, we stayed in touch with them and tried to get as many talented players as we could interested in the school. But with scholarships its a little bit different. You only have so many spots you can offer with scholarships, and once you do, you have to be really prepared as to who you want in your program. If you have 3 point guards that you like you probably can’t offer scholarships to all 3 without skewing the balance of your roster. At Rhode Island College we didn’t have to make as many decisions in recruiting. Here at Maine, we have to make those decisions. If you offer a big kid a scholarship and he accepts it, you might not be able to take another big kid down the road who plays the same position. So learning who you can get and going after them takes a little more sophistication than it did at Rhode Island College. You don’t want to be stuck without a scholarship when you have the chance to get a great player.
I’ve learned, however, to not be overly concerned with position. We want talented players who are tough, committed and smart and who we can build a championship program with. We won a ton of games at RIC with guys who probably didn’t get scholarships because coaches didn’t really see what position they would play at that level. When people ask me what we are looking for in this next class my answer is simple – “players.” When they ask where we would play a certain kid who might not fit a natural position I say “On the floor.” Put good players on the floor and they’ll figure it out. It’s a mistake to turn down good players that you can get because you don’t know what position they play. Versatility is something we really value.
It was exhilarating to be out on the road this week with the Black Bear logo on our chest (what a cool brand/logo to have for our school, no? – we need to get those things all over the place). It’s great to represent the state of Maine and so many people have congratulated us and told us they were rooting for us, and that feels great as well. I’m thrilled about our staff and how much we all love what we do, and the fact that we are getting to do it for the University of Maine. It strikes me all of the time how much people associated with the school love the place – there is a genuine passion for the school that is invigorating. It is great fun to be a part of.
Our staff is having a blast out on the road trying to find the right core of guys we can build a championship culture with. Getting paid to sit in the gym and watch basketball games all day? We know how lucky we are. But don’t get me wrong – it is work, it is tiring and it takes effort. The ability to connect with players and to evaluate their ability to help you win championships is the challenge. We can’t wait to get out there and get after it again.