Thursday, June 03, 2004

Recruiting high school players

The Raleigh News & Observer has a story about how big-time college basketball programs, despite the stiff competition they face from the NBA, must still recruit the best high school kids, even when the prospects that they may ever end up on campus are dim at best.

Things have changed however. Even as Roy Williams looks to bring the best players to Chapel Hill, he now has to weigh "how hard to go after some prospects."

"It's getting to be a more serious factor...You've got to pay more attention to it."
This actually raises some intersting questions just in terms of how a team should plan their recruiting strategy. In the past, coaches were competing primarily with other programs -- and the only distinction was the reputation of the program a coach was recruiting against. Now, with the migration of so many high schoolers to the NBA, the competetion just got a lot stiffer.

First, money is a big-time motivator for a lot of HS players -- especially players who have been poor most of their lives. And while some programs thrived on landing recruits by skirting NCAA rules, that recruiting advantage has all but disappeared.

So the question now for college programs is, how to best allocate limited recruiting resources to a very large population of high school basketball players. And while I haven't really given this a lot of thought, I do have some ideas about how recruiting may look in the near future.

There are a couple of ways a team could change their recruiting strategy. First, they could only recruit players they know aren't NBA-capable. The only uncertainty remaining is which college the player will choose to attend. The problem with this philosophy is that by not going after the high profile players, you'd be without the services of players like Luol Deng, Raymond Felton or Chris Paul. The upside however is that you'd seldom lack for depth and would probably field a team that "played well together."

Another recruiting strategy is to still go after those players that are considering the NBA, recruit them heavily, and hope that they aren't guaranteed first round picks and end up in college for a year or two. The upside is that there is some probability that you'll land the player and the expected payoff most likely outweighs the opportunity cost of recruiting. But then the question becomes, "how much time do you spend recruiting NBA-type players in proportion to recruiting other players?"

This question will require a little more thought and investigation, but Wake Forest's head coach, Skip Prosser makes it clear:

"If a young man goes to college to make a living, this [NBA route] accelerates the process," said Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser, who doesn't fault players for accepting lucrative pro offers. "[But] it does make it harder for coaches."

Despite the risk of losing a prime-time prospect to the NBA, Prosser said, "You still have to recruit the best in the country. It's the only way to survive in this conference. [But] you have to have a backup, if you can, in case one of the guys does decide to go to the NBA."
And assistant coach Chris Collins talks about how Duke has adjusted their recruiting efforts:
"We aren't interested in someone who tells us right away he wants to be in the NBA," Collins said. "We will continue to identify people who fit our program, our mold. That's hard to project at times.

"You sign kids, get a commitment at the end of their junior year or at the start of their senior year. A lot happens in that year. [Sometimes] their draft status goes up, and [NBA teams] are drafting on potential."
Prosser has an easy fix for this NBA-early problem. One I'm guessing will not go over well with high school phenoms and their soon-to-be agents:
Prosser said he would like to see a rule similar to the NFL, which doesn't allow a player to enter the draft until three years after he has finished high school.

"But I don't think that will happen anytime soon," Prosser added. "This is the way it is right now."