Method to the Madness
There are tricks to turning recruits' heads when it comes to Midnight Madness
When Lefty Driesell invented Midnight Madness at Maryland in 1971, he probably didn't envision it becoming the recruiting tool it is today. Now, bringing in a boatload of recruits and inviting them to have fun under the carnival-like atmosphere of each school's big top can be enticing. But it's not as easy as it looks. Every program is different, but there are a few tricks of the trade used to pull it off.
To have a great Midnight Madness you need a few things. An enthusiastic fan base is key for setting the tone. A head coach strutting into an arena on a Harley isn't going to have the same effect if only 500 people show up. You also need a coach with a bit of a marketer's makeup, a good team and a lot of luck when it comes to the timing of a player's decision. The evening often takes on the personality of the head coach.
With kids making early commitments, resources dry up fast. Face it, without the available talent, you've created a moment to raise expectations for your fan base but no one to show off for on the prospect side. Once the talent is in place, programs will piece the weekend together to suit their needs.
For instance, coaches attack opening weekend with differing agendas. Some loathe the idea of the recruiting circus that comes with the first weekend of practice. For those programs, this weekend is only about getting down to the business of basketball. Their focus is singular and they won't conduct Midnight Madness. Others, like Duke, have been both warm and cold on the idea. In the past few years, Duke has used the opening of the season as a recruiting tool, as does its counterpart North Carolina eight miles down Tobacco Road.
Last season, the would-be national champion brought in its two committed players -- Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston -- for the festivities. Coach Mike Krzyzewski also hosted 2011 big man Marshall Plumlee, who ultimately committed, and two underclassmen. Of the two young kids, only junior Evan Nolte remains a potential target. His AAU teammate, Justin Touye, made a visit but never materialized as a Blue Devils target.
This is an example of a relatively low-risk, quiet weekend used to generate buzz, celebrate the guys who already committed and allow the team to get a touch of recruiting while keeping emphasis on the bigger picture. It's a tactic you might see employed by many veteran-laced teams with big expectations.
Armed with a national championship, world championship and Olympic gold, Krzyzewski is pulling out all the stops this time around. Make no mistake about it, Duke's opening night isn't only about celebrating last year's run. Duke commit Austin Rivers is in town, and he's got company in the form of elite underclassmen. Junior forward Amile Jefferson, sophomore stud Rodney Purvis and junior scoring ace Rasheed Sulaimon rank high on everyone's list. It's an impressive trio, but there's more. Junior center Tony Parker will get to hang out with Plumlee, or Plum-Three as some are calling him since he's the third Plumlee pledge to the Devils. Sophomores Kris Jenkins and Nathaniel Britt make the trip, as do two elite in-staters, freshman Theo Pinson and junior T.J. Warren.
The Blue Devils own a powerful brand right now. That's one reason why Coach K is able to continue recruiting Top 25 point guard Quinn Cook, another visitor to the madness. Quincy Miller, an elite senior, isn't visiting, though it was discussed this week. Duke's pursuit of Miller has been light to date, evidenced by the fact that Miller hasn't spoken directly to Krzyzewski in a few months.
North Carolina also limited its invitations to late night in 2009. Roy Williams, an avowed lover of the late-night ritual, brought in committed players Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, Kendall Marshall and James McAdoo. Then junior Cody Zeller came along for the ride and not only visited his brother, Tyler, but had a front-row seat. Cody materialized into a major target and returns this weekend for his official visit.
Last year, the Heels also brought in 2011 wing Michael Gbinije, but never really pressed him and he wound up picking Duke. Historically, UNC and Williams use this weekend to showcase their program, but as a main recruiting tool for younger players. Unofficial visits were extended to senior big John Cannon and junior targets L.J. Rose and Shabazz Muhammad. Plus, UNC is on freshman big man Tyler Herron early and he's making the trip.
Kentucky's opening weekend sells out faster than a Justin Bieber meet-and-greet. John Calipari's opening act at UK was over-the-top cool, especially for John Wall. The freshman's entrance was a YouTube sensation and spurned "The John Wall Dance" craze. It's a little-known fact that DeMarcus Cousins was supposed to be the guy above the crowd, but he got scared of heights and Wall replaced him. Too bad for Cousins, since a genuine American marketing moment was made once Wall raised up his biceps and created his own brand.
That weekend was viewed and discussed more than any other school's celebration over the course of the year. Calipari looked presidential as he stood before a packed house in Rupp Arena and rode the momentum of the moment for a long time. This was a marketing tidal wave and a huge success. Big-time prospects took in the festivities as Kentucky hosted six prospects, and five would receive scholarship offers from Big Blue.
UK had a commitment from Stacey Poole, and the senior was joined by classmates Kyrie Irving, C.J. Leslie and Tobias Harris on official visits. Juniors Michael Gilchrist and Achraf Yacoubou made the trip. Calipari landed two of his five targets, including Gilchrist, who at the time was the nation's consensus top underclassmen. Most Top 25 programs would be ecstatic with Poole and Gilchrist, but an excellent all-around weekend and a strong recruiting event could have been historic if one of the other seniors had tilted Kentucky's way as a result of the festivities.
This year, UK is in line to sign the nation's top recruiting class for the second year in a row. However, despite the success, UK tweaked its opening tipoff and set the itinerary around committed players and their families. Interestingly enough, no underclassmen will be on campus for the weekend. Gilchrist is joined by future teammates Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer. UK's 2010 opening weekend is clearly a celebration of last year's recruiting windfall and 2011's momentous effort. The message to recruits: If you want the trappings of this atmosphere, you'd be wise to say "yes" in advance.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber used an interesting technique last year by bringing in three committed seniors, two committed juniors and the three best freshmen in Illinois. By doing this, Weber was able to treat the committed players as a group, while showcasing the program to the younger prospects through the eyes of the guys already on board. There's a trick to weekends like this. Don't think a kid won't get offended if he feels his peers receive more attention while he is present. That's why the Illini's 2009 weekend looked well-conceived.
Because of last year's tactic, Illinois will revisit the formula this time around, bringing in all its current commits plus senior Chasson Randle, an in-state target. The long-range goal for the Illini is to create an environment where it's a rite of passage for the best young in-staters to attend their annual festivities. Weber has a long list of underclassmen slated for attendance, but the fact that sophomores Jabari Parker and Tommie Hamilton return from last year's event is a testament to the grand plan.
This time around, Self is sticking with the quantity and quality approach. Twelve prospects from six different states are slated to attend. Self went 1-for-3 with uncommitted seniors last Late Night, and if history repeats itself at least one of this year's senior visitors will be a Jayhawk. The candidates are small forward LeBryan Nash, wing Ben McLemore and power forward Angelo Chol.
Under Self, KU loves bringing in younger kids for the festivities. Top point guard targets Marcus Paige and Nino Jackson and center Shaquille Cleare are the 2012 invitees. Elite 2013 twins Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison are on the pass list, as are locals Travis Jorgenson and Connor Frankamp. Committed junior Zach Peters is on the list, as is teammate Julius Randle, the nation's top sophomore.
Florida is polishing up a new technique -- the Gators have singled out one underclassman for the second year in a row. Last year, small forward Sam Thompson was the chosen one, but he ultimately chose Ohio State. This time around, Billy Donovan is targeting point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, a gritty leader out of Gators central casting when it comes to the toughness the coach covets.
Big contingents are anticipated at other venues. Indiana's Tom Crean continues to penetrate the underclassman market in his home state. Last year, IU hosted underclassmen Ron Patterson and Peter Jurkin, both of whom later committed. This year IU is targeting another crop of young players.
Traditional powers Syracuse and Michigan State approached this weekend in the same fashion. They loaded up the weekend geared toward making their committed players the focus from a recruiting standpoint. Memphis, on the other hand, plans to blow the roof off its building with super recruit Adonis Thomas and rapper Yo Gotti.
The point is, conducting a recruiting weekend couched around the beginning of the season is up to the coach. Just as there are different offensive and defensive schemes, each program's approach to this weekend differs. Basically, a coach does whatever he thinks will work for his program.
However, here's the biggest tip: Chemistry is key, no matter the size of the weekend contingent. If a school brings in a ton of recruits, guys can get lost in the shuffle and feel underappreciated. Having an ego as a player isn't all bad, but having a bunch of egos in the same room vying for attention from the staff can be quite the balancing act. Jealousy can rear its ugly head quickly.
These weekends are mentally and physically draining for staffs and recruits. Sometimes the key ingredient isn't the crowd noise, a courtside seat or even a scholarship offer. Often it's the players already in the program. If they're into the weekend, willing to help and in the midst of an enjoyable career themselves, they can be strong bridges from the coaching staff right to the player and his inner circle. If they're not, well, enjoy the latest pyrotechnics and get back to the drawing board for next year, just like Butler. The Bulldogs' low-key approach mirrors the sharp focus of their head coach.
"No Midnight Madness here," Brad Stevens said. "Just practice."
Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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