Commentary

Don't be fooled

It may seem calm now, but the early signing period is always full of surprises

Originally Published: November 9, 2010
By Dave Telep | ESPN Recruiting

Even though most of the players in the ESPNU 100 have already verbally committed, that doesn't mean there won't be a surprise or two when the basketball early signing period starts on Wednesday. History has shown the best high school players can put the coolest of college coaches on edge, out of their comfort zone and, well,  just plain make them sweat it out.

Don't believe it? Here are just a few early signing period surprises from over the years.

Skyping to Carolina?
It was going to take a big-time prospect for North Carolina coach Roy Williams to step out of his technology comfort zone. I've never seen the coach with a Blackberry, and can't confirm he uses e-mail. I do know, however, that he's Skyped at least once.

[+] EnlargeBarnes
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIt wasn't that Harrison Barnes chose North Carolina that was so suprising. It was how he did it.
Last year, in front of an ESPNU audience, Barnes, the nation's top high school prospect, pulled the biggest recruiting rabbit out of his hat and it had nothing to do with his college choice. It wasn't the fact that he picked the Tar Heels over Duke, UCLA, Iowa State and Kansas. The actual choice itself wasn't a shocker. How he communicated the decision ... now that's another story.

Barnes told a packed gym that he was announcing his decision via Skype and was about to go face-to-face with the fortunate coach. After a few tries on the computer, Williams and the entire UNC team appeared on the monitor as Barnes relayed the news that he would be a Tar Heel (Check out the video above. It's about five minutes into it). Never before had anyone used this technology to announce their choice and going forward, should anyone replicate Barnes' idea they'll be panned. This was a once in a technological generation idea and the recruiting surprise of the last decade.

Barnes' announcement, however, was polarizing from a number of angles. Obviously, with only one winning school, so to speak, that left four fan bases turning away in disgust. Then there was the backlash that Barnes didn't tell anyone prior to the announcement and many felt it wasn't the ideal way for coaches to learn the news. Love it or hate it, the announcement itself was unique and caught everyone by surprise.

Fashion dos and don'ts
These early period announcements can often cause a stir. Shaun Livingston found that out the hard way when he wore an Illinois jersey to the school right around the time he was deciding on college. Livingston's fashion statement threw everyone a curve. Illini fans had their hopes crushed when Livingston announced for Duke days later. In the end, the only signature that mattered was Livingston's on a pro contract with the Los Angeles Clippers because he skipped college and declared for the NBA draft.

[+] EnlargeBill Self
Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIREBill Self rarely applauds when recruits play the hat game.
Just text me
Kansas coach Bill Self is not a hat guy. The last thing he wants to see during the early period is a prospect, a microphone and a hat collection.

"We've had the worst luck when guys have hats," Self said. "We've been involved with so many guys and never once gotten them when a hat was involved. We've never had any luck with a KU hat being put on."

Self would prefer to end the drama with a call or a text. In 2006, Darrell Arthur delivered the news without a hat and that was good for Kansas. The Jayhawks were battling Baylor for Arthur's signature when Self's phone went off.

"I'm at a Big Brothers/Big Sisters fund raiser. [Arthur] texted me and that was the best lunch I've ever had," Self said. "We didn't know we were going to get [Arthur] at all."

It must be nice to score a commitment from a top 10 prospect and then sit down for a chicken dinner and post-meal handshakes. However, its not always that simple.

Shhh ... don't tell anyone
The early signing period can cause great stress in college basketball offices. Coaches just want an answer, preferably the one that says the player is coming there. But some kids are more concerned about keeping their decision secret and of those, some are definitely better than others at keeping secrets.

By the time it was Kyrie Irving's turn to decide, word had pretty much leaked out that he was Duke-bound. Ditto for Brandon Knight (Kentucky) and Josh Selby (Kansas).

Tobias Harris, on the other hand, kept everyone guessing.

"He made everybody feel like they were getting him," Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins said. "I saw Larry Harrison of West Virginia and he said they thought they were getting him. I thought we were getting him. Everybody thought they were getting him."

Harris picked Tennessee, in New York, the same night the Orange were playing against North Carolina in Madison Square Garden.

There are keys to achieving the element of surprise. Once a prospect makes that first call to a college coach, a chain reaction begins and word spreads quickly. The guys who don't make the phone calls and opt to keep the coaches on edge up until the final minutes are the ones who drive coaches nuts.

"The one thing I feel like is that if you're on pins and needles, that's a bad sign," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "There's always somebody out there who is not on pins and needles, so you worry."

The best of all-time
Julius Hodge certainly has the ability to go the distance on the World Series of Poker. Hodge, a player Miller helped recruit to NC State when he served as an assistant to Herb Sendek, played the recruiting game as well as anyone ever has. Sendek had seen every one of Hodge's games in July and the staff used all of its evaluation time to watch him play. Miller himself spent countless hours courting Hodge and his high school coach, Gary DeCesare. Hodge never showed his hand, and in turn, some of America's best coaches and most experienced recruiters had no idea what he was thinking.

Back in the day, college coaches could hang with the high school and AAU coaches during the summer but not the players. Miller tells a tale of how he once played a game of chicken with the Florida staff who had him outnumbered. Miller, DeCesare and two Gators coaches were hanging out in a hotel until the wee hours of the morning, each trying to outlast the other in a show of gamesmanship designed to let DeCesare know which contestant had the strongest will.

"It was a competition between Florida and NC State," MIller said. "I'd stay there until 2:30 in the morning by myself but they would rotate guys in and out on me. One Florida guy would be there for two hours, the next guy would come in. You'd be in the gym all day and then spend nights with DeCesare. You didn't want your competition to get the leg up."

Miller, Sendek and NC State won the right to sign Hodge but many were surprised when Hodge's brother, Steve, relayed the news. Hodge was so good at playing coy, he may have even leaked false information about a school having the lead just to keep everyone on the edge of their seats when he announced.

"I thought he was going to Syracuse to be honest with you," DeCesare said. "But him being as cocky as he was, NC State was the [least successful] of the programs recruiting him. He wanted to make a statement and be the man."

That's why Hodge's story still leaves coaches shaking their heads. It's why coaches knows the deal is never done until they have that signed letter of intent in there hands.

"All the way up until the hat selection, no one knew," Hopkins said. "Syracuse was his favorite school but it wasn't like they told us he was coming. Julius Hodge kept it closer to the vest than anyone I've ever seen."

Whether you enjoy the drama, the thrill of the chase or dread the outcome, all these guys had one thing in common: they were worth the wait. Of course, knowing they'd all be good? Well, that's about the only part that wasn't a surprise during the whole process..

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 espndt@gmail.com. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.