Recruiting tales from the road
Here are a few recruiting tales from the road our scouts have experienced as coaches.
Reggie Rankin: Always eat before you workout
In 2007 when I was an assistant coach at the University of Dayton a few months before joining ESPN, I was the lead recruiter on small forward Chris Johnson who was an under the radar recruit from my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. I went to evaluate him because we needed a wing in the 2008 class and I loved Johnson's game. The left-handed, 6-foot-6, high-energy forward was not only a great scorer, but a terrific rebounder on both ends of the floor. I immediately sent head coach Brian Gregory to check him out. Gregory also loved him, comparing him to NBA player Mo Peterson, who he coached at Michigan State. A few days later Johnson came to Dayton for an unofficial visit with his mother, Nicole.
Our staff waited for Johnson to arrive outside of UD Arena to start the visit. Once Johnson arrived we went through brief introductions and started to show him a highlight tape. As the highlight tape began we noticed Johnson was swaying back and forth, as well as becoming very dizzy and lightheaded. He had to sit down before he fainted on the spot. The look on our faces was priceless. I was a nervous wreck not knowing what was wrong. We immediately ran down the hallway and got the trainer who asked him some questions and gave him some water. This kid had us scared to death for about 10 minutes. Come to find out Johnson had worked out earlier in the day and had not eaten. He eventually came around and we had a great visit and the rest is history. Johnson was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team as a freshman and was named the Atlantic 10's Most Improved Player, as well as NIT MVP as a sophomore during the Flyers' championship run.
Paul Biancardi: Trust your instincts
In recruiting, the evaluation process may be the most critical. As a former head coach and long-time college assistant over the years, I have evaluated my fair share of players at the high- and mid-major level and there are so many factors you must consider in the process.
On one of my many trips to the state of Michigan as a Boston College assistant, I had the chance to watch Antonio Granger play in a high-profile summer league at St. Cecilia Gym (the temple of hoops in Detroit) with and against many big names. Even though he only scored 12 points, you could see he had a quality skill set with an athletic frame, but a very unassuming personality. Granger broke his wrist in his next game and was out for the summer and fall evaluation periods, but we continued to recruit him, while other programs didn't. We even attended another one of his games, even though he was injured on the sidelines, and later offered him. After four years with the Eagles, Granger became a 1,000-point scorer and was a key player during our Big East championship run in 1997.
Mike LaPlante: To eat, or not to eat?
The recruiting process at the collegiate level allows coaches the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life. In my travels as a head and assistant coach there have been so many great stories and experiences with recruits and peers in our profession that I used to always joke that someday I could write a book. One part of the recruiting process that always has the chance to be an interesting experience is the home visit. It is an opportunity to visit with a recruit and his family in their home and make a good impression, while selling the virtues of the program.
Many times the visit occurs during the dinner hour and some families prepare a meal to share with their house guests. On one such occasion, when I was an assistant coach at Maine, we were visiting a player from the New York/New Jersey area that we invested a lot of time and energy in. He lived in the projects under difficult circumstances with his mother, who was as sweet as they come, and three younger siblings. Before we started to give our presentation we were to have dinner which was tuna casserole. I told the mom how much I liked tuna casserole and asked to wash my hands before we ate.
While in the kitchen washing my hands I noticed three cans of cat food, tuna-flavored, in the trash when I went to throw my paper towel away after drying my hands. They did have a cat, but I was still suspicious. With my new found knowledge I was faced with the dilemma of offending the mom by not eating, or eating what was potentially cat food. Needing to get the player, I did what any good assistant would do. I went back in there, ate my fill and complimented the mom on how it was the best I ever had. The kid ended up choosing a different school and having a nice career, but I'll never forget our night in his home.
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