Nothing is ever easy
Lights go out, tempers flare, drunk parents ... strange things happen during home visits
A good college basketball coach not only needs to be a master in the gym, but also a lord of the living room. Home visits can be the key to getting a recruit to sign with the program, but sometimes, a home visit doesn't necessarily end up in the home and other times, the definition of living room can be used loosely.
In other words, it's not always just sitting on the couch, eating a homemade snack and talking. Not by a longshot.
Vans, fish and prospects
Bill Self was at Tulsa when it was time for Billy Gillispie and him to make their pitch to George Williams in Missouri City, Texas. Self landed at the airport and was greeted with the news that the rental car company ran out of sedans. The Tulsa two are issued a standard, 15-passenger white van. So much for arriving in a big-time ride, but the utility vehicle came in handy.
"We go to this kid's home in this van. They lose electricity; we can't do a presentation. We pack everyone into our 15-passenger van for the in-home visit," Self said. "We didn't get him."
Then there was the time Self's home visit with Jay Mauck and his father began on a boat. Self and current Kansas assistant Barry Hinson caught fish, but didn't land a prospect.
"We're at Oral Roberts and we get there early and his dad is a fishing guide," Self said. "He takes us out on his boat and asks us if we're ready to catch some fish. He takes his pole out; he starts beating the water and fish start jumping in the boat.
"We can't bait our hooks fast enough. We go home, cook 'em up and we couldn't convince [Mauck] to come but I've never done that before. I don't know how to fish but it was a lot more fun after he started calling them to the boat."
Armed and dangerous
Self found out the hard way that a fishing pole wasn't the answer. Florida coach Billy Donovan, however, found success with a Nerf gun.
Donovan and assistant Rob Lanier landed in Fort Lauderdale to conduct an in-home visit with Kenny Boynton and his family. On their way to the Boyntons, Donovan stopped in at a dollar store to pick up his prop.
The Florida coach was intent on making his point to Boynton. He wanted the guard and his family to clearly understand that the message he intended to relay was the truth, and nothing but the truth. To make his point, he armed his audience with the Nerf gun he bought for a buck earlier in the day.
"Basically they could take the gun and shoot me if at any point they felt like I was lying to them," Donovan said. "There were people telling Kenny he would take 30 shots a game, be a point guard, etc. There was so much stuff out there during his recruitment. He was a priority for us, I knew his game.
"I said I was going to tell them how I feel and what I believe to be the truth. I told them to pick the gun up and shoot me if they thought I was lying. So I put a Nerf gun out there and they started laughing."
Later, Boynton shot Donovan a call and committed.
With home visits, you've got to expect the unexpected, unless you're Bobby Hurley. He knew exactly what was going to happen when former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino came to his house. While Massimino wasn't there to recruit Hurley -- the then-St. Anthony's star had already picked Duke over Villanova and a host of schools -- but was after another St. Anthony's player, Jerry Walker, and they had the visit at the Hurley house with Walker and St. Anthony's coach Bob Hurley, Sr.
"Rollie gave me a little bit of a tongue lashing on the phone when I had made my decision," Bobby Hurley said. "My dad wasn't thrilled with that. Rollie allowed that to carry over into Jerry's recruitment. I was hiding out in the basement because it didn't look like it was going to turn out too well."
It didn't. Massimino was tossed from the Hurley's home and was wisely escorted out before Hurley was ready to go a few rounds.
Walker ended up at Seton Hall.
To the college basketball community, West Virginia assistant Billy Hahn is one of the game's more loquacious elder statesmen. He's always armed with a joke, but even he can get caught off guard.
Years ago, Hahn's target was the son of a Baptist minister and apparently, right before the in-home visit, the kid's father held a meeting at the family home.
"The next thing you know there's a whole circle of people including dad and the kid and they're all speaking in tongues," he said. "I'm going 'What in the hell is going on?' I'm nervous. I'm in a full-fledged prayer meeting with the kid I'm recruiting, the father and the mother in a circle. They all break out and speak in tongues. I start sweating. I was freaking out.
"They stop speaking in tongues, they come out of it and they talk a little more. They went in and out in speaking in tongues a half a dozen times. They broke up the prayer meeting and then I had to have the home visit. It was the wildest thing I've ever seen."
Now starting ... Jim Beam
As important as it is to get the message across to the players, the parents play just as important of a role. They obviously have a huge impact on the decision. They'll ask all kinds of questions and coaches need to be ready to answer them all. One wrong answer and it's over.
Like the time a pair of coaches entered the home of an elite player (who is now an NBA star) and are trying to convince him to play for them. Everything was going good, right up until the time the dad walked in the house.
"The dad was going away on a military tour to Korea. We're talking to the kid and his mom, and in comes the dad, drunk, with six of his friends. We don't even know he's leaving the next day. He walks in and says 'I verbally commit my son ...'," said an assistant coach who was there for the visit. "The kid and his mom are embarrassed. Dad says, 'We'll sign right now if you can tell me if Jim Beam is alive and well. We'll sign the papers right now.'"
Problem is the other coach in the house, who was new to the program, told the father he'd never heard of Jim Beam and asked what years he played at the school.
"I knew then we were wasting our time."
The prospect went on to sign and star with another school.
Tricks of the trade
Not every visit is as challenging as Hahn's. However, setting the tone is key when you're in the living room. You've got to be able to control the conversation.
"Rick Barnes was known for doing card tricks," said Fran Fraschilla, who coached at St. John's, New Mexico and Manhattan College and is now an analyst with ESPN. "He used to disarm the kids. They loved it."
"NC State assistant Tommy Abetemarco used to wear a T-shirt under his dress shirt and tie to the home visits. It would say 'NC. State wants ...' He would rip open his shirt during the visit."
Fraschilla had a few tricks up his sleeve in the living room as well. During Brevin Knight's recruitment, the coach handed the point guard a basketball. "You've got to be able to trust your point guard. I gave him a ball and told him to give it back to me in four years," Fraschilla said.
Unfortunately, Knight gave it back a few weeks later and picked Stanford.
There are a handful of coaches who make it tough to say no. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is one of those guys. However, Coach K would be the first to admit he wouldn't turn down a living room assist. When he recruited Hurley, the coach benefited from a great campus visit the day before with the Duke players.
"I only did one and I basically surrendered during the home visit," Hurley said.
When you're under the gun like Hurley and a legend is parked in your living room, surrendering isn't such a bad option. Just ask Boynton, who laid down his arms for Donovan.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.
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