- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Boston College pulled off an August recruiting coup for the second straight summer.
The Eagles this week got 6-foot-10 John Oates to commit to play for them this fall after Oates had originally planned on going to Blair Academy (N.J.) for a post-graduate year.
Oates isn't a program changer. But he is a role player who could provide an important piece (i.e., another "big" upfront to complement preseason Wooden Award candidate forward Craig Smith and center Nate Doornekamp) in the Eagles' quest to leave the Big East with another NCAA Tournament berth.
Recruiting August for the upcoming season could become more commonplace now that the scholarship restrictions of the five-and-eight rule are gone.
Pittsburgh has done it in the past under the restriction that kept scholarships down with only five being given out in a given recruiting class, and no more than eight in two classes.
Under the old rule Hawaii wouldn't have been able to add anyone after point guard Logan Lee abruptly left the program in July because the Rainbow Warriors had handed out three scholarships for a total of eight in two years. Hawaii had two scholarships open, so last week the school was able to fill them with a pair of point guards now that the restriction is gone.
Hawaii didn't plan on holding open a scholarship for a late find. BC did. The Eagles always keep at least one of their 13 scholarships open for a possible transfer. Lately, they have kept two aside, one possibly for a late pickup.
A year ago, the Eagles had two open after incoming freshman Dan Coleman split following summer school and transferred to Minnesota. With one of the scholarships, the Eagles found 6-7 Jared Dudley from San Diego. Dudley had been underrecruited, and the Eagles pried him away from San Diego State.
Dudley was one of the top freshmen in the Big East, averaging 11.9 points and 6.6 rebounds in 34 minutes a game.
No one is expecting Oates to duplicate those numbers because he's not going to get the same amount of minutes. But finding another frontcourt player, especially one of Oates' size and potential, is rare for August.
"You have to be flexible with your scholarships,'' Boston College coach Al Skinner said. "When you start handing out your 12th and 13th scholarships, it has to be someone who can help you in one way or another. If it's not someone who can make a difference in our program, then we won't give it out just to give it out.''
Skinner said the decision to keep one open is usually made in April or early May. If the Eagles determine that they didn't fulfill a need, then they will keep one open, hoping they find what they're missing.
In the spring, they felt they needed to sign another big, even though the other three players in the class -- Gordon Watt, Sean Williams and Akida McLain -- were all forwards.
Oates still offers a different look since he's more of a passing big man with the upside to become a more productive scorer. He wasn't recruited at a high level during the season, although he did take a visit to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys watched him a fair amount throughout the year but didn't offer him a scholarship. Oates also visited Holy Cross.
He said his plan was to go to Blair after playing at Don Bosco High in Ramsey, N.J. Oates had the grades to be eligible this fall but wanted a year to continue his development and get recruited at a higher level. He said he worked with personal trainers five times a week, and worked out with his New Jersey Demons summer league coach Rich Leary five to six times a week.
While the plan was still for Oates to go to Blair, he said he got offers in July from BC, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Seton Hall, Saint Joseph's, UCLA, Dayton, Michigan State, St. John's, Florida State and Miami. It's probably debatable that all of them actually offered scholarships for this upcoming season. But the possibility exists that schools were looking for a big man this late in the year.
Oates visited Seton Hall in June and then last weekend went to BC.
"I thought by going to Blair it would open up more options for me, to give me an extra year of working on my game,'' Oates said. "It paid off quicker than I imagined. I was looking for a program that would develop me, and Coach Skinner has a reputation of doing that. I figured it made sense to get going on that sooner than later.''
Oates, who played in the Adidas camp in Atlanta, a Reebok tournament at Fairleigh Dickinson in New Jersey, another event at Seton Hall and then the Reebok Big Time tournament in Las Vegas, said more schools should hold open scholarships for players like him.
"It's a great idea for players who are still developing in the offseason,'' Oates said.
Oates was already a qualifier. That's not always the case for late pickups. When Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon was an assistant, he got Ontario Lett three years ago out of Pensacola JC (Fla.). Lett didn't become eligible until late, but Dixon was there to swoop in and land Lett. Two years later, Lett was a key member of the Sweet 16 Panthers and ultimately graduated.
Dixon did it again as a head coach last August, nabbing guard Antonio Graves. Graves averaged 2.1 points and 0.9 assists in 10.8 minutes off the bench.
"Ontario just signed to play in Korea, and they wanted a nickname for him so I gave them 'Mr. August,' " Dixon said of Lett's late signing. "We don't do this intentionally, but we believe that you have to keep looking.''
Dixon said there are various reasons for August signings: players who don't have grades (like Lett at the time) but then get them later in the summer; players who aren't recruited highly enough (Graves was a MAC recruit); and foreign players who become available.
"It's always hard to find big guys no matter what time of year, so if you can in August you should,'' Dixon said.
Schools losing players to the NBA draft would love to fill a need in August if they could. UCLA lost Trevor Ariza in the spring and would have gladly taken Oates if it could have.
"Who doesn't need a big?'' UCLA assistant Kerry Keating said. "If you're in a position to get one late, it's a good idea.''
Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said he never thought about keeping a scholarship open. It wasn't an issue for him until he lost Delonte West in early June to the NBA draft. Martelli was recruiting Oates for the 2005-06 season, not 2004-05.
But no school may have taken more advantage of the five-and-eight rule being gone than Hawaii.
The Rainbow Warriors picked up two point guards last week in 6-2 Deonte Tatum of Indian Hills (Iowa) and 5-9 Kris Groce of Columbia Basin (Wash.). Getting both takes the sting out of losing Lee so late in the summer.
Apparently, few schools thought Tatum would graduate, but he did. Groce was apparently under the radar throughout the year.
"You have to have good networking,'' Hawaii assistant Jackson Wheeler said. "You have to keep hustling. We didn't keep one open on purpose but it just happened and we had another open from not filling it. We filled our other needs with a shooting guard (Matt Gibson), a four (Matt Gipson) and five man (Chris Botez). But then we needed a point guard, and we got lucky the rule changed.''
Wheeler said the five-and-eight rule used to leave players behind, since schools would have scholarships available but weren't able to use them. Now, with the rule gone, he said more schools might try to sign players in August when they have a need.
"We had a desperate need and we were able to fill it,'' Wheeler said. "It's going to get harder to do that if everyone else is looking (in August) too.''
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His Weekly Word on college basketball is updated Fridays throughout the year.
Boston College, Hawaii and Pittsburgh have reaped the benefits of having a late-summer scholarship available.