Merrimack Women’s Head Coach Monique LeBlanc was generous enough to share her thoughts with me last month. She always is. Last July we discussed managing individual expectations and five-out concepts. The year before she elaborated on shot selection, shot technique, and time and score. Coach LeBlanc’s knowledge of the game and how she communicates her knowledge is impressive.
One of the questions I asked her this time around is a part of her job that she wishes she could outsource. Her answer was that she wishes she could be in two different places at once. Recruiting and looking out for the future of the program is a challenge while balancing the team’s potential in the present.
There Isn’t Enough Time
As a public high school coach, the players of the future and present are conveniently located in the same region. The idea of trying to build the future and optimize the present simultaneously is a challenge, but manageable. Coach LeBlanc was recently recruiting players in Louisville, Kentucky while her players were back on campus in North Andover, Massachusetts. As a consequence, she was not around the team at a point in the off-season where she is able to run one-hour sessions with them. Like virtually any head coach, her assistants are more than capable of running the team. That said, I have had to run practices as an assistant coach before. Everyone feels the void – especially the assistant coaches.
As if being on the road is not conflicting enough, coaches can never get enough time to recruit either. Nike and Adidas hosted AAU tournaments in Chicago and Indianapolis respectively on the same dates last month. Coaches have to choose or divide and conquer with other staff members. If they choose to attend the AAU games it only complicates matter for the players already in uniform on campus.
The entire process of recruiting winds up being horribly inefficient. Anyone that has ever worked in sales probably understands the process. Coaches spend a large percentage of time with players that ultimately decide to go somewhere else. It is a part of the process, but after dealing with the frustrating results it makes sense that Coach LeBlanc wishes she could be in two places at once.
Scholastic Games Are Informative but Taxing
From the perspective of college coaches, a high school basketball experience is vastly different than an AAU experience in two ways. First, at the scholastic level, players are usually closer with teammates. In the case of public schools, players grew up together. For private schools, they are around one another for six hour per day in addition to basketball. At the AAU level, players certainly develop chemistry too, but do not have the same bonds as a consequence of being in different environments outside of basketball. If a coach is trying to discover what type of teammate a potential recruit is, scholastic games will typically provide more information.
Second, high school games follow a practice to game routine that more closely models a college schedule. Most high schools have a game to practice ratio of around 2 to 1 or 3 to 1. The AAU model incorporates multiple games without any practice on the weekend and a variable amount of practices during the week. The overall ratio is tilted more toward games. Since high school gives coaches a higher percentage of preparation time, college coaches can benefit from seeing how adept players are in the system of their scholastic coach.
The AAU Counterpoint
The argument can be pushed in the other direction. You can argue that players who get along well with an AAU teammate is going to be valuable at the collegiate level because they are well-adjusted. Likewise, players that do AAU are able to react to a variety of different skill sets and systems in a single day. All fair points. It gets back to the initial point that Coach LeBlanc made. Ideally, coaches would watch recruits in both environments.
The problem is that coaches need to be able to coach the current roster in order to eventually coach a recruit. The high school season falls directly in the path of the college season. Which means that coaches are making an even tougher sacrifice with their time than they are in July.
Why Do Transfers Happen?
Ultimately most transfers stem from two sources. The player or the coach. I know that part is obvious, but let me elaborate in a little more detail.
From the player’s standpoint, the culture in some AAU circles is not conducive to long term success regardless of what program the player chooses. I wrote about the issue that players have in certain highly regarded programs with being coddled (#5 on the list of ten things not to do as a coach). Players that are coddled are less likely to respond to adversity of all kinds at a more competitive environment. The adversity includes athletics and academics.
More simply than being coddled, a player might transfer as a result of struggling with an entirely new lifestyle in college. Especially if a student-athlete is far from home, there is no telling how they will react to a different environment.
From the coach’s perspective, the issue once again goes back to time. The coach clearly missed something in the original evaluation if the player leaves the school. Perhaps it was that they got to see the player, but did not get to know the player. Maybe only seeing a player’s best performance or versus inferior competition. Coach LeBlanc told me that her goal is to get to see the player at least four times. By watching four times, outlier performances do not influence the decision. She can remain open-minded about the recruit.
Film Is Insufficient
Coach LeBlanc told me she looks at film, but it is not something that she likes to rely on exclusively. Film of high school players by amateur videographers at imperfect angles in confined gyms is difficult to evaluate. The speed of the game is easier to judge in person as is the character of the player. Seeing what they are doing on the bench or in huddles at stoppages is essential to matching them with your identity and culture.
Robin Williams character in Goodwill Hunting stated, “You’ve never been inside the Sistine Chapel.” The point he was making is that there are some instances in which you cannot substitute for a tangible experience. Film is useful, but not as an exclusive means to recruiting. Coaches should watch the player in person and on film.
Even if film were sufficient, seeing the recruiting process through the lens of players makes it harder to sell them. Tommy Amaker said that he and his family lost interest in Maryland partially because of the way that Coach K looked his mother in the eyes. Making the sacrifice to be there in person sends a message.