10 Recruiting Rules of Thumb


This list is far from complete, and I’m not making the case that these 10 “rules” are the 10 most important. Also, as each school and each staff is different, recruiting priorities and philosophies and strategies do and should vary wildly. But some of these ideas are hopefully applicable to some of the college coaches who read this article. As always, thanks to anyone who chooses to read this, and thanks to Coach Raveling for providing this opportunity to share some thoughts.

You never know who can actually help you, and many who say they can in fact can not, but ANYONE can hurt you.

With this in mind, be nice to everyone- the JV coach, the secretary, the janitor, EVERYONE. It’s hard to make a loyal friend, but it’s easy to make a grudge-holding enemy; and most of the time when you make an enemy, you don’t even know it. But if you’re deliberately kind and respectful, you can generally avoid accumulating enemies, which can only help you.

Follow up on every lead.

Answer all texts, emails, letters, and phone calls. This is basic, but it’s not easy. Maybe the best modern example of this principle’s importance is the case of Lewis Dale. Lewis was from Alabama, which is generally less on Ivy League coaches’ radars than places like New York and California, so he didn’t initially have any Ivy League interest in spite of his excellent academic track record as well as a fair amount of athletic accolades. Lewis therefore adopted a proactive approach and sent a letter and game film to all 8 Ivy League schools. Unlike the majority of the other Ivy League schools, Cornell bothered to watch the game film and follow up, and the result of Lewis’s self-marketing efforts plus Cornell’s diligence was a match that produced 3 consecutive Ivy League titles. Had Cornell not watched the film and followed up, or if some of the Ivy League schools with bigger “reputational endowments” than Cornell had matched Cornell’s level of organization and hard work, history might be quite different.

Cast a wide net.

It’s important to spend a lot of time and energy recruiting your top priorities (the sniper approach). However, it’s also important to understand that things don’t always work out exactly like you hoped they would, which is why it’s important to cast a wide net so you have backup options and backups to your backups (the shotgun approach; aka “keeping guys warm”). Without good backups, it’s easy to fall into panic mode and reach on a kid you don’t know much about, which can produce mistakes. This is why head coaches shouldn’t allow all assistants to use the sniper approach- each staff needs at least 1 shotgun guy, in my opinion.

Take care of and hold onto the players already in your program.

If you’re a head coach who treats recruits like gold but treats the kids on the team like (manure), you’ll suffer from high transfer rates, and inevitably suffer in recruiting also as word spreads about your two-facedness. To me, head coaches (the whole staff really) should continually strive to ensure that the kids are happy and well taken care of, which means treating them well and looking out for them and helping them- just like we all did when we were recruiting the kids- and if you do, you won’t need to replace as many good or promising players in the Spring. In short, recruiting never ends.

Maintain relationships whether you get the kid or not.

Handle the bad news of a kid choosing another school with unselfishness and good manners, and stay in touch with the high school coaches, grassroots coaches, and any other 3rd parties whether you sign the kid or not. By resisting the temptation to behave like an ass when you lose a kid (I was not always personally able to follow my own advice here) and by staying in touch, the people you encounter in the basketball community will come to view the nature of your relationship as genuine rather than transactional. At the end of the day, genuine relationships might be the very best way to get a kid you aren’t supposed to get.

Speaking of 3rd parties- embrace them.

“3rd parties” get a bad rap, in some cases deservedly so; but regardless of the variety of feelings different coaches have toward 3rd parties, all coaches should recognize and accept two facts about 3rd parties:

1. Many 3rd party “advisers” have influence over kids who can help your program win games.

2. The somewhat recent phenomenon of 3rd party recruiting influence is here to stay.

And yet, in spite of the above listed facts, many college coaches transparently resent dealing with 3rd parties, which is both self-defeating and unintelligent. First of all, spending time and emotional energy complaining and worrying about something that you can’t change makes absolutely no sense. But second, and perhaps more importantly, if you make 3rd parties feel resented, most will in turn resent you, which means they’re very unlikely to advise a prospect to attend your school. If, on the other hand, you embrace 3rd parties and treat 3rd parties with respect, then the odds go up dramatically that the 3rd parties will embrace you and want to help you.

NEVER compare a kid who isn’t ready to say yes with a kid who is ready to say yes.

If one kid is ready to say yes and another kid is not ready to say yes, it makes no sense to compare them with each other. This all-too-common practice causes tons of confusion, which leads to indecisiveness, which leads to missed opportunities and mistakes. If Billy is ready to say yes and Henry is not ready to say yes, you and the rest of the staff should ask yourselves “can Billy help us win games?” not “is Billy better than Henry?” or you could end up with neither Billy nor Henry.

Focus on players, not on perceived “needs”.

Programs who want a “face up 4 man” or a “big wing” regularly miss out on all-league caliber players who don’t cleanly fit into their unnecessary self-constructed recruiting mental prisons. If you’re looking for a face up 4 man, you’ll definitely find one, but he might not be anywhere close to as good as that 6’1 lefty scoring combo guard you saw in Vegas. At the end of the day, a college basketball program needs GOOD PLAYERS, and recruiting based on position or “need” restricts options, which leads to mistakes.

Avoid the temptation to rush to judgment.

One of my mentors (and favorite people) John “Johnny O” O’Connor advised me years ago to always see a kid play 3 times before forming an opinion. A lot of inexperienced recruiters (and scouts!!) convince themselves they can spot a good (or bad) player “just like that.” Thankfully, I had good mentoring and normally made it a point to keep my mouth shut until I saw a prospect play for the 3rd time (this isn’t always possible, in which case you should get as much film as you can). I was so happy that Johnny O had given me that head’s up, because there were countless times I loved a kid the 1st time I saw him but hated him the 2nd time, and the reverse was true just as often. By being patient and open-minded about player evaluations, I was usually able to avoid the ego-based human shortcoming of forming strongly held but lightly informed opinions (at least in this area).

Engage in “stash and retrieve.”

Sometimes as an assistant coach, you encounter kids you really like but can’t take them now because you don’t have a scholarship available or the head coach thinks he needs a specific position or skill set that the kid doesn’t really fit or the kid has academic issues or whatever the case may be. In these cases, you should place them in prep or JuCo (and you should also seek out kids to help place rather than just helping the kids who happen to come across your desk). It’s a classic win-win-win-win. The kid needs a home, the coach needs good players, your program can benefit if your head coach later decides to recruit the kid (most prep and JuCo coaches will try to construct a wall around a kid if you want him and you’re the one who placed him there), and you benefit by building up all sorts of good will (and favor bank deposits) with prep coaches, JuCo coaches, and anyone else you worked with to place the kid (can be high school coaches, grassroots coaches, overseas coaches, agents, etc). Stash and retrieve is one of the best ways to sign kids who are better than your league (this is particularly true working with overseas kids and non-qualifiers), which is why it’s worth the extra work.

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