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‘It’s uncharted waters’: How college basketball coaches are recruiting during coronavirus pandemic

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SportsPulse: Yes, it will be weird to watch March Madness without fans in the stand. And yes it was the right call by the NCAA. A decision that every sports league should follow.

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Drake assistant coach Matt Woodley is his family’s “chief chaperone and lunch-maker.”

Iowa State assistant coach Daniyal Robinson is making Tik Tok videos with his kids.

South Dakota assistant coach Luke DallaRiva is in Phoenix spending time with his fiancé.

Colorado State assistant coach Ali Farokhmanesh is watching a Disney movie every night with his wife and three young kids.

For these four, and college basketball coaches across the country, life in March 2020 is not what they anticipated. They’d hoped to be playing meaningful basketball. They’d expected to be working out with their guys. And they’d certainly expected to be on the recruiting trail, watching prospects and gearing up for spring visits.

Then, coronavirus halted the world, and college basketball along with it.

The NCAA canceled its 2020 tournament. Then it enacted a dead recruiting period until April 15, meaning coaches cannot have any in-person contact with prospects. So, no campus visits and no in-home visits. Coaches the Register have talked to think the dead period may extend beyond April 15, too.

MORE: Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard discusses canceled postseason tournaments

Spring is crucial for recruiting. It’s when players flood the transfer portal and teams try to fill up rosters. It’s when high school juniors learn which programs they like the most.

Now, a coronavirus-sized wrench is thrown into all of that.

“We can’t go anywhere,” Robinson told the Register. “We’re locked in.”

Schools still have to recruit in these uncertain times. Rosters still need to be filled because, at least right now, there are no plans to delay the 2020-21 season.

What that recruiting might look like, though, when schools can’t host targets for visits or go out to AAU tournaments to evaluate prospects, is up in the air.

“I don’t think anyone knows what to do,” said Ames point guard Tamin Lipsey, one of 2022’s top national prospects. “Players, coaches, programs — it’s all going to be different for everyone.”

When will AAU basketball be back?

Nike, Adidas and Under Armour canceled their April tournaments, including those during the first two evaluation periods in which Division I coaches can attend: April 17-19 and April 24-26.

There is currently one more weekend on the recruiting calendar (July 9-12) when D-I coaches can attend AAU tournaments.

Coaches will tell you how valuable it is to see a prospect play AAU — where there’s more freedom to showcase skills and athleticism, where kids are consistently playing high-level competition. According to the coaches the Register talked to, the NCAA hasn’t given any word regarding when, or if, April’s evaluation periods will be rescheduled.

“They threw out April 15 (as the end of the dead period) last week. And now the 15th doesn’t look so promising,” Robinson said. “I would think here in the next week to 10 days there’ll be some talk about moving those live periods.”

So … when will AAU start again?

It depends on the coronavirus. The CDC has advised against mass gatherings of more than 250 people. This week, it recommended against gatherings of more than 10 people for the next two weeks.

And AAU tournaments are definitely mass gatherings. They host hundreds of prospects, parents and coaches from around the country, often all in one building.

“April’s certainly out,” Lipscomb assistant coach Tyler Murray said. “June, that’s probably pretty close to being out, and July right behind it. And I don’t know what (the NCAA is) going do to try to make up some ground there.”

Ideally, coaches would love things to cool down by May and reschedule the evaluation periods then. If that doesn’t happen, the NCAA likely wouldn’t want to interfere with high school basketball activities in June, Davidson assistant coach Kevin Kuwik said.

Then, that leaves the option of adding more evaluation periods in July or perhaps even early August, if concerns about the spread of coronavirus are alleviated by then.

“It’s uncharted waters,” Kuwik said. “It’s going to affect us.”

How will this impact recruiting in the short term?

All coaches the Register talked to said the coronavirus will affect their jobs with 2020 recruitment more than 2021 recruitment, because there’s no guarantee 2020 targets will be able to take visits before making a decision — usually by the summer.

That includes high school seniors, junior college transfers and transfer portal targets.

“I’ve tried to tell my guys to have an idea of, ‘If you were forced to pick a school right now, where would you pick?'” said Hank Plona, head coach of junior college powerhouse Indian Hills. “Because I do think at some point, whether April 15 gets bumped back to May 15 or June 1, I think the nervousness, and maybe the fact that spring visits aren’t going to happen, will be clear.”

With the exponential growth of the NCAA’s transfer portal, teams have relied more on spring recruiting to fill their roster, and transfers have relied on visits in March and April to make those decisions.

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Without those visits, spring recruiting becomes more daunting — for both parties.

“I’m looking out there seeing teams and staffs that have four or five, six scholarships to fill and I just think, ‘No thanks,'” said Murray, whose Lipscomb program is looking for one 2020 addition.

Iowa State, for instance, has three 2020 scholarships to fill. And with Tyrese Haliburton likely leaving for the NBA, that number could be at least four.

Robinson said they’ve put together videos and virtual tours in an effort to give targets at least some resemblance of a visit experience.

“We’ve just got to hang in there and leverage our relationships that we have to weather the storm of not being able to make contact,” he said. “You’re touching their families. You’re touching all the key people around them. You just can’t get to them face to face.”

Coaches said without visits, relationships and connections will become even more vital — especially longstanding relationships. Because, in these uncertain times, previously built familiarity with a school could be an even bigger factor in a commitment.

“If nobody else can get him on campus, and if you have an established relationship with a kid, I think you can get him,” said Woodley, whose Drake program is looking to add a 2020 recruit. “Because I think people are more scared of the unknown.”

Added Plona: “We have a couple kids that head coaches especially have recruited throughout the year, and I think those are the leaders for a couple of our kids.”

DallaRiva, whose South Dakota program is seeking multiple 2020 additions, said if the dead period extends beyond April 15 and prospects aren’t able to take any spring visits, he sees commitments speeding up around the country.

“Once somebody pops, then I think it’ll be a flurry,” he said. “The benefit, obviously, is the longer you’ve known somebody, the easier it’ll be to get that guy. So the strength of your relationships will benefit you more now than it ever has.”

What about the 2021 class?

Coaches worry they won’t have enough time to evaluate 2021 prospects.

There were only two AAU evaluation periods to scout them last year. Now, there’s only one such period left on the calendar in July, and there’s no guarantee that will happen amid coronavirus concerns.

Spring AAU is often when prospects emerge as targets to watch, Woodley said.

“I think it’s going to hurt a lot of people,” said Tucker DeVries, the Register’s No. 1 2021 prospect in Iowa. “Especially people that don’t have much (attention) yet that are definitely capable of getting it.”

Added Jay Fuhrmann, head coach of Adidas-sponsored D1 Minnesota: “I don’t want to say (prospects) are scared, but there’s an unknown to it. ‘Is anybody going to see me?’ This is their big chance.”

Murray said the uncertain 2020 recruitment process may prevent teams from giving the proper attention to 2021 prospects — especially teams with multiple 2020 slots to fill.

“Your margins are just so thin right now that every head coach is probably going have every staff member on deck trying to fill (2020 slots),” Murray said. “So then the 2021s suffer. They’re not getting the exposure and the attention they need or deserve.”

That lack of exposure and attention could lead to a couple of things, coaches said.

One: More high-major talents will slip through the cracks to mid-major rosters.

Two: More prospects will extend their recruitments into their senior years, simply to give coaches more chances to see them.

“Outside of the top 50-75, maybe top 100 players, you’re going to see probably the most senior-evaluated class in years,” Woodley said. “Because I don’t think a lot of kids are going to sign early. I think you’re going to see a lot of schools recruiting through the kid’s senior year.”

‘More bad decisions and more transfers’: What are the long-term effects?

Without visits, coaches worry remaining 2020 commitments won’t always stick.

Coaches and prospects said visits are by far the best way to determine fit — and that goes both ways. They help kids learn which programs are best for them, and they help coaches learn which kids are best for their program.

“That’s where this stinks for kids and coaches right now,” said Farokhmanesh, whose Colorado State program has an available 2020 scholarship. “There’s probably going to be a lot of fits that don’t work out because either the coach doesn’t know him well enough, or the kid doesn’t know the coaches well enough.”

At this time next year, Murray said he could see more additions to the transfer portal than ever before.

“(This could lead to) more bad decisions and more transfers,” said Kuwik, whose Davidson program has one open 2020 slot. “You can never have enough information either as a coaching staff or a recruit. And this is going to just make that harder.”

Plona and DallaRiva also brought up an academic issue: What happens to prospects who haven’t taken or haven’t passed the ACT or SAT? The ACT has rescheduled its April 4 test to June 13, and the SAT still has its June 6 test on the schedule.

Will those prospects get less attention because they won’t have an opportunity to pass their test in the spring?

And if the summer tests get canceled, would the NCAA allow them to enroll at a four-year university just based on GPA requirements?

“I have no idea what’s going to happen with these kids,” Plona said. “I’m not sure if they’re going to get a waiver, or they’re going to get extended times, or if there’ll be a test in the summer, or if they might need to fall into junior college.”

Coaches believe the NCAA is focused on taking care of spring sports right now. But, after that, questions will need to be answered.

And there’s plenty of them.

Matthew Bain covers recruiting, Iowa/Iowa State athletics and Drake basketball for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at mbain@dmreg.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.

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Source: Des Moines Register