The July evaluation periods – where college coaches can make sure to sit in the stands watching the players they would love to recruit – are in full swing (dates: July 7-15, July 22-31; NCAA basketball recruiting calendar here), and St. John’s fans are very excited for what the recruiting season might bring.
But perhaps Red Storm fans are too excited; there is a lot of ground to make up for the 2011 class of recruits.
St. John’s accumulated a class of 9 seniors before going in another coaching direction with their program. The athletic department has put the new staff in a position that is both theoretically enviable but practically dangerous.
The new coaching staff has the ability to recruit their kind of guys for their system, unlike coaches who have to work with and weed out kids who may not graduate for 3 or even 4 years, kids whose personalities the coaching staff may clash with.
But this position - building a college team almost from the ground up - is also fraught with danger. Having 9 scholarships to give out for 2011, with possibly none to give out for 2012, can also be a burden. There is no established player for incoming recruits to imagine themselves playing with. Whoever comes in will have to start with up to 9 newcomers to the college game.
Having a large number of freshmen, unless the team is Kentucky, usually creates a mistake-prone team with a lowlight reel of missed opportunities. Especially with a new coach, the road to respectability can be tougher + longer than expected, as it has been for schools like Providence and Indiana.
And recruiting itself is a bit of a crapshoot when given so little time to evaluate recruits. Dick Weiss is right in calling the big summer events "bad beauty pageants"; there are a lot of summer league warriors who turn out to be only okay within the structure of the college game (and when asked to play defense). And by the fall of their junior year in high school, most of the desirable players have committed to college programs.
There’s a lot of work to do. So, the ever-helpful East Coast Bias gives 5 goals for Steve Lavin’s cross-country jaunts with his recruiting staff ($) in the July evaluation period, as he tries to round up some talent to make St. John’s a real contender again. (You have more ideas? Add ‘em in the comments.)
Steve Lavin needs to:
1 – Identify AAU teams with 2011 kids who are both a) open in their recruitment and b) are willing to come play in New York.
A lot of young players have been recruited for 2, 3, sometimes 4 years going into their junior season. Many have committed already. Many top players are close to committing. And building a team where at least 2 newcomers will need to start means that there have to be a number of impact players in the rotation from the get go.
But some players are still wide open. Some want the adventure of going somewhere new. Some out-of-town players still feel the allure of Madison Square Garden that some New York players don't feel. Lavin and his staff need to identify which top prospects are intrigued by his history of putting players in the NBA and by playing in New York, and which players are taking his calls as a courtesy, while waiting to pull the trigger on a Villanova offer (for example).
2 – See and be seen… and be mentioned.
The most important aspect of the July evaluation period is the showing of love to prospects by traveling to various tournaments to see the player live. It's part of building rapport with the players, and convincing them to use one of their 5 official visits on the coach's school. For St. John's in particular, it's important to see the players they have identified through word-of-mouth, recruiting services, and professional contacts that Lavin may have from ESPN; and the staff has had to offer scholarships without seeing the players actually play, due to the non-contact periods.
Of course, St. John's also was able to evaluate and be evaluated by some players at the St. John's Skills and Drills camp. Many of those players have added St. John's to their school lists - high major out-of-town recruits like Norvel Pelle, JaKarr Sampson, and regional players like Tavon Sledge (who received an offer from the Red Storm staff), Maurice Harkless, and Kyle Anderson. These mentions - and mentions by Arizona guard Nick Johnson and local guard Myles Mack - help the St. John's name ring out among recruits. A little buzz can make the Red Storm program seem new and revitalized, even though the new staff has not been able to play any games to prove whether that's truth or perception.
3 – Build contacts for the future.
Part of this summer's recruiting push - and part of the skills camp - is to build contacts and set groundwork for future recruits. A coach has to identify guys for the next year or two, with options in case those players commit elsewhere. The Red Storm are in an interesting position; they have roster spots for 2011, but no one graduating in 2012, where they would likely have a better chance at real impact players like Khem Birch, Omar Calhoun, and Jevon Thomas. Those ballers have to be identified and wooed now, so they can become commits next summer or the following fall.
It's also beneficial to watch kids who may one day become less enamored with their college choice, or attend junior college, and may want to transfer to St. John's.
4 – Identify under-the-radar potential.
The Red Storm staff has done a great job identifying players who might consider playing for the new St. John's from around the country, having been mentioned as a possible destination by California guards, Ohio forwards, New Jersey bigs and guards. A faint achievement by some standards; but impressive to me, considering New York players seemed to visit as a courtesy before committing to other schools.
But there are only so many "top-100" recruits to go around. Not all of them are right for certain systems, not all of them are ok with being role players or lower-usage guys; and at some point, St. John's has to fill out the roster when some of those recruits opt for other schools.
There will be junior college players, certainly. But there are always players who fall through the cracks - the undersized, the players who are strong in one skill and deficient in others, the injured, and those who don't play well in the AAU's wide open setting. And with the contacts assistant coach Tony Chiles has in New York, and Mike Dunlap's contacts outside of the US, St. John's may just be able to find some players who can make a difference who aren't on the main recruiting radars with stars or numbers next to their names.
5 – Establish a (wide) geographic range.
One would think the New York City region would be the place to start, but the area is open territory for the Big East and many ACC schools, along with Seton Hall and Rutgers, who will have a talent deficit in 2011. "Willing to play in New York" involves a wide range of players; Steve Lavin has already sold it to one California player (2010 recruit Dwayne Polee), and possibly to a California recruit from France in Remi Barry (who may not qualify, given how long he has waited to hear from the NCAA Clearinghouse).
There is a lot to sell about New York, and not just to local players, who may want to leave the area. There's the lure of big music stars, of an international city, business contacts on Madison Avenue and Wall Street, and the famed Madison Square Garden. St. John's should be able to draw some solid non-US players.
And Lavin still has contacts in California (we'll see how well they pan out); Tony Chiles has recruited the New York region; Rico Hines is from the Washington DC area; while Mike Dunlap has worked in Australia and recruited for colleges out west. It's a wide net. But the concept of recruiting the area hasn't yielded an impact team; a different scope might just help the Red Storm vault into the NCAA Tournament-competitive part of the Big East.