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New Head Coach Recruiting

December 24, 2003 Columns No Comments

Getting it Done on the Recruiting Trail

by Phil Kasiecki

When a new head coach takes over a program – often with an entirely new staff – recruiting can suffer. Players being recruited may not know what to make of the new coach and if he’s significantly different from the previous coach that he knew. In fact, this is one reason that oftentimes an assistant or two from the previous staff is retained if possible.

On the flip side, a new coach often brings new energy to a program. He may be taking over for a head coach who was fired, or perhaps his predecessor has moved on to another head coaching position from doing a great job at that school. In either case, there can be obstacles in recruiting, but also benefits; a better coach can attract better recruits, and a coach with a different style may attract different and/or better recruits than the predecessor, even if the recruits from before led to success. This season, several new head coaches put to rest any concerns about recruiting by faring very well in the early signing period.

It’s not surprising that Roy Williams put together a good class at North Carolina. He’s known as one of the best coaches in the game, and that along with the school’s tradition will be enough to lure plenty of top recruits. He inherited a commitment from the all-time leading scorer in the state of North Carolina, JamesOn Curry (6’3″ SG), but didn’t rest on his laurels. He filled out the class with Marvin Williams (WA) and J.R. Smith (6’6″ SG-SF, Lakewood (NJ) St. Benedict’s), two of the elite prospects in the class, and added a combo guard who may be the point guard of the future in Quentin Thomas (6’3″ PG-SG, Oakland (CA) Tech). Williams can play both forward spots, while Smith might be the best athlete in the class and has really improved since the spring.

The man who took over for Williams at Kansas, Bill Self, hasn’t missed a beat on the recruiting trail. Self was out on the road at major events shortly after taking over, and it paid off in the fall. The Jayhawks had just three scholarships for this year, and did very well with them. He first got Darnell Jackson (6’8″ PF, Oklahoma City (OK) Northwest Classen HS), an athletic post player who has a lot of upside. Then he got two top 50 prospects in Russell Robinson (6’1″ SG, New York (NY) Rice HS) and Alexander Kaun (6’11” C, Melbourne (FL) Florida Air Academy). Robinson can score and shoot, while Kaun is a solid post scorer and will be the next star big man in Lawrence.

It’s no surprise that new UCLA head coach Ben Howland is already bringing the top prospects in town to Westwood. Now that the school with the tradition from the John Wooden days has one of the game’s top coaches, players like Jordan Farmar (6’2″ PG) and Aaron Afflalo (6’4″ SG, Los Angeles (CA) Price HS) are going to make up the talent base. Farmar is one of the best floor leaders in the class and will only get better as he gets stronger, while Afflalo is among the top shooters in the class. UCLA also got Lorenzo Mata (6’8″ PF-C, South Gate (CA) High), who had a big spring and summer and is a top shot-blocker with a developing offensive game, though there is a question about his academics. Amazingly, the Bruins already have a start with the class of 2007, as top freshman Taylor King (6’6″ SF-PF, Santa Ana (CA) Mater Dei HS) has already committed to UCLA before he ever played a high school game. It’s safe to say that Howland is off to a good start.

One school that isn’t building on tradition – indeed, it needs some building done – is Columbia, and new head coach Joe Jones is starting to do just that. Among the primary reasons he was hired was his New York ties and recruiting ability, and Jones has certainly put the latter to work with his four-man early class led by Benedict Nwachakwu (6’8″ PF, Richland (NJ) St. Augustine). Nwachakwu, who was highly coveted by other Ivy League schools, doesn’t do anything one thing exceedingly well other than rebound, but he’s a very good start. After committing to the school, he said he would like to be part of what Jones is building, and he’ll certainly get that chance. The Lions have also added good wing talent in Mack Montgomery (6’4″ SG-SF, Clayton (NC) High) and John Baumann (6’7″ SF, Westport (CT) Staples HS). Brett Loscalzo (5’11” PG, Greenwich (CT) Brunswick School) is the floor leader of the future.

When the much-publicized scandal broke during the Jim Harrick regime at Georgia, some tough recruiting times figured to be ahead for the Bulldogs with a coaching change coming and possible NCAA sanctions. But new head coach Dennis Felton has fared better than expected thus far. They only signed two players early, but both are good guards that should also help future recruiting efforts. First, Channing Toney (6’4″ SG, Snellville (GA) Brookwood), an excellent shooter and the son of former NBA star Andrew Toney, signed with them, then they added a tough penetrating guard in Sundiata Gaines (6’1″ PG, Briarwood (NY) Archbishop Molloy HS), who will probably run the show.

Clemson was looking to improve its talent base and on-court performance when it fired Larry Shyatt and hired former Dayton head coach Oliver Purnell. His first commitment was from Baltimore native Cheyenne Moore (6’5″ SF, South Kent (CT) School), a great athlete who could thrive in the ACC with a little more polish in his overall game. He got a rising talent in James Mays (6’8″ PF, Garner (NC) High), a very athletic power forward who is active on the offensive glass but must improve his skills if he is to play small forward, as he sometimes tries to. The last commitment in the fall is a local one and another big-time athlete, Sam Perry (6’5″ SG-SF, Piedmont (SC) Woodmont HS).

Purnell’s departure hasn’t hurt Dayton, as new head coach Brian Gregory put together perhaps the best early class in the Atlantic Ten – and at a time when they need it since depth is at a premium and the Flyers have three senior starters this season. The top player is probably combo forward Norman Plummer (6’6″ SF, Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military Academy), but Jimmie Binnie (6’6″ SF, Johnston (IA) Senior HS) will also be a good addition. Trent Meacham (6’2″ PG, Champaign (IL) Centennial HS) should head the backcourt with help from Brian Roberts (6’1″ SG, Toledo (OH) St. John’s Jesuit HS). Chris Alvarez (6’8″ SF-PF, Blairstown (NJ) Blair Academy) will add frontcourt depth and intangibles.

All of these schools have new coaches who have fared well in recruiting thus far. The next challenge for each is to turn the good recruits into good results on the court.


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