The inevitable initial question that all college coaches have when we, at The Hoop Group, give them a heads up about a potential prospect that we feel they should be recruiting is, “Who does he play for?” There was a time, not too long ago, when the answer that coach was looking for was the name of an accredited state high school. However, the times have changed, and the landscape of recruiting has been monopolized by the AAU scene. Now the answer these coaches are looking for is the AAU team, followed by what shoe company sponsors that AAU team (if applicable), followed by the AAU coach that this player plays for. There are many High School coaches who have been key, proud, contributors in the recruiting process of their players, that will take offense to this, but the fact remains, very few coaches are recruiting players based off their high school success or accolades. The question then becomes, why is AAU basketball dominating the recruiting scene?
The Hoop Group is coming off two major events this summer, Summer Jam Fest at Spooky Nook in Manheim PA (a facility with over 20 courts) with over 200 teams, and our main recruiting camp in the Summer, Hoop Group Elite Session 1, in which their were 850 recruitable athletes. All college coaches would love to recruit their back yard, and there is a tremendous amount of respect for coaches who are able to keep local talent local, however the fact is, when filling a roster there often just isn’t enough talent in a close drivable distance from the college looking for prospects. Furthermore, Kentucky, Marquette, Duke, and UNC excluded, Budgets are a factor for 95 percent of the schools, especially at the mid and lower major level, which causes coaches to have to maximize their budget each time they go on the road to recruit. This means, traveling half way across the country, to see one prospect in a high school game that may or may not be good enough to play, not only isn’t practical, it all together isn’t possible! This is why many coaches have to be office recruiters, listening to scouting services, following box scores, and calling people who are closer to the players who are potential recruits, and often will do 100 percent of their personal evaluations in the small Spring and Summer AAU evaluation periods allotted by the NCAA. This way, there are not only the few players that they are specifically and actively recruiting, there are also a tremendous amount of other student athletes at the event, maybe even the same facility, that they can also recruit, and in turn maximize their time, energy, and budget.
Recently, there was a high level prospect, who possessed none of the traditional high level characteristics of a high major recruit. He was small, marginally athletic, marginally tough, and exceptionally skinny. However, there were numerous high major basketball schools recruiting that player for one simple reason he could score at a HIGH LEVEL. There are often players we see that average over 30 points a game in regular high school basketball, that like this prospect don’t possess many division one qualities to translate to the Division 1 level, and often then end up being recruited at the Division 2 or the Division 3 level. The difference between those players and this particular player was who he was scoring against. The Nike EYBL circuit is one of the most highly touted and highly competitive AAU basketball leagues in the country, and this player, was putting up these gaudy numbers, against some of the best players in the country. With the exception of some powerhouse conferences like the Washington Catholic League, or Federal League in Ohio, there are very few regular high school conferences that are going to possess multiple Division 1 recruits on a night in and night out basis. Talking to one high major coach about the recruit who averaged over 20 points on the EYBL circuit, his view was plain and simple, “common thinking is that with his build and physique he will have trouble playing at this level, but he played as many men in AAU last season and gave them the business over and over again as he will here. I think he can score on anyone!” Coaches want to see players play their best AGAINST the best, and this often doesn’t include scoring 35 against bad high school players and teams.
Who has the Juice?
Everyone wants to know who has the juice? Simply put, the person with the juice is the one who maybe isn’t choosing the college for the player, but has a definitive ability to help guide that player in one direction or another. In short, a coach needs to get on this persons good side to get involved with the player they are trying to recruit. This is something that some coaches will debate, but at the end of the day, the fact remains, AAU coaches are starting to get a tremendous amount of juice with the players within their organizations. With this being said, the AAU organizations that have the best players and have a deciding opinion in the college decision process, are becoming the ones that want to see the coaches in their polos at the games. Whether the coach is standing under the basket, wearing a bright shirt on the sideline, or talking to the AAU coach after the game, the college coach NEEDS to be at the AAU game. Not condoning this whatsoever, many AAU coaches are getting so involved with the players that they are helping them choose not only their colleges, but their high schools as well! These players trust their AAU organizations and they have seen the levels that certain players in the organizations have gotten to, causing that trust and relationship to continue to grow. If the coaches want a relationship with the player, they better get a relationship with the AAU coach, and if they want a relationship with the AAU coach, than they better be at the games of that AAU team.
The old adage that if you are good enough they will find you, I still very strongly believe. However, I think there are many players who are tremendously helping their stock by participating in many high level AAU events that have a ton of teams and a ton of prospects (IE Summer Jam Fest, Buzzer Beater, Hoop Group Elite Camp). At the end of the day the most coaches will go where the most players that they will be able to recruit are, and the most players are playing during the live periods for their AAU teams or at recruiting camps.