|Manhattan's Steve Masiello: 'I felt handicapped I couldn't get out and do what I was good at.' (US Presswire)|
When Steve Masiello took over last April as Manhattan's head coach after being an assistant at Louisville for six years, he needed to begin recruiting prospects immediately.
So Masiello ... didn't watch any games for the next four months.
He wasn't allowed, by NCAA rules. Instead, he called nearly 150 basketball people, from scouts to college coaches to other people whose opinion he trusted.
"July is the first time I actually watched a kid I was recruiting," Masiello said. "It was four months until you could really get into it. It was really frustrating."
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He needed to listen to what other people told him, and build a roster based on the opinions of others. Trusting people's basketball opinions is different than completely allowing them to handpick the players you recruit, though, and that was difficult for Masiello to handle.
"I felt handicapped I couldn't get out and do what I was good at," Masiello said. "I had to rely on other people. That's not an ideal situation. You pay your dues to get your job and then you have a seatbelt put on you."
Masiello had no choice, though. For the past several years, college coaches weren't allowed on the road to AAU and travel-team events from the end of March until the early part of July.
Rick Ray is currently in a similar situation where Masiello was a year ago. But instead of calling people he knows in the area, Ray will begin recruiting as the new head coach of Mississippi State by -- wait for it -- actually watching players.
The NCAA got this one right.
In October, the NCAA Board of Directors adopted a new recruiting model for men's basketball, changing or adjusting six major rules. There was the deregulation of contact between coaches and recruits, as well as the fact official visits can now begin Jan. 1 of a prospect's junior year.
In terms of the AAU season, though, the biggest change was opening the final two weekends in April to college coaches. The past few years, coaches were only allowed at travel-team tournaments during two 10-day periods in July. The April events were off-limit to college coaches.
"It would have been a huge disadvantage," Ray said of being a new head coach under last year's rules. "The whole time I would be talking to kids that I haven't had a chance to see play. Schools in my area would have a big advantage on me because they know what they're talking about. More than anything, the kids know the faces. It's important for the kids to see you and get the chance to see them."
Allowing college coaches back on the road for two weekends in April is a positive change for the recruiting calendar. With the number of recruits making early decisions nowadays, it was necessary that coaches gave prospects a true evaluation outside of the school season. There were too many scholarship offers being handed out during the spring AAU season -- when coaches weren't able to watch players.
There were periods where coaches could go to a prospect's high school and watch an open gym or a workout, but it's not the same as high-level competition in a game situation.
"A lot of kids don't do things at their high school, so you don't get a chance to see them," Ray said. "I've been in gym classes to watch kids play kickball just to say I've been there. Just to put a face to a name, so they can say, ‘Mississippi State was in the gym.'"
Coaches were relying on scouting services and other third-party entities to get feedback about a prospect. Some might say that opening these two weekends makes AAU coaches more powerful, but it might neutralize them instead. The players are going to be with the AAU coaches anyway, but now colleges don't need to rely specifically on them in order to find out how a recruit played. College coaches now can see the player for themselves; there's no longer a middleman for the April period.
The new change is helpful for the players, too. They can gather better information heading into the summer, like which schools are legitimately recruiting them and not just keeping in touch. A college coach showing up to watch a player is very different than making one or two phone calls.
"I think anytime a player trying to play college ball has the chance to play in front of college coaches, it's a great opportunity," said Tyler Ennis, the No. 27-ranked prospect in the class of 2013. "This is definitely an opportunity to see how interested schools are in you, whether or not they come to watch you play."
Coaches can now watch several targets in one setting, and watch them go against multiple other Division-I players. During the school season, not every prospect is going against the stiffest competition on a nightly basis. Moreover, coaches can get an accurate evaluation of their targets before heading into the July period. A list of 20 targets can be whittled down to a more manageable number.
"One of the best things about seeing kids play is seeing who to recruit, but it also lets you know who not to recruit," Ray said. "It helps you work more efficiently as a staff."
There have been cases where a player raised his stock during April -- Anthony Davis and Mitch McGary are two examples -- and they were receiving offers sight unseen. While those two players seem to be working out just fine, there are players who do it on a lesser scale too.
"I was offering everyone under the sun," Masiello said. "I needed a point guard. I needed players."
If a school accepts a commitment from a player without seeing them in person, it could lead to problems. It's one of the many reasons the transfer list is well over 300 players long and still growing, and also one of the reasons there are more de-commitments and pulled scholarships late in the recruiting process.
For example, a coach may have offered a scholarship in April without watching a prospect in person; after seeing him play a few months later, that coach might not always like what he sees. If the aforementioned player already committed, does the coach honor that commitment – or does he pull the scholarship offer? Also, if he lets the player fulfill his commitment, do the two parties then "part ways" after the prospect's freshman year?
A coach watching a recruit in person is really the only true way to gauge if he will fit into a certain system or basketball culture.
"Transfer numbers will go down. Simply because of the ability to watch players," Masiello said. "You have to take someone. Sometimes, he might not fit into what you want. The next thing you know, the kid and the coach didn't click."
With the opening of two recruiting periods in April, coaches will be able to track the progress of certain prospects. They can watch them during the school season, then see them in April and then again in July. In 2011, there were zero evaluation periods from March 30 until July 6. A lot can change about a player's game -- and recruiting situation -- in four months.
Now, coaches will be able to observe those changes along with the scouting services, analysts, reporters and everyone else that follows the world of recruiting.
"The system was flawed," Masiello said. "They've addressed it and it's better for coaches and student-athletes."
"[Recruits] are playing in these events anyway, whether we come out or not," Ray added.
Starting this weekend, the coaches will certainly be out in full force. And that's a good thing for everyone involved.