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Once banned, college coaches now can call, text recruits all they want

by | Senior College Basketball Blogger
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Roy Williams and his fellow coaches should find the new rules liberating -- and less confusing. (Getty Images)  
Roy Williams and his fellow coaches should find the new rules liberating -- and less confusing. (Getty Images)  

At midnight Thursday, as the calendar turns to Friday the 15th, college basketball coaches across this nation will simultaneously hit send from their smartphones. It will be the culmination of a battle won for them and for common sense to coaching in the contemporary recruiting era.

Also, it will be a little creepy. A smattering of the texts sent and will look something like this: "Just wanted to make sure you know we're sending a message to you FIRST, because you're our most coveted prospect. If you wanna chat, hit me back whenever. I'll be up all night."

Some might look like this: "Isn't this great, that we can talk like this all the time now? Just wanted to let you know you're still on our list. We'd love to have you on campus as soon as possible."

Unfortunately: Got the new Jay-Z and Kanye CD. Love it. What's your favorite track? I love number 4. That s*** kray."

I fear a few of these could be sent by the time the sun rises Friday: "If there's anything we can do to sway your decision, don't hesitate to ask. And if you'd like to call one of my other guys who's close with the program and would love to help you out, here's his number."

Others I imagine go like this: "If you've received a text message from coach K or Roy Williams, it's a fake. They're too old to text."

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While you can't tell me this won't happen: "I love Duke. And we'd love to have you be part of the Great Tradition at Duke. -- Mike Krzyzewski, Gold Medal Winner, USA Basketball Coach, Four-Time NCAA Champion. American Express cardholder."

Jokes aside, the almost-universal action will be an acknowledgment of past recruiting practicalities and a thrust into the unbeatable technological, communicative future. The NCAA's revised rule on text messaging and phone calls will officially go into effect, meaning any recruit who is finishing up or has already completed his sophomore year of high school is eligible to be raided by text messages and phone calls the way so many of us pathetic guys have been overbearing before with girlfriends or wished-they-were-our-girlfriends in the past.

Yes, I want you to imagine the memorable, pathetic Favreau scene from Swingers, then picture some college coaches channeling that desperation over the course of this summer and years down the road. It's not only unlimited texting to graduating sophomores and juniors (seniors, of course, already having chosen their college of choice by the time they get their high school diploma). There will not be a limit on phone calls anymore. For the past few years? Only one call per month, with strict limits on text messages and private messages on social media services. It unquestionably stagnated the process, and simple things like missed phone calls would incite coaches to regrettably break minor rules in order to ensure they somehow talked or texted a recruit.

Or, even worse, things like this would happen:

"There's been several times this spring where I've called a recruit, he won't take it, and texts back, 'Who is this?' And you can't text him back. So I have to find his high school coach later and tell the kid who it is," new Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall said.

Instead of a give-and-take and natural feel-it-out process, for many months of the year, recruiting was a cat-and-mouse chase. From there, the reality of a prospect's prospects and a program's pool of players isn't on the same wavelength. Recruits want attention, but they want it only from the schools and coaches they admire and seek to play for. The courting can be more direct now, and coaches can get an idea of who to hone in on. Less manpower will be used on irrational targets.

"The rule needed to be changed back," Dayton's Archie Miller said. "Even from five years ago, when you could text, it's so much more elevated now."

So, is this a good thing overall? Even if the rule had to be changed -- and it did, no doubt; the limits on text messages and phone calls in general redefined the word "archaic" when it came to recruiting -- what sort of culture are we entering into now? The intent of the rule is not only tech- and common sense-minded, but it also aims to take out third-party go-betweeners, which many coaches used anyway in recent years, as their phones needed virtual padlocks depending on the time of year and age of recruit.

This slims down the phonebook-thick NCAA rule book just a bit, and will prevent any more coaches (think: Kelvin Sampson) from being fired over text messages and phone calls. On the flip side, discretion is modus operandi some will struggle with. Oh, things are going to get awkward, for sure.

"Number one, you have to have a plan of attack going in," Miller said. "When you talk to a kid and his family, I've had parents say don't text my kid, just text me. It's always been my impression you want to talk to them as much as you can, and if they don't hit you back, then you understand."

Miller's now 15 months into the job, knows it more, and has his philosophies aligned. Last year it was "scramble and gamble," and now the rule particularly allows him to line up and chase down his recruits. For every open scholarship he has, Miller said he'll go after four kids, hoping to land one of them. Yes: batting .250 is success for many schools.

"I'm not 35 years into this deal. I have to really earn it," Miller said. "As a head coach, if I'm involved early, I'm going to work my own way, with my own tactics. That doesn't mean I'll be texting 36 guys, but there will be ones I will now go after."

Before, he couldn't do that with direct communication. Now he's free to even privately message players on Twitter. I do wonder what a lot of coaches have planned for a few hours from now, because make no mistake, June 15 means the start of a new war. Tonight is one big reconnaissance mission. It will honestly feel like the closest thing to Christmas for many coaches whose jobs rely on reeling in the right guys in order to win long term.

If you're skeeved out by the process, know that not every coach out there will be clock-watching.

"Well, I'm not going to throw a midnight text party," Robert Morris' Andy Toole said. "If a kid doesn't come to Robert Morris because we didn't text him at midnight, he's probably not the right kid anyway."

Good perspective. Other coaches won't follow that philosophy.

"I guarantee at bigger schools there are texts ready to go out to two or three hundred kids at midnight," Cornell's Bill Courtney said. He should know -- he has worked with BCS programs before.

"I think eventually it will calm down, but in the beginning, you'll have young, aggressive assistants wanting to prove themselves as recruiters. They're already foaming at the mouth."

And that's where the head coaches and the assistants who are, I don't know, around 40 years old or younger are best suited. They've adapted to cellphones and smartphones more than guys like Jim Boeheim, Tom Izzo, Jim Calhoun, etc. Courtney said he has talked to older guys in the establishment recently, and they've said there's no way they're getting into the text wars at this point in their lives/career. That's fine, but Tyndall's right when he says this:

"There's no way it can't be an advantage. The younger staffs and tech-savvy staffs will have better ways to build a relationship."

Like Miller (33), Toole is one of the youngest coaches in the game (31). For guys like him, at programs like RMU, the new rule also levels the playing field to an extent. Here's how: Before, with recruits able to receive only one call per month from RMU, or Temple, or Duquesne, or Pitt, the real desire or intensity of the recruiting couldn't be measured. The actions couldn't support the words. Now the smaller teams can chase after recruits that sometimes -- and yes, this goes both ways -- wildly overestimate how much a bigger school is interested. The big boys, they tick off recruits like extra items on a shopping list just because they can.

Now? When Robert Morris really wants a player, that player will know. And after, say, the tether to Temple's line goes silent, it adds perspective so the recruit really knows who's most interested.

"I think, now, if we really feel a kid's a priority, and we want to go overboard with text and phone calls, 'Hey, these guys are calling me four times a week, or every other day, or texting me every day and are showing me I'm a priority,' " Toole said, adding that such a philosophy isn't as smothering as you might think because "kids are really good at avoiding you. If they don't have interest in you, you'll find out real quick."

As it goes with anything, the nature and volume of the conversation/texts will depend on the kid. Still, though it's a two-way street, the coaches are the ones controlling the traffic. For example, some players will want the attention. They'll crave it. It has become that way more and more, and that could speak to some level at why college basketball is a different, and worse, game than it was 20 years ago. But others don't want or need to be coddled and cooed at.

Truth is, in the big picture, the rule's just going to prevent a lot of coaches from getting in trouble, and in turn give the NCAA less work in tracking down tedious secondary violations. On the whole, the same level of player is going to go to the same level of school he was always going to go to. The actual school might change, because solid relationships will be fostered, but this rule doesn't mean Michigan State loses its stature amid the horde just because Tom Izzo doesn't know how to text. Younger staffs will have advantages, but few things sway recruits like big-time school logos and precedents of putting players into the pros.

Assistants have been doing the bulk of the recruiting for decades now, and it will stay that way. The big benefit is the head coach can make the crucial call whenever he wants now. And when is more communication a bad thing? You know, except for when the girl won't call you back.

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