ST. LOUIS - When I woke up this morning in room 302 of the Drury Inn beside the airport here in St. Louis, it was with mixed emotions.
I’m excited to get back and see my wife and daughter for a couple days before taking back to the road again for the Peach Jam.
However, I was sad – sad to leave UT-Pan American’s Ryan Marks after three days of being his sidekick on the recruiting trail, sad not to be able to awake to a third consecutive breakfast prepared by Mrs. Marks - and disappointed to leave my peeps.
It’s almost like breaking up with a girlfriend – except that Marks and I will definitely stay in constant contact after this separation.
You see, I didn’t really know Marks going into this deal.
I had met him twice. Briefly.
Once was in the parking lot out in Las Vegas – and the other was at the Final Four a couple years ago with my nephew.
But, honestly, I didn’t remember much about him.
I had heard from his peers that he was a heck of a coach, that he had an infectious personality – and was a terrific man.
I witnessed all three personality traits – and much more over the last few days.
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I pitched it to Parrish – and he loved it.
With one caveat.
He would be the one to ride the coattails of the high-major coach.
C’mon, Gary. Let’s face it: You wouldn’t have gotten to Day 2 in Milwaukee before taking your meticulous haircut back to your high-major peeps.
I knew I was going with the low-major guy, the grinder. That was me when I broke into the basketball recruiting game a decade ago, so this was going to be a breeze.
Parrish came up with Izzo in a matter of seconds. For me, it took longer. The requirements were fairly simple:
1) My guy had to start in the same spot as Izzo in Indianapolis.
2) He had to be at one of the most difficult jobs in America.
3) He needed to be on a tight budget.
4) Personality – My guy couldn’t be a bore because I was going to be on his hip for the better part of 72 hours.
5) He needed to have a semi-crazy and unique schedule over the first three days.
So, I sent out an e-mail to the bottom 100 programs or so searching for the ideal candidate. I must have gotten back 75 responses, but the one from UT-Pan American assistant Nick Bennett sold me.
It had both he and Marks’ schedule. It included how Marks would be staying at his mother’s home in Chicago and also how Marks basically pays for his assistants flights the entire month.
Marks was the choice – and this low-major recruiting thing, as I said, was going to be easy.
I was overwhelmed when I walked into the gym yesterday in St. Charles, Missouri – the site of Jerry Mullins’ junior college events.
Yet guys like Marks have to somehow navigate these deals and try and come up with a team that’s able to take their programs to the next level.
Last night was one of the most enjoyable dinners I’ve ever had on the recruiting trail – and there’s been no shortage of those. There we were – six of us in all – sitting around a table telling stories at the Outback in St. Charles.
Marks, with New Orleans assistant Bill Lewit next to him. There were two of Lewit’s former players when he was a Juco coach at Cecil in Maryland: Jareem Dowling, in his first season at Morehead State, and Azeez Ali, who has been at IPFW the last couple of years. The final one, like Lewit, was one of Marks’ closest friends in the business and the guy who replaced him at Division II St. Edward’s in Austin: Andre Cook.
There were no egos.
Well, except maybe my own.