Tag:2011 recruiting trip
Posted on: July 9, 2011 6:58 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 2:54 pm

2011 Recruiting Trip: Not a single regret

By Jeff Goodman

I’ll admit. I was regretting my decision for a while there.

I was the new guy at CBSSports.com, needing to prove my worth -- so I wanted to come up with innovative new ideas to the best bosses in America, Mark Swanson and Craig Stanke (kissing you-know-what can never hurt).

So, on my first official day with the company, I proposed a unique idea for beginning the summer recruiting period. One of us traveling with a high-major coach, living the life, flying on private planes -- while the other slums it for a few days in July on the recruiting trail with an anonymous low-major guy.

I opted to take one for the team -- and handed Parrish a plum opportunity, one that every writer in America would yearn to experience. Follow a guy like Michigan State’s Tom Izzo for 96 hours or so, everywhere he went.

My choice was UT-Pan American’s Ryan Marks, who had won a half-dozen games in each of his two seasons as the head man in the Division 1 ranks. A chubby (I’m sorry, Ryan) 40-year-old single man who coaches about 10 minutes from the Mexico border.

As the days drew near to the start of the July recruiting period, I started to wonder whether I’d made a mistake. Parrish would be sitting watching the elite high school players, schmoozing all the high-major coaches and even seeing many of the best returning college basketball players at the LeBron James Skills Academy.

On the flip side, I’d be watching a bunch of fringe Division 1 players and hanging with a variety of Division 2, junior college and low-major coaches.

Maybe I’d made a mistake. I mean, I’d get a lot more done talking to heavy hitters like Coach K, Roy and kids like Jared Sullinger in Akron.

But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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I saw the “other” side of college basketball, without the glitz and the glamour -- the guys who truly do it for the love of the game and the kids who play for the right reasons.

I’m not saying that Izzo, Coach K and Roy Williams don’t love what they're doing, but this is different.

Many of these guys struggle to make ends meet, move from spot to spot in an effort to remain in college basketball coaching.

It was fun -- and enlightening.

They accepted me as if I was one of their own.

Lamar coach Pat Knight wasn’t the only one to jab me for finally “roughing it” when he saw me at the junior college event on Friday. That was a common theme among the low and mid-major guys.

I also heard plenty of “What the hell were you thinkings?” throughout the three-day trek that took Marks and me from Indianapolis to Chicago to Milwaukee, then back to Chicago and finally to St. Louis.

I spent two nights on the pull-out couch of Marks’ mother in her downtown Chicago condo, where she honestly treated me like her son. She spoke glowingly about her 95-year-old husband, who passed away months ago, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

She showed me picture of her son, who I barely knew before the trip -- and now can say with conviction is one of the best human beings I’ve ever been around.

This is a guy who reaches into his own pocket and pays for his assistant coaches flights the entire month of July. The $10 a day for food doesn’t quite cut it, so Marks helps on that end as well.

When he got the job two years ago, the interim athletic director told him he’d get to put a decent percentage of the money the team earned playing “money games” against big-time teams back into the basketball program.

However, current AD Chris King, who Marks raved about for a good portion of the trip, told him that after doing more research on the financial situation of the athletic department, that wouldn’t be possible.

Marks never complained once.

"That’s life," he said. "I understand."

"You won’t find a better guy," UT-Pan American assistant Nick Bennett told me while we were sitting in Milwaukee on Thursday.

If I had a nickel for each time I heard that line, well, Marks wouldn’t have been sharing a room on Friday night at the Drury Inn with Andre Cook -- the guy who replaced him at Division II St. Edward’s.

We talked about just about everything on our trip, from family to work to relationships. We even shared string cheese, a snack preference of a guy who somehow maintains his physique despite only putting down one meal per day.

Now I can say I’ve stayed in a Drury Inn, a place where I saw two guys come down the elevator at 8 a.m. with open beers in each hand.

That I’ve ridden in a Sol, one of the most hideous-looking vehicles I’ve ever laid eyes on.

And that I’ve lived the life of one of the best coaches in America. 

Posted on: July 9, 2011 1:13 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 11:27 am

2011 recruiting trip: Done with Izzo, in ATL

By Gary Parrish

ATLANTA -- I ended my shadowing of Michigan State's Tom Izzo late Friday, then took a flight south so I could attend an event in Atlanta today and tomorrow before heading to South Carolina for the Nike Peach Jam. Far as experiences go, the past three days could not have been better. Izzo was the perfect host, and though the time spent in gyms was worthwhile, the best parts of the trip came during conversations at breakfast, lunch or dinner, in cars, vans or planes.

When you spend 15 hours a day with somebody you tend to talk about everything.

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So we talked about everything.

And what I found most interesting is that while the job of a high-major coach has plenty of perks -- like weekly paychecks that eclipse most people's annual earnings -- it does require men (not just Izzo, all men) to sacrifice something personally. I guess I've known this for a while, and I can relate it to my own life, too. But it was magnified during this trip while I listened to Izzo take calls from all sorts of people, including his teenage son.

Obviously, I couldn't hear what was said on the other end of the phone. But when I heard Izzo one time say "in just a few days," I knew what was just asked. The question: When are you coming home?

"It's hard," Izzo later told me. "You always feel guilty."

And that's the struggle. Success in this sport requires tremendous focus and a work ethic that borders on stupid. Most coaches have wives and children who barely see them. The kids are in class till 3:30 or so in the afternoon during the school year, and the coaches don't get home till after 7 on good days. Then comes summer and the kids are out of school, but the coaches are on the road most of July, and it's not a stretch to suggest that a hard-working coach will see a 17-year-old recruit he'll never sign more than he sees or talks to his own son or daughter. That's just sort of the life these guys sign up for.

Again, they make lots of money.

You'd probably trade jobs with any of them.

But it's clearly not the simplest way to get really wealthy.

(For more of our college basketball recruiting road trip, click here.)
Posted on: July 9, 2011 9:05 am
Edited on: July 11, 2011 11:29 am

2011 Recruiting Trip: heading home

By Jeff Goodman

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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When I first thought of the idea for this story, I was pumped. It was unique and something I would be able to do now that I’ve got some help in the form of Gary Parrish (yes, sometimes he can also be a hindrance).

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.

It wasn’t.

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.
Posted on: July 8, 2011 8:04 pm
Edited on: July 11, 2011 11:33 am

2011 Recruiting Trip: welcome to the Jukes

By Jeff Goodman

ST. CHARLES, Mo. – I’m sitting at Brad Soderberg’s desk as I write this.

Yes, the same Brad Soderberg, the former Saint Louis head coach -- who is now the head coach at Division 2 Lindenwood, which also happens to be the site of Jerry Mullins’ Junior College Showcase.

I’ve now run the gamut of events in the three days that I’ve been with UT-Pan American coach Ryan Marks.

We started in Indianapolis for an Adidas event that had something for just about everyone -- the high-majors, the mids and the lows.

Then it was to Milwaukee Thursday for an AAU team event primarily suited for the mids and lows.

Now it's Friday, and today I witnessed something new -- a JUCO event.

There must be nearly 300 or so college coaches jammed in the bleachers in the gym at Lindenwood to watch about nine hours of primarily low-major junior college kids, most of whom paid their own way to attend this showcase.

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First things first. This event is exceptionally well run.

"Nobody runs them any better," Marks said.

It actually reminded me a little bit of Sonny Vaccaro’s ABCD Camp.

Just without the talent.

There were plenty of last-chance kids in attendance, guys who have concluded their two years of junior college ball and are waiting and hoping for someone to take a chance on them at the D-1 level.

New Lamar coach Pat Knight is here. Quinnipiac head man Tom Moore is also in the building. So, too, is UT-Arlington’s Scott Cross, Austin Peay’s Dave Loos, UIC’s Howard Moore and a bunch of other head coaches.

And this place is inundated with assistants.

"It's difficult to evaluate unless you've seen the kid a bunch before," Marks said. "That way you have some context to what you are watching."

But Marks sits in one chair in the bleachers -- one in which he can view all three courts at the same time -- and continues to scan in hopes of finding a kid that can help him get UT-Pan American a few more victories.

"It's hit or miss at an event like this," Marks said. "You never know."

I still haven’t seen a single post move, and I’ve been watching since the event tipped off at 2 p.m. There's not much ball movement, just a bunch of athletes that, to be honest, look similar.

It's not pretty basketball, but it's fitting since it's a spot where many of the "grinders" have come. Nearly every coach in this building makes less than $100,000 -- many in the $30,000 or $40,000 range -- and hopes to move up the coaching ladder.

And the kids are just looking for a chance.
Posted on: July 8, 2011 12:30 pm
Edited on: July 8, 2011 12:43 pm

2011 recruiting trip: Long days, little good

By Gary Parrish

AKRON, Ohio -- There is a perception among many coaches that Tom Izzo would like to do away with the July evaluation period, and the reason folks think that is essentially the same reason folks think it about all high-major future Hall of Famers. It's because, supposedly, Izzo is an established brand who is getting older and no longer wants to deal with the long days the summer requires.

I can tell you, point blank, that is not true.

We haven't left a gym the past two nights until the final game was over.

We haven't skipped a session.

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We've been among the first five people in the gym everyday.

"I don't want to get rid of summer," Izzo said. "I just want to get rid of the bullsh-t."

Whether this is possible is unclear.

Even Izzo acknowledges that.

The shoe companies, the agents and the people who work for the agents basically run everything this month, and the machine is probably too big and powerful to stop. But, honestly, that's not even what bothers Izzo most because he just sort of accepts it as part of the deal. What bothers him -- and why he doesn't like this time of the year as much as he used to -- is how everybody is capitalizing on the big business of recruiting.

There are more events with more teams now than ever. So every event is watered down, and the only places to regularly see a lot of good players playing against each other at the same location is here at the LeBron James Skills Academy this week, next week at the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C., and the following week at the Fab 48 in Las Vegas.

Outside of those events, there are lots of time spent in cars traveling from one game to the next. Too often, it's impossible to see all the kids a coach wants to see. Too often, the matchups are total mismatches because the elite players are spread throughout the country because a man after a quick dollar will organize an event, pay one good team with good prospects to come, make every other team pay to come, make college coaches recruiting the good prospects from the one good team pay to come and, just like that, we've got a bad event that's mostly pointless for everybody except the man making the money off the event.

"I don't mind being in a gym 15 hours everyday," Izzo said. "I just want to be able to get something done."

For more of our college basketball recruiting road trip, click here.

Posted on: July 8, 2011 12:50 am
Edited on: July 8, 2011 9:28 am

2011 Recruiting Trip: NBA nearly Book-Marked

By Jeff Goodman

CHICAGO – Yep, I’m back on my couch in the Marks household – for the second consecutive night.

I’m going to ask Mrs. Marks at breakfast in the morning if she offers some sort of points system comparable to Marriott because, frankly, the accommodations have been spectacular and I’d like to book another reservation.

My room has a gorgeous view, there’s a complimentary buffet breakfast (don’t tell my wife, but it’s a major upgrade from the one I receive at home) and my bed was even made up.

Ryan Marks and assistant Nick Bennett left the gym at the NY2LASports event in Milwaukee around 4 p.m. earlier this afternoon. Bennett was in attendance for the second consecutive day and Marks got a look at just about everyone he wanted to evaluate.

Then it was off to see a couple of old friends.

John Hammond and Jeff Weltman.

Forget about those high-major coaches that my colleague, Gary Parrish, was schmoozing with all day long over at the LeBron James Camp.

Marks, Bennett and I were at a different level.

The big boys.

You see, Hammond is the general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks and Jeff Weltman is his right-hand man and holds the official title as the assistant GM.

Marks’ relationship with Hammond and Weltman stems from two decades ago when he was an intern for the Los Angeles Clippers while he was also a journalism major at USC (I haven’t told Ryan this yet, but I think there’s a guest blog on the horizon).

``Every job I’ve ever gotten, Josh Hammond and R.C. Buford have either made a phone call or helped me,” Marks said.

So there we were sitting around Hammond’s desk when the guy who just drafted Tobias Harris (a terrific pick, by the way) dropped the bombshell.

``If I had taken the Portland general manager job years ago, I was going to hire Ryan as my director of scouting.”

He was completely serious.

It was back when Marks was the basketball and baseball coach (he was 3-52 in his tenure on the diamond) at Southern Vermont.

``I remember when he called me and told me that he was going out to meet with (owner) Paul Allen,” Marks said. ``I was washing our uniforms.”

Days later, Marks received another call.

``John told me he wasn’t taking the job,” Marks said.

Sure, Marks wonders what might have happened. But when he goes to sleep tonight on a couch in the living room of his mother’s downtown Chicago condo, it is with no regrets.

``I love every second of what I do,” Marks said. ``There are only about 1,100 Division 1, 2 and 3 head coaching jobs – and anytime you can have one of them, you’re beyond fortunate.”

Marks signed a four-year deal worth $91,000 per year when he took the UT-Pan American gig a little more than two years ago.

He hears it from people all the time, about how difficult his job is –- and how he needs to win so he can move to a higher level.

``They are all tough,” Marks said while at what he termed a high-major dinner at Wildfire in Chicago. ``Coach Izzo has his own set of challenges at Michigan State.”

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Like the current one of having to deal with that colleague of mine for three consecutive days.

But Marks, who his mother maintains has wanted to be a college coach since he was a toddler, loves where he is at -- 15 minutes or so from the Mexican border, working for whom he calls one of the best athletic director in the country in Chris King.

``I don’t need another job,” Marks said. ``I just want to keep the one I have. I love it and don’t want anyone to tell me I can’t do it anymore.”  

Tomorrow morning Marks will do his best to further ensure he sticks around a while longer as we leave Chicago for St. Louis and a big-time junior college showcase.

(For more of our college basketball recruiting road trip, click here.)

Posted on: July 7, 2011 10:02 pm
Edited on: July 8, 2011 12:39 pm

2011 recruiting trip: Of course Wes is here

By Gary Parrish

AKRON, Ohio -- The NCAA sends representatives to monitor various July events, and because the LeBron James Skills Academy is the event with the best prospects and most high-profile coaches, there are two members of the Basketball Focus Group at the University of Akron.

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They're here to make sure the coaches stay where they're supposed to stay and the prospects stay where they're supposed to stay, and they do a fine job of it. But here's the issue: They can't quite figure out what to do with William Wesley -- the man more commonly known as "Worldwide Wes" -- who basically has the run of the place.

Wesley is a longtime and well-documented power-broker who now works with Creative Arts Agency (CAA). And even though people associated with agents are supposed to be nowhere close to players at an event like this, Wesley has spent the better part of tonight sitting in a chair on the court around Kentucky freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist, and within talking and bumping distance of every high-school prospect in attendance.

Nike officials allow it to happen.

So it happens.

And Wesley must know just how much it agitates the NCAA. For proof, consider that I was standing with the two NCAA officials earlier tonight, just talking and catching up when we were suddenly interrupted by a young man who tapped one of the NCAA officials on the shoulder.

"Excuse me," the young man said. "Wes wanted me to tell you hello."

On one hand, troubling.

On the other, absolutely hilarious.
Posted on: July 7, 2011 5:51 pm
Edited on: July 8, 2011 12:38 pm

2011 recruiting trip: Everybody is in Akron

By Gary Parrish

AKRON, Ohio -- Jeff Goodman's last post made me realize that when we decided to spend the first three days of the July evaluation period paired with two different coaches from two different levels -- me with a high-major coach, him with a low-major coach -- we were actually surrounding ourselves with lots of different coaches at two different levels.

I'm with Michigan State's Tom Izzo; Goodman is with Texas-Pan America's Ryan Marks. That means I'm at the LeBron James Skills Academy with lots of coaches like Michigan State's Tom Izzo, and Goodman is at some event in Milwaukee with lots of coaches like Texas-Pan America's Ryan Marks, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. It's just that the contrast is hard to miss.

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While Goodman has barely seen a high-major coach today, I'm sitting in a gym right now watching two courts full of future Division I prospects play in front of (from left to right): N.C. State's Mark Gottfried, LSU's Trent Johnson, Providence's Ed Cooley, Missouri's Frank Haith, Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, Gonzaga's Mark Few, Illinois' Bruce Weber, Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, Ohio State's Thad Matta, Tennessee's Counzo Martin, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Kansas' Bill Self, Villanova's Jay Wright, Memphis' Josh Pastner, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, SMU's Matt Doherty, North Carolina's Roy Williams, Purdue's Matt Painter, Oregon's Dana Altman, Florida's Billy Donvovan, Alabama's Anthony Grant, Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings, Georgetown's John Thompson III, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Texas A&M’s Billy Kennedy, Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton and ... you get the point.

Plus, I can't see that far without my glasses.

And I lost my glasses five years ago.

For more of our college basketball recruiting road trip, click here.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com