The NCAA is likely to make this the last Peach Jam college coaches can attend -- and that would be a mistake
Proposed changes to the July Evaluation Period won't actually fix any of college basketball's issues
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- A little after 5 p.m. local time Wednesday, on Court 2 here inside the Riverview Park Activities Center, the first high-profile game of the 2018 Nike EYBL Finals at the Peach Jam tipped-off. One team had Cole Anthony. The other had Tyrese Maxey. Those are two of the 10 best high school basketball prospects in the nation. So, predictably, the bleachers were filled with fans crammed next to each other -- and the opposite sideline, and both baselines, were laced with college coaches.
Lon Kruger was sitting next to Roy Williams. John Calipari was sitting next to Bruce Pearl. Mike Brey and Patrick Ewing were under one goal. Gregg Marshall and Bobby Hurley were under the other. They were all watching players they already know they want while searching for more they might decide to pursue. And while glancing around and taking it all in, I couldn't help but wonder why the NCAA is on the verge of eliminating this entire scene.
"It's a PR move," one coach said when asked about it. "They just want to be able to say they're doing something."
But they'll actually be fixing nothing.
The recommendation -- which is expected to eventually be rubber-stamped, perhaps in time to alter next summer's recruiting calendar -- will have college coaches essentially banned each July from attending anything other than two NCAA-sponsored regional camps, and one subsequent NCAA-sponsored national camp. That's it. No Peach Jam. No Fab 48. No Super 64. Every event college coaches have attended each July for decades will suddenly be off-limits in an attempt by the NCAA to shift power away from grassroots coaches and shoe company executives.
Obviously, it's a knee-jerk reaction to the ongoing FBI investigation that initially shook the sport last September and continues to do so. But here's the thing: It won't work. It won't fix anything. Because there's not a single problem that exists in college basketball, or that has been identified and exposed by the FBI, that'll be solved by eliminating the traditional July Evaluation Period.
Eliminating the July Evaluation Period won't stop prospects from aligning with grassrooots teams sponsored by shoe companies like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour because those teams will still exist and these events will still take place. And it won't stop shoe companies from determining where prospects enroll in college because shoe companies will still invest hundreds of millions of dollars in athletic departments and still have an incentive to steer the best prospects to schools with which they have business relationships. And it won't stop agents and financial advisors from paying grassroots coaches, college coaches or anybody else connected to prospects in an attempt to garner influence over future decisions because agents and financial advisors will still be in the business of representing multimillionaires.
Again, eliminating the normal July Evaluation Period won't fix anything.
It'll only diminish opportunities.
The number of prospects that will spend July playing in front of Division I coaches will be slashed drastically -- meaning some players who would otherwise be seen won't. And who benefits from that? Answer: Nobody. All eliminating the normal July Evaluation Period will do is make it more difficult for mid-major and low-major coaches to find so-called diamonds in the rough. And, in turn, it'll make it less likely for off-the-radar prospects to shoot themselves onto anybody's radar.
Which brings me to Mike Daum.
-- but it's worth repeating today to highlight the downside of the recommendations the NCAA is likely to adopt. The 6-foot-9 forward grew up in rural Nebraska and mostly played in complete anonymity. He was good. But if you sing beautifully in the shower and nobody ever hears you, how would anybody in a position to change your life have any idea?
This was the problem facing Daum.
But in July 2013, while playing for the Rocky Mountain Fever in a sanctioned event called the Las Vegas Classic, he made 12 3-pointers in a game. And because that performance came against a team headlined by Tacko Fall -- the 7-6 center who now plays for UCF -- a handful of Division I coaches witnessed it.
"And it really did change my life," Daum said.
Literally none of the coaches in attendance in Las Vegas were there to see Daum. But they were there. So they saw him. Consequently, just like that, Daum went from having zero Division I offers to having multiple Division I offers. He eventually signed with South Dakota State. And now, heading into his senior season, he's an All-American and two-time Summit League Player of the Year who is on pace to become just the ninth 3,000-point scorer in Division I history.
What the NCAA is about to do would make Mike Daum's story impossible.
Daum would've never, under the proposed format, while in high school, been invited to one of these regional camps the NCAA is set to sponsor as early as next July. He would've forever remained unseen by Division I coaches. He would've probably ended up at a Division II school. He would not have become the South Dakota State program-changer he's become. Which is another reason banning coaches from all of the events being held this month all over this country, and then limiting the July Evaluation Period to a couple of regional camps and a national camp, is pointless mixed with dumb. And here's the even dumber part: Division I coaches will be the people responsible for nominating players to receive invitations to the camps.
So say you're a mid-major coach who is already in on an off-the-radar prospect, here's my question: Why would you ever nominate that prospect to attend one of the camps and provide him with the type of exposure that could ultimately cost you?
"If I nominate a player I like for a camp, and he goes there and plays well, I won't be able to get him anymore," one mid-major coach told me Thursday. "So I'm not going to nominate him. I'm going to shit on him. So some kids who probably deserve the exposure won't get it because coaches won't nominate them because coaches will be trying to keep them hidden from the high-majors. ... It's all so stupid."
Indeed, it is.
Which is why the majority of coaches I've spoken with here at Peach Jam are still holding out hope that the NCAA will think this through a little better before actually implementing any changes. They all concede there are issues that must be addressed. Nobody pretends everything is cool and uncorrupted. But if the changes the NCAA is prepared to make to the July Evaluation Period won't fix any real problems within the sport, and if they are changes that come at the expense of young people receiving opportunities to be exposed to coaches with scholarships that could change their lives, what's the point?
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