Courtship series: Coaches map out realistic targets

Sunday, December 19, 2010
Southeast head coach Dickey Nutt and player Nate Schulte take a moment on the sideline Saturday, December 11, 2010 at the Show Me Center. The Redhawks defeated Hannibal-LaGrange 101-52. (Laura Simon)

There is no bigger part of a college basketball program than recruiting. It's almost impossible to build a winner without sufficient talent.

"There's no probably about it," Southeast Missouri State coach Dickey Nutt said. "Recruiting is the most important part of a program. That's what we do on a daily basis."

Said Providence coach Keno Davis, a former Southeast assistant: "I can't imagine there being a more important part of a basketball program than recruiting."

Coaches say recruiting is a year-round process that never stops, and the recruitment of a particular player is a process that lasts up to three years.

"Every morning we meet as a staff. One of the things we meet about, on a daily basis, is recruiting," said Nutt, who is in his second season at Southeast. "Recruiting a player is generally a two- or three-year process. We're in our second year as a staff here, so we're trying to play catchup."

Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery has had success recruiting out of St. Louis. (Associated Press file)

Nutt, Davis and Southern Illinois-Carbonale coach Chris Lowery -- another former Southeast assistant -- say they strive to recruit the best players possible, but emphasize they also have to be realistic about the type of athlete that will be attracted to a given school.

While Nutt said he won't shy away from recruiting most players, he also knows he can be spinning his wheels and wasting time if he sets his sights too high.

"We're realists. I don't want to spend a lot of time on a guy who is high major and will be recruited at a high level," Nutt said. "The question is whether you think he is going to be interested or not.

"But I will say this, we're not backing down just because he is a high major player, if he's interested."

Said Lowery: "We're not going to be able to recruit McDonald's All-Americans. You have to be realistic."

Former Southeast Missouri State assistant Keno Davis has a diferent pool of basketball players to recruit from as the coach of Providence in the Big East Conference. (Associated Press file)

Nutt and Lowery are restricted somewhat by the level of player they realistically can hope to sign because their programs are not considered high-major.

The same is not true for Davis. Although Providence is not currently a Big East Conference power, it is a member of one of the nation's elite leagues.

Davis said his recruiting philosophy is different now than it was when he was an assistant at Southeast or when he coached at Drake in his first job running a Division I program.

"It's kind of been my philosophy to go after the best in the country," Davis said. "If they prefer to go to North Carolina or Duke or UCLA or Kansas, we understand that.

"It only takes one [to sign] for us to get to that kind of level. We're going to have to get that kind of player, not only the underrecruited player, if we want to be a top program."

Southeast Missouri State coach Dickey Nutt talks to his players during a game earlier this month. (Fred Lynch)

While college programs generally only sign a handful of players each year, the list of players on a coach's original recruiting list usually hits at least 100 and often is several times that many, taking into account not only the upcoming season but also future seasons.

Most of the recruiting for the 2010-11 campaign was finished by late spring, but coaches were busy much of the summer and fall recruiting for future seasons.

"For this season, I bet we had an original list of 15, 20 kids at each position, then you go from there," Lowery said.

Nutt, emphasizing the importance of identifying needs for a particular season, said his original recruiting list might include several hundred players.

Davis said his list at Providence is not that long but was when he was at Drake and Southeast.

Southeast Missouri State coach Dickey Nutt shouts to his players during the second half Saturday at Saint Louis. (Fred Lynch)

"The higher level that you're at, the easier it is to know about the top players," Davis said. "When I was at SEMO, I might have 500 kids in a given year on my list as I would go out in the summer and during that evaluation I would narrow that list down maybe in half so I would have a list of maybe 250 players I felt like we had a chance on.

"And then as some of the higher profile schools got commitments, it would quickly narrow that number." There are a variety of ways a coach or program first hears about a potential recruit. A list of the nation's top players can be found on the internet, but most programs, especially lower-level ones, subscribe to one or more recruiting services that generally cost a few hundred dollars.

Lowery, Davis and Nutt all said they use various recruiting services.

"There are a number of services out there you can use. We kind of pick and choose. We choose the services that fit us most," Nutt said. "Those services will have information that we're looking for, maybe in a particular area. There's a junior college service. We take a variety that benefit us."

Seeing is the best

Other ways coaches first hear about potential recruits is through word of mouth, but coaches say the best way to identify potential prospects is to go out and watch games, not only in their area but across the country.

Summer is one of the best evaluation times because there are a host of AAU tournaments where hundreds of players gather in one location.

"Summer basketball is the best place to start," Nutt said.

Said Lowery: "You have to be out seeing players. One way is during the summer you get to see a lot of kids. The first thing you always have to know is who's good in your area, then you branch out from there. We have coaches covering different areas and there are so many things that will help you -- scouting services, knowing coaches. It's a lot of networking."

While Davis said he will go "coast to coast" to sign players, even internationally, Nutt and Lowery said they try to stick to more regional areas or areas they're familiar with, although they wouldn't turn down a player from a long way off.

"You stick to your philosophy. I want area kids, everybody in Cape, Jackson that can play. Then we begin to move out across the region and then the state of Missouri and then the surrounding areas, around a 200-mile radius," Nutt said. "That's not to say you don't have a best friend who coaches in Kansas who might help you develop a relationship [with a player].

"One of my assistants asked me, 'Are we going to be able to recruit California?' No. Now if we have a relationship out there ... but right now we're not at the level where we can just go to California and say, 'We're Southeast Missouri.' Not to say we won't ever have a player from California, but there are 1,000 players from here to California."

Nutt coached at Arkansas State for well over a decade and had considerable success recruiting in the basketball hotbed of Memphis, Tenn., before coming to Southeast. He has continued to make recruiting Memphis a priority and landed two touted players from that city during this year's early signing period. Nutt also signed plenty of players from the Southeast Missouri region while at ASU.

"You go back to where you've had success," Nutt said.

SIU has had a lot of success recruiting St. Louis and Chicago over the years, so Lowery said he and his staff try to target those areas, although the 2010-11 SIU roster lists no players from the St. Louis area.

"We've been good in Missouri. We have had a lot of St. Louis kids," Lowery said. "Instead of going to places we don't know, we target areas we've had good success with."

Coaches say developing a relationship with high school, junior college and AAU coaches is important in recruiting.

"We try to spend a lot of time with our local high school coaches. It's all about having relationships with those coaches," Nutt said. "My dad was a high school coach for 35 years. I let these coaches know that their job is just as important as our job. I have such tremendous respect for junior high, high school and junior college coaches."

Said Lowery: "That really is the key. You just have to know a lot of people."

High school vs. juco

As far as recruiting junior college players or high school players, coaches say that varies from year to year in any program.

"It depends on what you need," said Lowery, whose program has relied on a mix of high school and junior college players but for this season went more the juco route. "We've had juco guys be good players for us in the past. When you have a need for experience, that's how you can get a jump start."

Said Davis: "We try to look at every recruit individually and try not to have a set where we want only high school or only junior college. And now the prep schools have really started to take a hold. We recruit 'em all and try to find the best fit." Nutt signed a mix of high school and junior college players for his first Southeast team last year. He signed nothing but juco players for this season as he tried to speed up the rebuilding process of a floundering program.

"It differs from year to year," Nutt said. "My philosophy is, I want high school guys. I would love to fill my team with high school guys for a lot of reasons. You can develop them, you can have them four years.

"However, you want to win. A lot of times when your program is not where you want it to be, you have to go out and get some immediate help."

Signing a transfer from another Division I program also is an option, which Southeast did twice this year with Tyler Stone, a Memphis native who played sparingly as a freshman at Missouri, and Sikeston native Michael Porter, who had an injury-plagued freshman season at Missouri State.

Although Stone and Porter are sitting out the 2010-11 season under NCAA transfer rules, they are practicing and expected to be impact players in the future.

"That's very important to our program," Nutt said of transfers. "You look at it case by case. A lot of players get in a situation maybe over their head -- they're homesick, didn't get to play, whatever it may be.

"A guy like Tyler Stone, here's a guy we wanted out of high school. We were beat out by Missouri, he didn't get to play as much as he wanted, he wanted to transfer closer to home. Michael Porter also wanted to be closer to home. We're proud to get two guys like that."

Plan B

Another aspect of recruiting is that a program isn't always able to sign its top targets. Backup plans must be in place and sometimes the benefit of signing a lesser player must be weighed against waiting to sign the player of choice even if he might decide to go elsewhere.

"It's important in the recruiting process not to spin your wheels," Davis said. "If you're not getting a good vibe from the kid or the coach ... it's a tough decision to make when some kids are ready to pull the trigger and take a scholarship.

"Do you take this guy that's ready to come or do you wait on the guy who's a little higher on the list?"

Recruiting at various levels may differ, but the basic components remain the same. Coaches try to sign the best talent they can.

"At Providence now, I'm going to start [targeting players] with more talent, more size, more athleticism, but I still try to look for the same things, the player you see something special in, the players you see something the programs you're competing against don't see," Davis said.

While coaches emphasize that they look to sign players of high character and integrity, the talent also has to be there. Otherwise a coach won't be employed very long.

"You have to have the talent," Nutt said. "There's no getting around it."

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