In the past, many official visits have been ceremonial. This year, they’re carrying more weight with almost 60 percent of the ESPN 100 still undecided.
A lot goes into the construction of a recruiting weekend and as is the case in recruiting, the more information coaches have at their disposal, the better decisions they can make regarding the visit.
Setting a date
The stressor in college basketball offices this month involves scheduling. At this point, college coaches have identified their prime targets and in many cases have been able to obtain promises from them to visit campus. Once they’ve cleared that hurdle, the difficult task of assembling a visit schedule kicks in.
In most cases, programs will schedule their key targets to visit in September, mainly surrounding active weekends on campus. Big home football games with enthusiastic crowds are the preference. If you’re a recruit and a school is trying to get you to visit in late October or November, chances are you aren’t the school's first choice. However, special circumstances exist. For example, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina have significant Midnight Madness celebrations and often schedule the bulk of their key senior visitors for that weekend, when possible.
The reason for bringing players in during September is straightforward. Programs spent a ton of time and resources on the recruits and want to get down to business. They need answers and ideally on an official visit coaches ask for a commitment. Some players will schedule five visits and commit after the first trip. Others wind up taking all five visits (meaning the process extends into October).
Kids are unpredictable and we’re at the point in the calendar where they are on the verge of making decisions. Conversely, colleges need them to decide so they can focus on other targets. It’s counterintuitive, but a “no” is just as valuable as a “yes” in the recruiting game because it brings clarity to situations and crystalizes recruiting options.
First or last?
When to bring a recruit onto campus is a matter of debate. If a player has the capacity to commit before taking all five visits, some coaches would want to be one of his first trips. If a coach determines that player going to take all of his visits, then being last is preferable. The difficult part in scheduling is determining what the player may do.
“I was a big believer in that you wanted to be the first or the last,” former Virginia Tech and current ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said. “If he’s impressionable you might be able to get him to commit. An official visit, if done right, could be an emotional experience. The goal is to get a commitment.”
The other side of the coin is being the last official visit. To be last you’ve got to have extreme patience and trust that your target won’t budge and commit before he visits. In order to do this, you’ve got to have great inside information and a tremendous relationship with the player. There is an advantage to being last.
“Depending on who you are competing against and the process is so long, being last is the most immediate thing in their mind,” Greenberg said.
The rule of thumb is impulsive, impressionable kids are brought in early and push for pledges. Coaches can wait out the strong-willed, tough-minded and loyal guys and push for a later visit date. With each player, the circumstances are different and reading the situation accurately is a key component.
Keep in mind, while coaches are juggling their top targets, it’s the job of the assistants to make sure the secondary targets are receiving the requisite amount of attention. Situations are constantly evolving and in order to land a great recruiting class, planning, preparation and attention to detail are required.
Number of visitors
As if college coaches doen’t have enough to worry about regarding the scheduling of visits, another dynamic is how many players to bring in at once. In a perfect world, many would tell you they’d prefer to bring in one recruit at a time.
“I prefer one guy but you know that’s not always doable either because of schedules,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “I don’t like to do too many and those aren’t always easy. Obviously one allows you to focus on that young man and with two, sometimes three ... when you get three or more it’s tough unless the kid’s already committed or has been to campus multiple times.”
Butler coach Brad Stevens wants one guy at a time unless the players are already committed to his program. “The one thing I’ve always prided Butler on, is personal attention. To me it’s not about the show. To me it’s about showing who you are. We don’t want to be something different for those 48 hours than we are every single minute of every day. We’re not about the show.”
However, Stevens -- like many coaches -- sees an advantage to bringing in multiple players if they are committed to the school already. “My philosophy has always been that if they’re committed then visiting together is a great thing. You can cover things as if they’re going to be experiencing things together. I like doing it when they’re already committed.”
Thad Matta once brought Greg Oden, Daequan Cook, Mike Conley and David Lighty on official visits at the same time. On that same weekend, B.J. Mullens and Kosta Koufos made unofficial visits. While the Buckeyes football team hosted Texas that night, Matta hosted future pros who were familiar with each other.
“I think a lot of it depends on who they are,” Matta said. “Do they know each other? Are they looking to go together? Where are they from? For some kids, football doesn’t mean a whole lot to them. Then for a David Lighty and Aaron Craft who played [football], they want to get there early and watch warm-ups. It varies with each guy.”
An assist from football
Speaking of Ohio State, major college football weekends can be huge in recruiting.
“At Ohio State, every football Saturday is a big weekend,” Matta said. “Is the intensity higher for [games against] Michigan or Nebraska? Yes, but the pageantry and the electricity is still there. My mindset has always been we want you to feel the passion for the Buckeyes with 105,000 rooting for their team. The entire day from the tailgate to being on the field, the band and team taking the field, all those things."
Although, not every program has a great football atmosphere -- or even a team. Without a team coaches are forced to change their recruiting pitch.
“Football weekends are great to sell,” Greenberg said. “If you don’t have football, basically what you’re selling is that “we” are the focal point of the campus community.
“I don’t think it’s a disadvantage if you have a basketball tradition. Xavier, Butler, VCU … if you have this tradition it doesn’t hurt. Without a basketball tradition, creating an identity can be hard. St. Joe’s, Gonzaga, Georgetown, they have something working.”
An official visit is a stressful situation for all parties and just when it seems like everything is under control, there’s another factor to worry about.