Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Starting 5: Official visit season
By Dave Telep
Each week, Starting 5 takes you on a tour of the recruiting landscape. It delves into topics, recruiting trends and stories. This edition focuses on the art of the official visit, new Louisville recruit Jaylen Johnson, an important recruit for NC State and more.
1. The art of the official visit
By now you might be aware that America's best recruits are making their rounds, hitting up campuses for their official visits. For months, staffs have been debating internally when to bring a player to campus. It's actually a pretty dicey dilemma.
The first thing a staff must do is establish if it feels a prospect will make all of his trips. If the staff feels like the player is committed to the process, then it must juggle its best weekend dates against the fact that the other schools are doing the same. There are finite windows (a big football game, an alumni weekend) that are better than others to showcase your school. Players often will be forced to decide between the same weekend for different schools. If a program is fortunate enough to get the player on campus for the weekend, it wants that a win.
However, getting to that weekend is another story. Even the most diehard players who swore they'd take all their visits have been swayed. While there's a great reward for being the last visit, it comes with stress. You have to sweat through four weekends while essentially the girl you want to be your prom date checks out other guys. If that player goes through all four visits without committing, you've survived and have the final word with him.
When people talk about Duke and Tyus Jones, there's a reason. The Blue Devils are his final visit, and that's uncomfortable for the other schools.
The hardest decision for a school in terms of official visits is trying to schedule the date for a player they believe to be impressionable. While wanting to be that last visit, can they afford to wait? The kid says he's taking all his visits, but can they really trust that? This is why much debate goes into the timing of official visits. There are many variables -- some you can control, others you can't -- which go into the selection of a date.
Late-blooming ESPN 100 forward Jaylen Johnson committed to Louisville on Sept. 6.
2. Genes won't hurt Jaylen Johnson
The Louisville Cardinals picked up a commitment from one of the late bloomers of the Class of 2014. Forward Jaylen Johnson burst onto the national scene in the spring, and it carried over through the summer. By the end of July, his suitors included Michigan State and Iowa State, but it was Louisville that got it done last week.
Why's the kid important? Johnson is a multi-tooled player. Mid-range game, good passer and savvy around the rim. He could find himself molded anywhere from a versatile power forward to a skilled three-man. He has that kind of upside. The fact that he's late to the party in terms of development is more exciting than worrisome.
Now let's talk about his mother. Janetta Johnson led the entire nation in blocked shots and was up there as a rebounder as well. "I led the whole nation, they had me compared to Alonzo Mourning," Janetta said.
Janetta Johnson was pregnant with Jaylen during the formative year of the WNBA. She played four years in Europe. Mom knew a little about the recruiting process and made the Cardinals staff demonstrate their commitment to her son.
"I had him to talk to other people and let them ask questions. I needed to make sure I wasn't getting fed any baloney. They treated Jaylen like he was special to them, and they saw things in him.
"With Jaylen being who he is and them being who they are and champs, they didn't have to go through all the hoops they went through, but I wanted them to be sincere. They were."
Johnson asked her son a key question before he committed. Janetta asked Jaylen which school he would regret not attending if someone beat him to the scholarship. When her son said Louisville, she instructed him on the consequences of waiting, and quickly Jaylen Johnson committed to Rick Pitino.
3. Sept. 9 means crowd at Hargrave
One of the rights of passage during the open period is for a college coach to visit the historically loaded grounds of Hargrave Military Academy, which is typically good for at least one late blooming high-major prospect. If you recall, Louisville guard Luke Hancock had zero scholarship offers before his stint at The Grave. Joe Alexander, during his post-grad year, didn't even start for the team!
This year's late bloomer looks to be power forward Donte Grantham. Michigan hosted Grantham last weekend (remember, John Beilein signed Alexander out of Hargrave). Texas, Miami, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Clemson and Xavier are chasing him. "He's very skilled for his size," Hargrave coach A.W. Hamilton said. "His mid range game is good, and he's a good athlete. He's been hidden in Martinsburg, WV."
Open gyms at Hargrave and other prep schools open opportunities for players to heat up. A lot has happened since July. In some cases, teams' target lists are evaporating. In September, if a team can add another prospect or even deepen its list of potential spring signees, it's valuable. With a finite number of skilled players with size on the market, a guy like Grantham could see his stock soar in a matter of weeks.
4. African prospects will be on display in the States The biggest surprise of the adidas Nations August event was the emergence of the team from Africa. Babacar Sy’s squad beat a group of U.S. underclassmen to claim third-place. It was a notable showing for an emerging presence of African players. It also inevitably lifted the profiles of a handful of prospects.
Sidy Ndir, the team's 6-foot-2 point guard, emerged as the centerpiece recruit. Born in 1995, Ndir already turned down numerous overtures to play overseas in favor of pursuing a college scholarship. Ndir enrolled at West Oaks Academy in Florida.
“Of that group he probably has the most potential,” Sy said. “He’s got good instincts and he knows how to play.” Ndir has dual citizenship in France and Senegal. He hasn’t decided which national team he’ll represent.
What we know is that he’s on the radar for teams as a 2014 option. Texas A&M, Rhode Island and Baylor will send assistants to see him work out this month. More certainly will follow.
The other player from the African team who’s getting good recruiting attention is pogo-stick forward Michael Nzei. Cast in the role of rebounding specialist, Nzei brings value to the position and should receive looks up to the Atlantic 10 level as the fall progresses. Nzei already owns offers from CAA and MAAC programs.
Abdul-Malik Abu made a trip to NC State before his Sept. 7 decision, and that made the difference.
5. Pack secures valuable commitment
Last weekend, NC State toed the line with a litany of big time programs, including Florida and local option Providence, for power forward Abdul Malik-Abu. What happened? The Pack hammered home a significant commitment from an energy player who improved each month from April thru July. AMA had an aggressive unofficial visit schedule, set an announcement date for Sept. 7 and ducked down to Raleigh for a final sitdown just days before the announcement.
It turns out, the visit crystalized his choice. “They made me feel like home, and I respected that,” Malik-Abu said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to be myself and play my game. Raleigh is big into basketball, and that’s an environment I want to be a part of.”
NC State was head up with Florida and the forward cringed at the decision. “It was even, and I really had to think about it.”
Malik-Abu and travel teammate Jared Terrell announced together. Providence was hoping to land the daily-double but wound up with neither, losing Terrell to Oklahoma State.