Package deals aren't right, but are part of the game
Posted: Tuesday November 21, 2006 2:08PM; Updated: Tuesday November 21, 2006 3:39PM
The tactics Herb Sendek used to land James Harden -- hiring his high school coach and offering a scholarship to a teammate -- are part of the recruiting game.
Rick Scuteri/US PRESSWIRE
Seth Davis will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his Hoop Thoughts column.
If you perused the list of the top-rated high school players who signed letters-of-intent earlier this month, one entry may have caught your eye: James Harden, a 6-foot-5 guard at Artesia High in Lakewood, Calif., signed to play for Arizona State. It's been a long time since the Sun Devils inked a top-flight player from southern California (RISE's No. 28 player in the class of '07), so Harden's commitment is no small matter for first-year coach Herb Sendek.
Look a little closer, however, and you'll discern some rather connectable dots. Last June, Sendek hired Artesia's head coach, Scott Pera, to be his director of basketball operations. Sendek also offered a scholarship to Derek Glasser, Artesia's point guard who had previously planned to walk on at USC. Then, on Aug. 9, Harden gave Sendek his oral commitment.
When I asked Sendek about these dots this week, he gave the answers you might expect. Pera won championships in two different states (Pennsylvania and California), he's a bright guy and a great leader he hopes is on his staff long after Derek and James are gone, blah blah blah. Having met Pera several times and having seen him coach, I can confirm everything Sendek says about him is true.
However, when I suggested to Sendek he could have declined to recruit Harden to avoid the appearance of impropriety, he replied, "And instead of playing in the Pac-10, we could play in the fantasy league. It's our job as coaches to get the best players possible."
Now, I'm not saying Sendek hired Pera and signed Glasser solely for the purpose of convincing Harden of coming to ASU. That, of course, would be against NCAA rules. What I am saying is, if Sendek hired Pera mostly for the purpose of landing Harden, there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, you could argue it would have been foolish for Sendek to have done otherwise. Because if he didn't hire Pera, someone else might have, and that someone could have landed Harden as a result.
I must confess, I have come a long way on this issue. When I first broke into covering college basketball more than a decade ago, I was shocked that these types of package deals went down. It seemed coaches everywhere were giving jobs to high school coaches, AAU/summer coaches, fathers, uncles, distant cousins, best buddies and the like for the express purpose of recruiting a player. I knew this had to be unethical because nobody ever admitted to what they were doing.
But the more I've covered this sport, the more I've come to understand just how common these package deals are. Given all the other nefarious activities taking place in the underworld of recruiting, the package hire actually looks quite tame by comparison.
After all, Sendek can scan the country and see all kinds of connectable dots -- starting within his own conference. USC's starting point guard is 6-5 freshman Daniel Hackett, whose father Rudy is the Trojans' strength and conditioning manager. (Rudy Hackett played at Syracuse and then professionally in the ABA and overseas.) A few weeks ago, UCLA hired Clay McKnight, whose father, Gary, happens to be the coach at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif. You think having Clay, who has previously worked at Oregon State, Syracuse and USC, might give the Bruins a leg up in their pursuit of David and TravisWear, 6-foot-10 sophomore twins at Mater Dei? I think so, too.