?Always see a player in person. Always.
But Will You Respect Me In The Morning?
If you really love me, you'll do it now." That's what high school seniors hear these days from coaches anxious to sign them before their final seasons. Last year some 70% of the top 100 seniors chose their colleges early.
The early signing period (Nov. 12-19 this year) was supposed to allow schoolboy basketball players who have already decided on a college to free themselves from the recruiting wars and enjoy hassle-free seasons. College coaches liked the idea because it meant they no longer had to babysit prospects for months on end. But alas, like many well-intentioned rules, this one often backfires. "The rule was put in for kids who knew where they wanted to go," says recruiting guru Garfinkel—in other words, kids who didn't need to be recruited at all. "But now kids are being recruited to know where they want to go." Translation: Players are being subjected to the same recruiting pressure as ever, only now it's happening earlier.
"If a player's not interested in signing early, we don't recruit him," says Tennessee coach Don DeVoe. Adds Washington's Andy Russo: "If they're not signing early, I'm not going to waste my time on a home visit. Anything that forces a kid's hand is good." Thus, a player still unsigned when the April 8-May 15 signing period rolls around is usually branded a leftover. "I think some of them panic," says Bob Wade, the new coach at Maryland. "They're afraid schools will lose interest."
To make the early signing period truer to its spirit—which is to help the recruit—an escape clause might be added for early signees, allowing a player to go elsewhere if, say, the coach he has signed with leaves for another college. Consider the case of Virginia Tech guard Johnny Fort. Before his senior season, Fort, one of the nation's top 30 high school prospects in 1982-83, signed with Iowa and its uptempo coach, Lute Olson. But when Olson left for Arizona in the spring of '83, Fort was inextricably committed to Iowa and Olson's deliberate-minded replacement, George Raveling. After one season as a Hawkeye, Fort bolted for Virginia Tech and had to sit out a year before he could play for the Gobblers.
Coaches, too, now have reservations about the early signing rule. Some find it daunting because it makes recruiting a year-round job. Bud Lathrop, coach at Kansas City Raytown South High, stopped allowing his players to sign early after his star center, Anthony Hurd, had a bad experience in 1983-84. Hurd signed with Tulsa in the fall, then muddled through his senior season, boasting to teammates how he had his scholarship in the bag already. He fizzled at Tulsa, resurfaced at a junior college and is now at Arkansas. "How would a college coach feel if he had to play with a lot of guys who've already signed with the pros?" says Lathrop. "It takes their initiative away."
Special reporting on Recruiting File by Ed Burns and Austin Murphy.