After Hanke's final game, Seymore called DeMeo. "Hanke can go," he said. "We should get him."
"I want to take this one," DeMeo said. He meant he wanted to be the lead recruiter, and Seymore acquiesced. Though there is a natural competition between assistants asked to prove their worth anew every recruiting season, picking the lead guy on Hanke was an easy call. He was a New York City kid, like DeMeo, who already had a good relationship with Hanke's coaches.
Before DeMeo made contact with Hanke, he phoned Seth Eilberg, Hanke's high school coach, and got an important tip. "Make sure you talk to the mom [Lynn] first," Eilberg said. DeMeo called Lynn Hanke, who delivered some bad news. "He's going to Elon," she said. "His sister goes to Duke, and he wants to be close to her. He also loves golf, and there are a lot of great courses down there." DeMeo wanted to scream into the phone, "Are you crazy? Elon?" but it was time for tact. They talked for about 20 minutes, and DeMeo ended the conversation by saying, "Mrs. Hanke, with all due respect, I don't think you know how good your son is going to be. He is a Big East player."
DeMeo's next chance to see Hanke was a week later at Adidas's Three Stripes Classic in Neptune, N.J. DeMeo hadn't made inroads enough with Hanke to feel comfortable if Maryland, Syracuse or another giant made Hanke a target. He told Welsh before he left, "The worst thing that could happen is for Hanke to go off."
Hanke went off.
He averaged a double double for the tournament, but the highlight was a 90-second exchange with 7-foot Randolph Morris of the Atlanta Celtics, who would eventually sign with Kentucky. With his team trailing by 10 in the second half, Hanke dunked over Morris and was fouled, then made the free throw. On the ensuing possession Morris dunked over Hanke. Instead of backing down, Hanke got the ball on the wing the next time down the floor and made a three-pointer with Morris in his face. "He played like one of the best players in the country," DeMeo told Welsh after the game. "Now everyone is going to be drooling over this kid. We're never going to get him."
DeMeo drove back to Providence cursing his inaction after Blatchford had first tipped him. It reminded him of a missed opportunity four years earlier, when an AAU coach DeMeo knew called and claimed he had just the point guard Providence needed. "He's only 5'11", but he's a player," the coach insisted. "Right now only Saint Joseph's has offered." DeMeo couldn't be bothered. How good can the kid be if Saint Joseph's was his best option? The player he passed on was, of course, Jameer Nelson.
After the Three Stripes, Boston College and North Carolina State intensified their efforts to land Hanke. DeMeo didn't know it, but Providence was the leader. Hanke wanted to go to a smaller school close enough that his parents could visit. And he noticed that at every game he played after the Eastern Invitational, either DeMeo or Welsh attended.
In late August, Hanke decided to take unofficial day visits to Boston College and Providence and then make a decision between the two. One problem: Lynn Hanke didn't inform DeMeo until the day before the visit. DeMeo got the message on his cellphone while lying in bed at a friend's home in New York City. He had undergone throat surgery the day before and had been ordered not to talk for four days. But he e-mailed his doctor and got permission to be by Hanke's side during his visit.
Two weeks later DeMeo was in his office when his cellphone rang. "I'm signing with Providence," Hanke said. DeMeo, his voice still limited because of the surgery, hoarsely but ecstatically broke the news to Welsh and Seymore. "If I could scream," he told them, "I would."