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Says Williams, "The coaches all had a point to make. If they didn't think they were getting their points across, they'd just send me more letters, and then more. They all said their schools were great. After a while, I had to ask myself, 'How can all these schools be so great?' "
Manning says, "Honesty should be the No. 1 consideration in recruiting. But this is the coaches' job. They can't be honest all the time because, you know, they have a job to do—to get you to come to their schools. So sometimes they'll say whatever they have to."
We're No. 1. "The most common technique of all," says Washburn. Typical is the form letter that Michigan assistant coach Mike Boyd sent to prospects in the spring of '83. "As you are most likely aware," it read, "The University of Michigan is THE premiere athletic/academic institution in the country." Manning was skeptical. "Saying their school is the best is just a little trick that coaches use to catch your eye," he says. Adds Washburn, "A coach shouldn't say his school is the best unless he has visited every other school to see for himself."
Mom, you're a sweetheart. The way to a player's heart is through his mother's—or so many coaches believe. "My mother got so many letters from coaches that I thought they were recruiting her, too," Washburn says with a laugh. Indeed, Savannah Washburn received 77 pieces from N.C. State coaches alone. In one Mailgram, Valvano said, "...may God bless you. You're a great person...." Flattery does count, though. Says Darnelle Manning, who received Mother's Day Mailgrams from Valvano and Bill Foster, then coach at South Carolina, now at Miami: "I thought the coaches were very considerate."
You're a lady-killer, big fella. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wrote Washburn after seeing him in the stands at a high school game, "You looked in great shape, and the young lady with you did not hurt your appearance. She looked like a first class girl...." Girl friends run a close second to mothers in the influence department. Krzyzewski also sent a letter to the girl "telling her she was very nice," Washburn says. The Duke coach used a similar play on Manning. After watching Manning lead Page High to a victory over Chapel Hill, Krzyzewski wrote: "Danny, I spoke to a couple members of the Page girls' team. They had nothing but fantastic things to say about you. I stood next to them at the game and they cheered like crazy for you...."
Will you be my Valentine? Manning received a Valentine's Day card from the Tiger Belles—12 shapely Clemson coeds. The card was accompanied by a photograph signed by each and every Belle.
You're my reason for living. Maryland coach Charles G. (Lefty) Driesell wrote to Washburn during his junior year: "Everytime I see you play I am more and more convinced that with you in our lineup next year Maryland can win the NCAA Championship." (Did Driesell expect Washburn to declare hardship and skip his senior season?) Later, Driesell wrote Washburn: "You can be just as good as Moses [Malone] and even better if you continue to work hard...." Then: "...you are without a doubt the best in the country." For good measure, he wrote Mrs. Washburn: "[Chris] is one of the finest basketball players that I ever seen play in my entire coaching career."
I don't want to mislead you, but.... In many of his letters to Washburn, Driesell created the false impression that Malone once played at Maryland: "As you know, Moses signed with me...and we have remained close friends for many years." The fact is that although Malone signed a letter of intent with Maryland in 1974, he went directly to the ABA's Utah Stars after high school. In any event, Washburn wasn't fooled. "I didn't like those letters at all," he says. "How could Coach Driesell expect Moses to tell me what it's like at Maryland? He was never even a student there."
Excuse us while we name-drop. Yale coach Tom Brennan to Manning: "Two Yale graduates ( William Howard Taft and Gerald Ford) are among the 40 U.S. Presidents, and at last count Yale leads all other schools in the number of its alumni who serve or have served in the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, and on the Supreme Court." Was Manning impressed? " Yale struck me as a great place to go if I wanted to be President," he says. "But I don't."