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Bruce Schoenfeld
May 16, 2011
Too Many Phone Calls. Endless Road Trips. No Sleep. The Spectacular Life of a College Basketball
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May 16, 2011


Too Many Phone Calls. Endless Road Trips. No Sleep. The Spectacular Life of a College Basketball

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Later Chillious sat down beside a Nike friend. "It's amazing," he said. "Duncan really thinks they're going to get Shabazz." Then again, Chillious never heard of a player Duncan was recruiting that he wasn't confident he'd get. "He kept telling me, 'We're getting Quinn Cook,'" Chillious says, "and then Cook signs with Duke. He didn't see that coming? Dude could live next door to me, but if Duke decides they want him, it's tough."

To Chillious, knowing when you have a chance and when you don't is a recruiter's most important skill. "That's where authentic relationships come in," he says. "The family may not be ready to tell you, because they're enjoying the process. But someone on the periphery will: 'He's flattered, he likes you a lot, but the chances of him leaving Texas are slim and none.' And then you know."

Chillious glances down to see that he has missed a call. His face twists into a grimace. It's the father of an underclassman, a guard whom Chillious likes a lot, but he's not allowed to call back. He has to wait until the father calls again or begin the laborious process of getting in touch through the high school coach. He could hit the callback button and nobody would ever know, but he prides himself on adhering to even the most arcane NCAA regulations. It seems counterintuitive, but he believes that gives him a competitive advantage. "I tell kids, 'Anybody who is going to cheat even a little is going to lie to you too,'" he says. "Want to play for someone who lies?" Still, he covets this kid. He takes the phone off the chair beside him and holds it tight. If the father calls back, he won't miss him again.

It's easy to spot the assistants, even when they aren't sitting in a row. They can't talk to recruits, so their goal is to be noticeable from a distance. This makes them walking billboards, their affiliations plastered across their clothing. "I can't do a lot with Jordan Tebbutt at this tournament—just make sure he sees me at the game, wave to his dad and mom, and that's it," Duncan says. "Anybody in a ucla shirt could do it."

By the time Tebbutt's game is ending, the logos are out in force. Oregon State and Oregon are here, and Georgia Tech, Gonzaga and Cal, and plenty of smaller schools. Some are here for Tebbutt, some fantasize about Muhammad, all have a list of possibilities. And every coach has stories of flying in to see one recruit and leaving smitten with another.

Muhammad will be nobody's surprise. Along with the country's top-rated prospect—Andre Drummond, a 6'10" center from St. Thomas More in Oakdale, Conn.—Muhammad is being recruited as hard as anyone else. Bishop Gorman makes the process easier by competing from coast to coast. Soon it becomes clear why everyone is so high on him. The junior hits teammates on the run with passes, scores from inside and out. When he drives the lane, defenders seem to scatter like water bugs. Muhammad's team goes up 27--7, then 43--12, then 53--16. "The real deal," Duncan tells Gonzaga's Ray Giacoletti, who can't even dream about getting a player like that. They're standing against the front wall of the gym, and each time Muhammad runs downcourt, the U-C-L-A across Duncan's blue nylon jacket is like the Hollywood sign, filling up his field of vision.

A week later, on Jan. 5, West Virginia's Larry Harrison arrives at practice at Chattanooga State, a two-year school in Tennessee, and greets an Oklahoma assistant already sprawled on the bleachers. This is the other side of recruiting—less glamorous but equally necessary: finding junior college transfers. West Virginia has a hole at big man, and Harrison needs to fill it with a player who could start right away.

Philip Jurick was heavily recruited out of Chattanooga's East Ridge High and chose Tennessee. The 6'11" center redshirted his freshman year but decided to transfer to Chattanooga State because he was uncertain about his prospects with the Vols. Now he wants another shot at a major-conference school.

Harrison, 55, looks like someone who could wrestle a rebound away from many Big East forwards. He establishes position in recruiting with the same shrewd determination. He was all-Ohio at Muskingum College before transferring to Pitt in 1976, and he has made basketball his life. If Chillious is a text-happy, marketing-savvy product of Internet-age basketball, Harrison is old school, a product of the black neighborhoods of the industrial Northeast. Over three decades he has developed an uncanny sense of when to push, when to back off, when to bring in Huggins (who became the Mountaineers' coach in 2007) to close the deal. He looks at very few players whom he doesn't have a decent chance to get, and he pulls in far more than his share. But just as Chillious needs to persuade recruits to come to the Northwest, Harrison has a constraint of his own: Huggins. The gruff head coach has a deep affection for his players, but it's a tough love, punctuated by sarcasm and blue language at high volume. So Harrison factors that into his recruiting. "We need guys with mental toughness, thick skin," he says. "There's only a certain kind of kid who's going to Morgantown, West Virginia, to play for Bob Huggins. I could call Shabazz, he'd say, 'Oh, yeah, Coach Harrison, West Virginia, Final Four [in 2010]. I'm interested!' We ain't getting Shabazz. He ain't coming to Morgantown."

Jurick is the kind of player who might. He's physical and a reclamation project. For two years he can give Huggins a presence underneath. "He has an edge to him," Harrison says. "He'd fit in."

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