SI Vault
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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After practice Harrison and the Oklahoma coach exchange glances. Technically it's a violation to have any contact with Jurick, but no matter how often the rules are explained, many players believe that if you don't at least say hello to them, then you didn't like what you saw and aren't interested. So assistants feel each other out. There's an unspoken rule about how it works, an honor among thieves. You each get a brief hello, maybe 30 seconds. "Any more than that," Harrison says, "and it's, What are you doing, a home visit?" Harrison goes off to make a call on the far side of the gym, and Jurick and the Oklahoma coach huddle briefly. Then it's Harrison's turn. It's just a hello, a courtesy to say thanks for letting us see you, but when you've been around as long as Harrison, a few seconds is all you need. "Since the Final Four we've been the flavor of the month when it comes to recruiting," Harrison says, clearly pleased with the interaction. "Gotta ride it while you can." Then he jumps in the car for the drive to the airport and another flight. In the end Harrison's confidence was misplaced. Jurick signed with Oklahoma State on April 18.

Andre Drummond is a mild-mannered giant with an immense upside. He's from Connecticut, where Harrison grew up and coached, and Harrison has known him since he was in the eighth grade. It's just that kind of relationship that can get a franchise player to pick West Virginia over Georgetown or UConn. But UNC likes Drummond too, and there's talk that Kentucky is involved. "Sometimes we say, 'We recruit; Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, they select,'" Harrison says.

Getting Drummond, even for a year, could have a huge effect on Harrison's own trajectory. As head coach at Hartford, he needed time to separate his own style from that of Huggins, his mentor. By '06 Harrison was hitting his stride. His team went 9--7 in the America East conference, and he was the conference's coach of the year. Still, his overall record was under .500, and he resigned. Now, he says, "I have one more job left in me." His schedule contributed to his failed marriage—"It's quality time over quantity, and a wife gets tired of hearing that"—and wants another chance to finish his career fulfilled. But getting a job isn't easy when you're over 50. A second visit to the Final Four would work wonders for his résumé.

On Martin Luther King Jr. weekend Drummond is making a high-profile appearance with his team at the Hoophall Classic, in Springfield, Mass. A half-dozen more of America's most compelling high schoolers will be there too. But West Virginia has a game against Purdue, a made-for-television lead-in to the NFL that will keep Harrison in Morgantown until Sunday evening. He won't get to Hoophall until Monday, when he'll see another recruit: Jabarie Hinds. The 5'11" point guard from Mount Vernon (N.Y.) High is already committed to West Virginia, but part of a recruiter's task is hand-holding, keeping his signees feeling wanted. "They miss the love and attention they got during the process," says Chillious.

The Springfield College arena is nearly full when Hoophall starts in earnest on Saturday afternoon. Fans make an event of it, camping out in the stands. But no recruiter can see it all. The coaches come and go, passing each other at the security checkpoint inside the arena or in the lobby of the Marriott. By the time Drummond's game starts on Sunday, the big names have arrived. Georgetown is there, and so are Connecticut and North Carolina. And then, shortly before tip-off, heads turn as Kentucky coach John Calipari walks in.

Knowing when to deploy your head coach is part of the strategy of recruiting. If you have someone with the reputation and charisma of Calipari, you use him in precise circumstances: when you're sure you want the kid and you want the kid to know it. Calipari settles in directly under the basket. "At this stage," says Wildcats assistant Orlando Antigua, nodding toward Calipari, "it's less about us seeing the kid than the kid seeing him."

Drummond is dominant only sporadically. He's clearly a project, but his upside is too vast to ignore. Any team—NBA included—would be overjoyed to have him. After one dunk Drummond ends up face-to-face with Calipari, and his eyes widen. He knew Calipari was coming, but that's different from seeing him there. After that he seems to run the floor with even more intensity, and who wouldn't? It hardly matters that it's the noncontact period. A big-time coach such as Calipari can have a huge effect on the process without saying a word.

By the time Harrison gets to his seat the next morning, he has heard all about Calipari's visit. Harrison seems to have a connection to nearly every coach in the building, as well as to the men who run scouting services, write blogs and get carried along in the sport's orbit. He gleans a tidbit from each. "These guys have no rules, they're talking to everybody," Harrison says.

An assistant coach from DeMatha High walks past. On Saturday the Hyattsville, Md., school suffered a humiliating 50-point loss to New Jersey's St. Anthony. DeMatha stayed over and is about to practice in a side gym before departing. Harrison asks if he can poke his head in to greet the head coach. By doing so he'll gain the benefit of being seen by James Robinson, a 6'3" guard he's recruiting. Harrison has a sense that it's time to turn up the volume on Robinson.

On a normal day, visiting practice wouldn't be a problem, but the loss has amped up DeMatha's stress levels. "Come by and we'll see," the school's assistant tells Harrison. When Harrison arrives, the tension on the far side of the curtain dividing the practice courts is palpable, a funereal quiet punctuated only by the bounce of the ball and the squeak of sneakers. Harrison doesn't need to be told that pressing the issue is a bad idea.

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