The state of college basketball recruiting

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  • The state of college basketball recruiting 1

    Jeff BorzelloESPN Staff Writer

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    • Basketball recruiting insider.
    • Joined ESPN in 2014.
    • Graduate of University of Delaware.

Much like the rest of the sports world and the rest of the world in general, it’s been an unprecedented several weeks of recruiting because of the coronavirus pandemic. Recruiting hasn’t stopped — recruiting never actually stops — but it certainly has changed.

Here’s a look at the most pressing questions in the college basketball recruiting landscape.

What’s the status of college basketball recruiting right now?

We’re in the middle of a dead period. That means no in-person recruiting: no official visits to college campuses, no visits from coaches to the homes of prospects, no in-person evaluations. Phone calls, text messages and other written correspondence are allowed. The dead period was originally put in place on March 13 until April 15, but the NCAA extended it until May 31 because of the coronavirus.

How has that affected the recruiting calendar?

The biggest effect for basketball recruiting has been the absence of the April evaluation period. Normally, there are two live periods in April when college coaches go to grassroots events around the country and evaluate the next few classes of recruits. Nike, Under Armour and Adidas all hold events, and every noteworthy AAU team is in action. With the senior class usually out of the way by this point, coaches begin to turn their eyes to the junior class and beyond. These live events are essentially the start of a new recruiting cycle.

For now, the dead period will end May 31. If it does indeed end at that point, “live” June and July events for college coaches could proceed as scheduled. That would include the NBPA Top 100 camp, two live high school periods in June and live weekends in July — including the Nike Peach Jam, the biggest grassroots event of the spring and summer. If the dead period is extended into the summer, all those events will be off the table.

Would the NCAA create an evaluation period later in the summer or in the early fall to make up for lost time?

There has been talk among grassroots event operators and college coaches that the NCAA could create an evaluation period for college coaches in August or September, but the NCAA hasn’t said anything to that effect. As with everything else, it will ultimately depend on the pandemic and the government orders in different states.

So how are coaches recruiting if they can’t see players in person or get them on campus?

They’re communicating like the rest of us: via phone calls, texts and video conferencing. The phone calls and texts are nothing new, but Zoom calls are an added wrinkle. Prospects are also now going on virtual visits, where coaching staffs send a player videos of the sorts of things they would see on a real campus visit: locker rooms, weight rooms, practice courts, academic services information, etc. It doesn’t replace an in-person trip, but it does give the prospect a feel of what they might get at a certain school.

Coaches are still recruiting their 2021 and 2022 boards, with a little more film mixed in to replace the in-person evaluations.

How has this affected the 2020 class?

The 2020 class was just about finished with its recruiting cycle when the dead period went into effect. The last few ESPN 100 prospects have committed in recent weeks, and a lack of coaching changes thanks to the pandemic has eliminated most of the decommitments we usually see every spring. A few prospects were affected by the dead period, though.

Karim Mane, a Canada native who would have been ranked in the ESPN 100 if he’d played high school basketball in the United States, was set to take official visits and then decide after his high school season ended. He visited Marquette in January but was unable to visit any other schools, and he recently declared for the NBA draft. Mane has told ESPN in the past that his preference would be not to commit to a school he’s never seen in person.

What about the 2021 class?

You could make the case that the 2021 class has a chance to be the most underrecruited group in a long time. The dead period shut down the first live period where that group would have taken center stage, and it eliminated the in-home visits that happen every April and May. Around this time in the recruiting cycle for high school juniors, a flood of scholarship offers come in after the April live periods.

That lack of exposure could continue into June and July if the dead period is extended and those live periods are canceled.

Prospects could enter their senior years having not been seen by college coaches in nine months.

What does that mean for those recruitments?

It could lead to more high school juniors staying local for college instead of going across the country. Why? Prospects usually start with regional priorities before expanding their recruitment nationally, which usually happens during the spring and summer. If there are no spring and summer live periods, recruitments could remain stagnant for the next several months.

In other words, there won’t be any spring and summer breakouts. There are countless stories of big-name college players not becoming huge factors until late in the recruiting process. Anthony Davis didn’t emerge as a national recruit until April of his junior year; Jeremy Lamb and Malcolm Brogdon both broke out at July’s Peach Jam. The 2021 class might not have any of those.

Now, for prospects with scholarship offers in hand, it’s not the end of the world. They can still commit to any number of programs. But for players hoping to use this spring and summer to be seen by college coaches and earn offers, it could be difficult.

Is the current increase in reclassification talk related to this?

Although there aren’t many high-major prospects still on the board in 2020, the discussion of 2021 prospects reclassifying into 2020 and enrolling in college in the fall continues to heat up. It happens every spring, but there’s a wrinkle this spring. The NCAA announced earlier this month that it is relaxing initial eligibility requirements for student-athletes to enroll in college for the fall, with the NCAA not requiring a standardized test score as the most notable change.

Lastly, where does the G League fall in all of this?

Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd sent tremors throughout college basketball earlier this month when they announced on back-to-back days that they were choosing to play for a new G League developmental program instead of going to college. Green signed a $500,000 contract for one year, while Todd is expected to earn as much as $250,000. Immediately, the “college basketball is dead” narrative started spreading. Let’s pump the brakes a bit.

Is this going to become a viable option for high school prospects? For a certain segment of elite prospects, sure. Green was the No. 1 prospect and Todd was a five-star prospect, and both wanted to make money for a year before entering the NBA draft. They won’t be the only two. Expect the G League to identify and pursue a number of elite recruits over the next couple of seasons, and expect a few every year to make the move. But it won’t lead to 25 or 30 prospects from every class skipping college. Last week, top-10 prospect Greg Brown turned down a reported $400,000 offer from the G League to commit to Texas. And once the NCAA allows student-athletes to make money from their name, image and likeness, the financial aspect will be somewhat mitigated.

There’s another factor going on: the uncertainty of the 2020-21 college basketball season. There are questions about when colleges will open in the fall, when the college football season will be played and how that affects the start of the college basketball season. Will it be delayed? Will it be shortened? The G League offered an alternative to what could have been viewed by Green and Todd as a wasted season in college.

The G League is certainly going to be a legitimate option for elite prospects until one-and-done goes away, but it won’t suddenly make college basketball irrelevant for five-star players.

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