NU coaches, prospects navigate uncertain hoops recruiting future
With April just around the corner, now was supposed to be the time where college basketball programs put the finishing touches on next season’s recruiting class and prospects around the country prepared to showcase themselves on the AAU circuit.
But with the drastic changes made as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the entire recruiting calendar – and how schools try and land players – has been almost completely put on hold.
As of now, the NCAA has instituted a recruiting dead period for all sports, meaning colleges are not allowed to make any in-person contact with recruits, including official and unofficial visits, until at least April 15.
Given how swiftly everything has changed due to coronavirus concerns over the past two weeks, some in the industry expect that deadline to be pushed out even further.
On top of that, nearly all of the top spring and summer AAU circuits around the country have canceled their exposure events through the month of April, which was supposed to feature the first two live evaluation weekends of the year on the 17-19th and 24-26th.
So how are coaches and prospects adapting to having one of the most important periods of the recruiting cycle shelved indefinitely?
“You’ve got to get creative,” said Nebraska assistant coach and recruiting director Matt Abdelmassih.
As far as Nebraska basketball is concerned, one of the few silver linings to the world’s current situation and its impact on recruiting is that NU is one of the few programs that hasn’t felt many of the negative impacts of COVID-19's ripple effect.
For one, the Huskers have already locked up four commitments for their 2020 class via the transfer ranks – two junior college recruits in Teddy Allen and Lat Mayen, and two DI transfers in Kobe King and Kobe Webster.
However, NU will likely have more work to do as its current roster attrition continues to shake out. Without being able to go see players or have them come to Lincoln to experience the program first-hand, Abdelmassih said the entire tenor of recruiting conversations have changed dramatically.
“Where the challenging part is, when you’re talking to these kids from all over the country, it’s not like you can have the conversation that says, ‘Hey, let’s work on a visit,’” Abdelmassih said. “More so, you’re talking to these kids and saying, ‘What are you going to do if you don’t have an opportunity to visit?’ All it does is lengthen the process, potentially.
“So you’re going to have to as a staff sit there and evaluate whether you’re going to have a process that lasts that long with all the needs that you could potentially have.”
Nebraska was already able to work around the recruiting visit ban in landing Webster, who pledged to the Huskers last weekend despite having never taken an official or unofficial to Lincoln.
However, the former Western Illinois transfer did meet with head coach Fred Hoiberg and Abdelmassih in his native Indianapolis while NU was in town for the Big Ten Tournament, something that is now off the table.
That means the staff is now doing its best to try and sell all that Nebraska has to offer without being able to utilize arguably its most valuable recruiting weapon – changing preconceptions and stereotypes about Nebraska that out-of-state recruits usually all have by letting them see for themselves what Lincoln and UNL are all about.
Abdelmassih said he was utilizing technology such as FaceTime and virtual video tours of campus and the facilities more than ever before in his career. As far as he can tell from conversations with the NCAA so far, those measures will likely be the best teams can do to give recruits a taste of the on-campus experience.
“Some of the kids we’re talking to are very realistic that they might have to make a decision without visiting,” Abdelmassih said. “That’s probably the focus right now… I think it’d be unfair to sit here and say that this is going to be lifted on April 15th. So the worst-case scenario, which is the one I think we have to roll with right now, is you’re not making a visit to campus.”
On the other end of the spectrum are the high school players.
Not only are they left trying to figure out their college future with limited information and experiences, but they are also unsure of whether they’ll get the same exposure opportunities a normal AAU circuit would normally provide.
Jasen Green, a rising 2022 forward out of Millard (Neb.) North who already holds a Nebraska offer, is an example of a player whose recruitment could be hindered by further AAU cancellations.
The 6-foot-7 three-star recruit was set to play for the high-profile MOKAN Elite program on the Nike EYBL circuit, arguably the top AAU league in the country. Green was poised to earn multiple other high-major offers by the end of the summer, but now he’s left wondering when his next opportunity will come.
“It’s definitely disheartening,” Green said. “But it will also give me a lot more time to get in the gym and get in the lab and hone my shot and my skills. It will give me a lot more time to become a better player, so that when the EYBL is back on, I’ll be able to dominate.”
2021 Bellevue (Neb.) West point guard Chucky Hepburn already committed to Wisconsin in the fall, so his perspective is a bit different than other recruits. But even though he doesn’t necessarily need the exposure in front of college coaches, Hepburn is still holding out hope for one last season of AAU.
“I’m just patiently waiting to see what happens,” Hepburn said. “I still believe we’re going to play AAU this year. If we don’t, that sucks, but it’ll be good because it will allow me to rest my body this summer.”
While Nebraska and coaching staffs around the sport are doing all they can to make do in the current recruiting situation, Abdelmassih wasn’t overly concerned about assembling NU’s rosters for next season and beyond.
Because of how much Nebraska utilizes the transfer market, it’s recruiting many players who don’t necessarily need to be swayed so much by shiny arenas, practice facilities, and campus life.
For those recruits, including the four that NU already has onboard for 2020, the sales pitches are far more focus on personal connections and the ability to make the most of what’s left of their basketball careers.
“The thing more so than ever, recruiting is always about relationships,” Abdelmassih said. “But especially at this time, and that’s where you have to fall back on kids that you have prior relationships with. You’re counting on them trusting what you have to say and show them, and you have to find a way for them to believe in it.”