The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has thrown the basketball world into flux, from the NBA down to the prep ranks, where the loss of the spring live period has led to immediate changes in the way players and and D-I programs are conducting business. For now, recruitment has gone digital, forcing teams to be creative in the interim, and putting prospective players, particularly unsigned seniors, in difficult positions. It’s not that there’s incomplete information, but more so an absence of opportunity.
From a big-picture standpoint, the game hasn’t changed. Top programs are mostly done recruiting the class of 2020, and will still cull from roughly the same pool of Top 100-150 prospects in 2021 and beyond — players who by and large have had national exposure, and should have future opportunities come their way whenever the calendar gets back to normal.
But losing the spring AAU platform has thrown shorter-term recruitments into flux, with unsigned seniors across the country still hoping for scholarships, schools looking to fill roster spots, and also contending with the annually massive transfer market.
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There are also programs waiting out players with NBA decisions to make, and it may be some time before there’s clarity with regard to the calendar of the draft.
Unsigned 2020 athletes, who might have used another round of live period games to boost their stock, are the ones hurt most by the unexpected hiatus, with some incentive for schools to take transfers or junior college prospects as potentially safer alternatives and known on-court quantities.
Clouding matters further is the fact that the NCAA has thrown around the option of allowing all athletes to transfer once without penalty of sitting out a year, which if granted would presumably lead to a frenzy of player movement.
In the meantime, the total lack of permissible in-person contact has forced schools to get creative, with Zoom meetings replacing in-home visits and players receiving virtual tours of dorms and practice facilities.
Greater availability of game film has at least made it easier for teams to identify and evaluate players, but with no spring games (and potentially no July period, either), there’s a major missed opportunity for head coaches in particular to hit the road to evaluate players their assistants have tabbed as targets.
And for better or worse, the value of word-of-mouth takes additional precedence, creating a degree of noise for coaches to sift through throughout the process.
For the hardest-working recruiters and most astute evaluators, there may be a degree of competitive advantage folded in, where players can theoretically be hidden from the competition for longer periods of time.
That said, for the 2021 class, committing early now seems overly hasty, with emphasis likely to fall on the forthcoming high school season as a more critical juncture. Part of the obvious benefit of AAU tournaments is that coaches can evaluate so many recruits in one stop. Most programs seem certain to take some level of budget hits due to the negative revenue impact of the pandemic — particularly if football season is lost — and programs need to put themselves in position to use their time and travel wisely whenever things go back to normal.
From a player perspective, there are prospects who blow up every spring and summer, and that opportunity has in essence, evaporated.
The prospect of the NCAA creating an extra live period before college and high school seasons (theoretically) resume in the fall would be ideal, but at this point, it’s hard to say what’s realistic and what’s wishful thinking.
It goes without saying that in this type of environment, there’s a higher chance that players and programs alike will make mistakes. It’s an uncertain reality nobody could have prepared for, and for now, a holding pattern.