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Virginia Men's Basketball

Recruiting Isn’t What it Used To Be

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the changes in recruiting I’ve noticed over the years. Not that I’ve been around doing this all that long. I started the HGN account on twitter four years ago, and lurked for several years before that. Since there’s not much else going on thanks to the COVID-19 dead period, I decided to blog it out. Hope you enjoy my reminiscing.

Social Media Growth

In July of 2014, future McDonald’s All-American Kyle Guy, already then a top 60 ranked recruit, tweeted that he was “Blessed to be offered by Virginia”. It received 27 likes until resurfacing on its five-year anniversary. The most recent twitter announcement of a UVA offer by Kendall Brown has been liked more than 700 times. That explosion of interest on social media isn’t only the biggest singular change in recruiting, it’s a contributing factor to most of the others discussed below.

When I first started following recruiting on twitter, I didn’t bother to follow the recruits directly. There was no reason. Their accounts were personal, used for normal teenage behavior. Today, twitter and Instagram are more like their public relations platforms. Each offer comes with a well crafted announcement, as do the ever more frequent changes in school or class. All building up to the ultimate news fans wait on, which inevitably gets leaked ahead of time because he took a week to prepare the perfect commitment video.

It’s changed the way coaches communicate with recruits. The early fame has eased the adjustment into the college spotlight. Players deliver their message directly to fans and their peers, without the delay or filter of traditional media. It’s empowered them. Some fans will complain that it’s boosted egos and created drama, and they’re not wrong. But it’s also allowed us to know more about our future players and every aspect of the process that brought them to our favorite school. No subscription required.

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Offers Don’t Tell the Story

It used to be fairly simple. If you wanted to know who was recruiting a player, pull up his offer list on any of several websites that track them. An offer not only was an invitation to join the program, it also implied that he would be actively recruited going forward. Coaches first evaluated, then offered, then recruited. It doesn’t always work that way anymore.

Offers to underclassmen make for the easiest example. According to VerbalCommits.com, our old friend Buzz Williams at Texas A&M has made 26 offers to the class of 2022. Mike White at Florida can top that with his 31 extended. Blue bloods aren’t immune either. Kansas is up to 19. Keep in mind, coaches can’t even call those kids yet. Many of them will never be followed up with any real recruiting effort. The goal is to keep them in play and cheapen offers made by others. It’s like reserving a parking spot in case they decide to return later to claim they’ve been there all along.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Mike Brey isn’t handing out trophies anymore. Notre Dame only has one offer out to the class of 2021. Recruits need to show genuine interest in the Irish before being blessed to receive. That’s not a new idea. John Beilein famously required recruits to visit Michigan first. The purpose is to weed out dead ends and those that aren’t ready to be recruited yet. While perhaps a more noble strategy, it hides active recruiting efforts from an offer list.

What hasn’t changed is each program only has one head coach. He’ll go see the recruits that are important to him. And now thanks to social media, fans will usually know about it. In case you were wondering, Virginia has actually gotten a little tighter with scholarship offers. They only have nine out to the 2021 class, and one for 2022

No Secrets

Coaches used to get away with telling kids darn near anything. Every recruit was the top priority. Yeah we’ve offered other guys, but you’re the one we’re recruiting hardest. No more. Mom and dad see the reports on twitter. The recruits themselves probably talk to each other on Instagram. They better not be hearing the same message either.

The competition knows what’s up too. Outside of overseas prospects and sometimes transfers, there’s no point of college programs wasting energy trying to keep their activity private anymore. It’s all out there. Even that under-the-radar kid they’ve been quietly keeping an eye on from afar, chances are some local scout has tweeted his highlights tempting other coaches by mentioning your school’s interest. It’s turned into a big game of copycat. A visit from the right well-regarded coach can draw a dozen new follows from other programs. If he’s good enough for Tony Bennett to check out, why not?

Scripted Process

The recruiting process has almost turned into a chess game. Everybody wants to play it right, and there’s people in each recruit’s ear telling them the right moves. Honestly, some of them are pretty good at it. Others mistakenly try to apply a one-fits-all strategy to an always unique situation. What’s true in just about every case is there’s a game plan and they’ve become determined to stick to it.

Recruits are interviewed more than ever, yet somehow say less. I read every story on UVA recruits, and rarely learn anything. It’s not from the reporter’s lack of trying. These kids have grown incredibly adept at keeping their poker face. They might have their commitment announcement set to run tomorrow and still give the standard “I’ll decide in the Fall of my senior year” answer. We’ve seen it happen. It’s a script, and they all seem to have the same copy.

Trimmed lists are popular and controversial with fans. They’re meaningless if we’re being honest. Another act in the script. The change in recent years is the wording. Players no longer name a Final 10, it’s a Top 10. The latter means he’s still open to new offers. See, there’s nothing final about it. Later, they might come out with an actual Final short list. I can remember when that was a genuine thing. Kids produced a final 5, set visits to them all, then made a choice. When that list comes out today, it’s pretty much over. At best, the other schools have a period of time to change his mind.

Reclassification

Definitely my least favorite part of covering recruiting today, the musical classes. No offense intended to those that have done it. Several Virginia players did. It’s maddening to deal with for me, and I would imagine for college coaches too. However, the flexibility creates opportunity for both sides.

The thing to understand is very few players actually move up a year. Just about all of them are only undoing an earlier reclassification back. Sometimes it’s all very obvious, if the first change happened during their high school years. It’s the all too common hidden middle school change that trips us up. We don’t see those moves forward coming. They sort of spring it on us late in the process.

Coverage

Fans are more knowledgeable than ever before. Along with that, their expectations for content are higher. What would have passed as juicy inside scoop five years ago is now public information. Demand has grown exponentially, but superficial coverage won’t cut it. They want the blanks filled in with details and in-depth original analysis. The days of only reporting offers, visits, and commitments are gone. It’s not just about the destination anymore; fans examine every step of the journey.

Right now, you’re reading an article written by someone whose only real qualification is having a twitter account. And that’s not so unusual anymore. Most of my job is to monitor social media for reports and then make sense of them. Throw in an occasional opinion or nugget from a source, and that’s what a recruiting analyst does in today’s environment. It’s become an industry of specialization. We all have our niches working together to satisfy the insatiable fan appetite for more.

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