(Image-Amber Searls-USA Today Sports)
I made an observation on our forum over the summer that drew the ire of some fans. The offending comment was that UVA now recruits like a blue-blood. Now, that doesn’t mean what you might think it does. Obviously, they’re not chasing a bunch of guys that were rated as 5-star prospects since middle school like Kentucky and Duke. I was speaking in terms of process, the way they go about things.
One of the more fascinating aspects of recruiting is following all the different strategies coaches use. They all have their own way. The best coaches adjust and improve over time. They identify what works for their program, eliminate what doesn’t, and constantly evaluate their process. Tony Bennett has clearly made some changes in recent years, specifically when scholarship offers are extended and how he divides his time.
With the 2021 class, only the early stage of the process is an apples-to-apples comparison to previous years. Covid wiped out the rest. By early, I specifically mean offers made prior to the start of their junior season and all activity for the remainder of that season. 40% of Bennett-era November signees fit into the early target category.
The graphic below represents activity from the early stage of UVA’s last four recruiting cycles. The first row shows how many spots they initially set out to fill, essentially the positions they made early offers for The offer count is plain enough. Next is the number of players Tony Bennett is known to have personally visited after offering. And lastly, how many of those he made multiple trips to see.
There are two very noticeable outliers that signify changes in behavior. In 2018, he visited eight offered recruits but only one multiple times. Tracing back to previous years, that was fairly normal. While he’s always done some “bulldogging” as he calls it during summer evaluation periods, that only spilled over into Fall recruiting in special cases. In 2019, there was a shift. The effort became more concentrated. He saw fewer recruits, while making repeated trips for his clear top targets at the two positions of need, Casey Morsell and Oscar Tshiebwe. There have been subtle adjustments since, but the general trend has continued. Clearly defined top targets out of the gate.
There was a lot of introspection following the 2018 recruiting cycle. It was a bit chaotic. But again, that wasn’t out of the ordinary for Bennett at the time. He seemed to operate by feel, without any real pattern to his activity. Priorities shifted fast. It was truly a thing of beauty when it worked. And then there were times when it felt like he spent a year searching for someone to fall in love with, only to end up barely recruiting anyone. It was always interesting to follow, that’s for sure. Since then, the entire process has become increasingly structured culminating with the class of 2021 where recruits could be separated into nearly perfect tiers based on visits from the coaching staff.
The second change is more recent and obvious. Offers to the class of 2021 nosedived. On the other hand, all of them were recruited personally by Bennett. That’s really what it boils down to. He’s now only extending offers to players that he’s prepared to spend his time on. They’re not always handed out when earned anymore. It comes when Tony is 100% eager and ready to take them. That’s the type of behavior typically reserved for….yep, blue-bloods. Villanova often does the same kind of thing if that’s more comfortable.
Longtime followers might remember my old Recruit Rundowns on Facebook. I listed every offered recruit, categorized by how much attention they received from the coaching staff. By those standards, there’s only Group A now. They’re all priorities. And as anyone who’s kept track knows, those Bennett-led priority recruitments have been the only early targets UVA has gotten. In that respect, all they’ve done is trim the fat. Where it can get blurry is with the recruits that come later. Fans need to adjust to this new way, and I need to cover it better. Anyone with Bennett’s attention has to be considered a serious target, offer or not.
Overall, I think these small changes are mostly positive. It’s meant to increase efficiency by limiting wasteful effort. Their most valuable resource, Bennett’s time, is utilized more in the ways that have proven successful. It will be interesting to see if similar behavior holds in later stages when delaying an offer can be costly. And I do have concerns that it’s all becoming overly structured. We still want Tony to be Tony, free to toss the script when he sees something special. Maybe that leads us down an occasional bumpy road, but it’s also how we arrived at this new position of privilege.