Basketball in July
On the Road Recruiting
July is named for Julius Caesar, who played a critical role in building the Roman Empire.
July is also a critical month for college basketball coaches, who aspire to build an empire of their own.
On average, July is the warmest month in the northern hemisphere. When it comes to college basketball, July is when the recruiting really heats up.
Outside of the actual season, July is the most important month of the year for college basketball coaches across the country. In the case of some coaches, it might even be more important to the future of their programs than the actual season.
“July is the most important month because it’s the longest period of time you can get to see a lot of players at one particular event,” said Rider men’s basketball head coach Kevin Baggett.
“We spend a lot of time in July on the road in gyms all over,” said Rider women’s basketball head coach Lynn Milligan. “I feel we need to see players live as much as possible to get a good evaluation on them as a player.”
“I have friends I know and trust who recommend players to me but I still need to see them with my own eyes,” Baggett said. “Even if they are talented I need to see if they fit what we are looking for.”
It is not just the head coaches but the assistant coaches are on the road as well. “It is important to me that everyone on our staff gets an opportunity to see the recruits,” Baggett said. “Everyone will have a different opinion, a different evaluation. I want everyone to come to the same conclusion, that this is someone we want in our program.”
“I feel I have the hardest working assistants anywhere,” Milligan said. “Their role is huge in the recruiting process. They do much of the leg work and building of relationships with the right people. We are all involved in every part of the process. They do have specific responsibilities but I believe we benefit from all being involved.”
For the men, the July live period is three separate four-day periods over a three-week span. It stretches from 5 p.m. Wednesday to 5 p.m. Sunday. It used to be two separate 10-day periods, but the rules changed last year.
For the women, there are two seven-day periods, with 10 days in between.
During those days, coaches will travel the country watching prospects in all different high school classes. Some coaches will be tracking players to see who they should recruit and some will visit players who already have committed. But many coaches just need to be in attendance and be seen by their potential prospects.
“With the new rules it is a little more difficult if you have players on campus, since you can only spend Monday and Tuesday with them, then you are on the road Wednesday to Sunday,” Baggett said. “That’s a bit of a struggle. You want to spend time with the players on campus.”
This past July Coach Baggett spent his month in Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Maryland and Pittsburgh. “Time will tell if it was successful or not,” Baggett said. “We had potential student-athletes on campus in June visiting unofficially so we went out to evaluate them in July. This year we only need to sign one or two. Then we’ll know if July paid off or not.”
In addition to the correct exit ramp, what exactly are the coaches looking for when they are on the road in July?
“We’re looking for the best talent, someone who will play hard, play with a lot of energy, play with passion,” Baggett said. “There are a lot of things that go into it. A good attitude, if he fits your program. My assistants and I meet a lot and talk about the characteristics of our recruits.”
“Our philosophy is we try to outwork our competition and find the best student-athletes that will represent Rider to the fullest,” Milligan said. “We focus on relationships. That is the key to good recruiting. The dynamics of finding the right person for our system starts early. We try to identify players early in their high school careers so we can watch their development as they go. We need to follow them on and off the court. Academics are a big part of the puzzle. We need to know if they can handle the quality academics we have at Rider. We do a lot of leg work building relationships with AAU and high school coaches, guidance counselors etc.”
“I sell the academic part of Rider to the recruits, what we offer in the classroom,” Baggett said. “I talk about my experience growing up going to basketball camp here, about the experiences some of our players have had here, the professors here, the family atmosphere here. I’ve found it is a pretty easy sell.”
“Rider academics are second to none,” Milligan said. “We believe the support our student-athletes have academically is amazing. They have many avenues to reach out to for help if needed. When you have a team that is academically committed to their success, it’s easy to sell.”
With the new NCAA rules, the times they are a-changin.
“Recruiting has changed tremendously over the years and continues to change,” Milligan said. “The rules change as to when and how and how much we can contact recruits. Relationships are key and they must start early. Recruits are making decisions very early and we have less and less days to see them. Social media has changed things as well.”
“You don’t get to know the young men you recruit as well as you used to,” Baggett said. “You used to be able to get out a lot more. There are not as many evaluations. Some recruits are concerned about what level they play at because they have aspirations to play in the NBA. I think Jason (Thompson, 2008 Rider grad and the 12th player picked in the 2008 NBA draft) proved that you can get to the NBA from any level, it all depends on your ability and how hard to work. We also have a handful of former players who are playing professionally overseas, so if you can’t get to the NBA there is a professional level that you can make a good living playing.”
So is July to be celebrated or dreaded as dog days?
“I still enjoy watching basketball and I enjoy seeing other coaches on the recruiting trails,” Baggett said. “July can be fun. On the other hand, there is a lot of bad basketball out there, a lot of selfish players who think all we want to see is them shoot. The way we were brought up to play is different from today’s style.”
“Recruiting always has highs and lows,” Milligan said. “You will go through many different situations. I have gone through many over the last 20-plus years but I am a believer that you end up where you are suppose to if you do your work.”
In a college basketball game, the outcome is often decided by the performance in the beginning of the second half.
In college basketball recruiting, the outcome is also decided in the beginning of the second half of the calendar year, July.