Specifically as it pertains to basketball, everything the NCAA has done with its recruiting calendar since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the United States in mid-March was to be expected — if not obviously necessary.
College sports’ governing body instituted a dead period for recruiting in all sports on March 13. It has since extended that dead period three times, most recently through July 31, meaning a coach cannot have any in-person, face-to-face contact with a high school prospect.
A dead time through July 31 means the basketball recruiting calendar is now devoid of evaluation periods, which allow college coaching staffs to watch prospects outside of the high school season, often against higher-end competition at Amateur Athletic Union events. Evaluation periods in April and even more so in July have long belonged to club teams, most notably at events run by sneaker giants Nike, Under Armour and Adidas.
The unintended consequence of evaluation periods in April and July going away this year is that prospective recruits have been stripped of opportunities to showcase themselves in front of college coaches.
“I feel bad for a lot of the high school kids, maybe the 2021s, who are in their last little recruiting period,” University of Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak told The Salt Lake Tribune. “My son (Olympus High School guard Ben Krystkowiak) is one of those, and there’s thousands of others that aren’t getting a crack and being seen. It makes it tough.”
“It’s hard for the class of 2021; those kids have sort of been given a raw deal,” Utah Prospects AAU coach Tim Davis told The Tribune. “People are going to have to get their own information, coaches, too. Everyone is really going to have to do their homework.”
Davis’ Utah Prospects are Adidas-sponsored, as well as the only sneaker-backed program in the state. He is annually sending a handful of kids to the Division I level, which means he has been around the block on the AAU circuit more than a few times. When Davis says the 2021 kids are getting a raw deal, he says it with evidence behind that notion.
In the past, the basketball recruiting calendar included a total of 21 evaluation days, six in April and another 15 in July spread across three weeks. High school governing bodies were not involved in any fashion, which was better for everyone.
Beginning in 2019, in response to recommendations made by the Condoleezza Rice-led Commission on College Basketball, the recruiting calendar still had 21 total evaluation days, but looked radically different.
Two evaluation days in mid-June were reserved for the NBPA Top 100 Camp, a showcase for many of the nation’s elite recruits. That event helps the upper echelon of college coaches recruit, but does little to nothing for most mid- and low-major coaches. Six more days later in June were given to high school governing bodies opting to run events, but only 19 out of 51 high school associations opted to do so.
The newly formed NCAA College Basketball Academy ate up five more evaluation days in July, and did so under scrutiny of how it was run and the level of talent present at four sites nationwide.
In the end, after eliminating the NBPA Top 100, high school events and the NCAA event, that left seven evaluation days, three in April and four in July, for the traditional AAU events as opposed to the 21 it used to be.
“You wound up having two live periods last year, and I think what ended up happening was staffs had such a limited window to evaluate 2020 kids, 2021 kids got the short end of the stick,” said Davis, who noted six of his eight 2021 prospects to this point hold at least one Division I scholarship offer.
July and the rest of the 24 evaluation days this year are out, thanks to the dead period, but the National Association of Basketball Coaches and its president, TCU head coach Jamie Dixon, have been bullish publicly over the past two weeks that the organization, with help from the NCAA, can get evaluation periods scheduled later this summer and potentially into the fall.
What those evaluation periods would look like is up for discussion. Nike announced on Saturday it is canceling its Elite Youth Basketball League, which annually has four stops, 40 teams and hundreds of Division I prospects. The fourth stop, Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C., takes place during a July live period and is widely considered the nation’s top grassroots event. Cancellation means Nike is opting not to run EYBL, even if evaluation days are added to the calendar.
Less heralded, but in the same vein as EYBL, the Adidas 3SSB Circuit and Under Armour Association have yet to announce plans for potential evaluation periods later this summer, but it is hard to believe, given COVID-19 concerns, that teams would be traveling to events via airplane.
“We’ve got some kids that we’re targeting and we’re staying in contact with them,” Krystkowiak said. “There’s a really good chance, I’m optimistic that some of these recruiting periods will get pushed to later in the summer. Hopefully, we’ll still have a chance to get out and see those kids.
“My prediction would be there’s going to be a little bit of a flashback to years gone by when there was maybe a little bit more regional recruiting taking place, when you were staying in your own neck of the woods instead of jumping on a plane and going to Peach Jam and all those places.”