The other side of the July live period: Recruits continue to strive for attention and offers
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The third and final five-day July live evaluation period ended on Sunday afternoon on ESPNU. It was a live broadcast of a doubleheader from the adidas Super 64 in Las Vegas, the city where elite recruits, celebrity head coaches and media members alike annually end their travels during the busiest month on the recruiting calendar.
That’s the glamorous side of this month. Top prospects playing in front of a national audience with high-major coaches scattered throughout the stands. It’s a much different live period than the one Trevon Mollison, a point guard from Brampton, Ontario, experienced.
He didn’t travel by plane to his tournaments. Several weeks ago, Mollison, his coach, Jason Fowler, and five of his teammates packed into a gray, 2006 Pontiac Montana -- borrowed from Mollison’s mother -- as they made the seven-hour drive from the home of Anthony Bennett and Tyler Ennis to the birthplace of basketball, Springfield, Massachusetts, for the Hall of Fame National Invitational Tournament.
Forget sponsored uniforms provided by the likes of Nike, adidas or Under Armour. Mollison’s team, Venom Elite, didn’t even have matching shorts, and only some of them wore the same black-and-white, reversible, mesh jerseys.
Still, it was a first-class tournament put on by BasketBull with four full-size courts placed in a rented out exhibition hall. One of the courts was shipped up from Hartford, the same floor the national champion UConn Huskies play on. It didn’t matter what court Mollison was on or what jersey he wore, just as long as someone watched him.
That was the second weekend of the July live period, and Trevon Mollison is a 2014 point guard still in search of that elusive Division I scholarship offer. The live period can take its toll on any recruit, as they are making life-changing decisions at 17 and 18 years old. It’s a little more stressful when your hopes of playing Division I basketball in the United States hang in the balance.
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“I know that this is one shot that I might not get again, so I have to leave it all out on the table,” Mollison told NBCSports.com on July 19 after going for 12 points (off 3-of-4 shooting from three), four assists and two steals in a win.
The 6-foot Mollison entered the tournament relatively unknown. He doesn’t have a recruiting page on Rivals, nor ESPN, nor Scout. Mollison also wasn’t with one of Canada’s premier grassroots teams. Spending five years playing high school ball in Canada while the nation’s top prospects bolted for schools in the U.S. hasn’t helped his recruitment either.
He did, however, hit the summer with a head of steam.
In March, Mollison led Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School to an unlikely Cinderella postseason run in the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) tournament, which included an upset win over the top-ranked team, and ended with a bronze medal. He led the OFSAA in points (24.7 PPG), assists (8.3 APG) and steals (4.1 SPG) during that run. The next month, he was named Mr. Peel Basketball, the region’s most valuable player.
“Trevon was kind of an afterthought this year,” said Mark Bairos, a scout for HoopsHype Canada. “He had the odds against him, and he had one of the more jaw-dropping seasons. He was unbelievable during the season and the playoff stretch. He kind of put it all together, took what he had and made the most of it.”
The postseason performance helped build up his stock as a college prospect, but the July live period has come and gone, and his future remains uncertain. The time is ticking for Mollison’s Division I hopes. He’s a member of the Class of 2014, looking to enroll in college next fall not a prep school like the other Division I hopefuls that fall short of that offer.
Classes at most schools will begin in less than a month.
Ryan Peterson decided this spring to do a postgraduate year. He returned to the Hall of Fame National Invitational Tournament again this summer. Last year, he had latched on to the right team for July, the Connecticut Basketball Club (CBC), typically the strongest AAU program that state has to offer.
At the same tournament in 2013, a host of Division I coaches sat in to watch CBC play. Providence head coach Ed Cooley was there with multiple assistants, the sign that a program is serious about a recruit. Most, if not all of those coaches, were locked in on Peterson’s teammate, 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu, who eventually committed to the Friars.
“I think when I went out there, I did do some good things. But I had joined the team late, as well,” Peterson said. “It’s a little nerve-racking with all the D-I coaches on the sidelines, but it was exciting, too.”
Peterson was hoping he’d be the one to garner Division I attention during this live period. The 6-foot-6 wing played with the CT Roughriders, an AAU team he’s played for since the fall. The personnel on the roster, as opposed to his high school, allowed him to play out on the perimeter, where he is more comfortable.
Peterson’s size forced him, at times, to match up with opposing team’s big men during his time at Wethersfield High. It became a double-edged sword. On one hand, he was a mismatch with his ability to stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting, complimented by his knack for making the occasional fancy pass. It wouldn’t be wrong to label him a “tweener”, having to defend post players with the skill set of a wing.
“That’s what people think,” he said, “that I’m in between a post and a wing or a guard.”
The only Division I interest he received coming out of high school was a preferred walk-on spot from Central Connecticut State with additional looks from Sacred Heart. Peterson is off to the St. Thomas More School in Oakdale, Connecticut, this fall. He’ll be playing under Jere Quinn, who coached Andre Drummond, and will have another team in 2014-2015 filled with Division I talent.
For Peterson, the July live period was a chance for him to add some college interest before the season starts, hoping that it will carry over to next season, where he will continue to play out on the perimeter for one of the top prep school teams in the northeast.
“The coaches said there are five, six D-I players on the roster,” Peterson said. “So I’m just going to have to work my way up.”
Another Connecticut 2014 prospect, Isaac Vann, is taking the prep school route, as well, although he’s doing so with multiple Division I scholarship offers. After the first week of July, Iona and Wagner both offered the athletic, 6-foot-5 wing. He had previously been offered by Canisius and Sacred Heart.
It’s the second summer in a row he’s excelled in front of Division I coaches. In 2013, he led his AAU team, United Sons and Daughters (USAD), to the 17u title with 33 points in the BasketBull Summer Championships title game. USAD defeated Isaiah Whitehead and the Juice All-Stars in the semifinals.
“I think I’ve just been playing hard in front of coaches, showing I can be a versatile player on offense and defense, and showing I can help my team win,” Vann said. “I definitely improved my jump shot. I’ve been shooting a lot better, and I think coaches have noticed that.”
He will attend Coastal Academy (New Jersey) this fall, a school which describes itself as “a premier basketball academy with a college-level training program that is designed to help our student-athletes succeed.” Despite the concerns that come with being associated with a basketball-centric prep school, Coastal Academy has lived up to its mission statement, sending players to schools in the Big East, American, Mountain West, MAC and MAAC.
Vann will need to commit to the weight room if he wants attract more schools, but this summer has already been a positive one. He’s boosted his recruitment. Like Peterson, Vann played with the luxury of knowing he has another year of prep basketball ahead of him with several opportunities to play in front of college coaches this winter at various showcases and tournaments.
Mollison has done all he can do. He’s been to Hoop Group and Five-Star camps. Fowler has sent emails to countless coaches on his behalf. There are also multiple recruiting videos of him on YouTube. On top of all that, he played well during the live period, drawing interest from a Division II program in Michigan.
In the three-day tournament in Springfield, Mollison looked like a recruit trying to land a late scholarship offer. He was playing hard on every possession, but it was clear he was pressing at times.
“This is the most coaches he’s played in front of,” Fowler told NBCSports.com on July 19.
Mollison is quick with the ball in his hands. He’s a solid defender and a gifted passer. At times he is too fast, losing control of the ball while trying to beat his man off the dribble. Defensively, he had the tendency to gamble. Overall, he was a dynamic lead guard. He started off one game with two 3-pointers despite an odd shooting form. After his team gave up a double-digit lead, he rallied for five straight points, swinging momentum, as Venom Elite advanced to the second round.
Several Division I coaches took in his games, but it’s tough to determine their interest level. One low-major assistant coach watched for a half, but his team, which finished last in its conference this past season, is looking to replace its leading scorer. Other coaches appeared to float from court to court throughout the day.
Mollison left Springfield disappointed, but not defeated. His still clinging to the hopes of Division I basketball, but realizes he might need to utilize his backup plan whether it be Division II, JuCo, prep school, or accepting a partial scholarship at one of the universities in Canada pursuing him. Or maybe Mollison, with a recent history of long-shot victories, can pull off another one and score that coveted offer.
“I didn’t know if any coaches saw me play, or if they were impressed with me,” Mollison said. “I don’t know if anyone spoke to Jason. I’m still in the blind. Still in the same situation I came in with. I went into that tournament, played and still left with nothing.
“I’m just hoping and praying that I can get that one call, or get that one letter in the mail from a school, saying they’ve seen my talent and my potential.”
He did what he said, he left it all out on the table, now he waits to see if anyone noticed.