What is the July evaluation period, and why is it so important?
This Wednesday, July 9th, at 5:00 p.m. kicks off the 2014 July evaluation period, one of the most crucial stretches of the year for any college basketball team across the country.
But there are many fans out there that may not be aware of what a “live period” is or what it means for coaches and the players they are recruiting or plan to recruit in the future.
The NCAA rulebook is thick and it is scary and it is often confusing, but when it comes to the recruiting calendar, things are fairly cut and dry, particularly during the spring and summer months. The way it works is like this: there are only certain times during certain months where coaches are allowed to be on the road scouting and evaluating players. These are called evaluation periods, or “live periods”, and during a usual calendar year, there will be five of them: two in late April and/or early May and three during July.
The two live periods in the spring span just 48 hours each, stretching from 5:00 p.m. on a Friday through 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday. (Note: this year, due to the way that Mother’s Day, Easter and SAT weekends fell on the calendar, there was only one live period this spring.)
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In the summer, it’s a bit different. For three consecutive weekends during the month, coaches are allowed to evaluate prospects from 5:00 p.m. on a Wednesday until 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday. What that means is that during a 15-day stretch in the middle of the summer, these high school players will be in gyms across the country, essentially auditioning for the coaches that they hope to one day play for.
Audition is the proper word to use here as well.
No in-person contact is allowed between the college coaches and the recruits or the families of the recruits. It’s strictly an opportunity for scouting and evaluation, which creates a surreal environment at the events that take place. Family, friends, AAU coaches and the athletes themselves are all ushered onto one side of the court after entering the gym through one entrance. The college coaches are fenced in on the other side of the court after entering through a different entrance.
How a staff will go about traversing the country and utilizing their time during the live period will differ between programs.
A team like Kentucky or Duke will already know which players in the junior class they are targeting. They aren’t evaluating or scouting as much as they are following. When you see Mike Krzyzewski and two of his assistants sitting court side for someone like Diamond Stone or Henry Ellenson, you know it’s because Coach K is looking to add that particular big man. A general rule of thumb: the more staff members that are at a game, the more of a priority that recruit is.
But that’s not the only reason you’ll see a coach stalking a recruit. If a recruit is already committed, don’t be surprised to see an assistant -- or, if he’s important enough, the head coach -- front and center at every game he plays during the live period, a tactic known as “babysitting.”
At the high-major level, assistant coaches are the ones that do the leg work, identifying talents and picking out who would be the best fit within the team. When the head coach shows up in the stands, it’s to show just how badly that program wants that player. Tom Izzo can only be in one place at a time. If a kid that Michigan State is recruiting sees him at a game, that’s a sign that they want him to be a Spartan.
It’s also worth noting here that only four members of a coaching staff -- the head coach and his three assistants -- are allowed to be on the road at a given time. So even if it’s just an assistant from, say, Arizona watching Allonzo Trier play, it should still be a sign to Trier that Arizona values him. They can only be in four gyms at a given time.
For smaller programs, the idea is to get out and see as many players as possible, trying to identify who can play at their level and who will fit in with their program and style of play. Quite often, the player that stands out during a game isn’t the player that a particular coach was trying to recruit. For example, Delaware head coach Monte’ Ross once told me a story about recruiting former Blue Hens sharpshooter Kyle Anderson. He walked in a gym during a grassroots tournament to see a team play on one court, but as he was walking to his seat, he saw Anderson, who was very lightly recruited in high school, hit a pair of threes. He decided to watch the game for a minute, and Anderson ended up having a huge game.
He started for the Blue Hens as a freshman.
There’s another difference between high-major and low-major programs: budget. The scope of grassroots basketball is bigger than you probably realize. During each of these live periods, there are events going on all across the country, and some programs are going to be recruiting players that are playing at the same time in cities hundreds or thousands of miles apart.
For a power program, this means private jets. Don’t be surprised to hear about Coach Cal making an appearance at the morning session in Philly only to show up for the afternoon games in Indianapolis. The ability to fly thousands of miles on a whim allows the biggest and richest programs to recruit players from all over the country.
For the mid-major teams, a priority is put on proper evaluation and landing local talent. For example, Stephen F. Austin won 30 games last season and knocked off VCU en route to the Round of 32 in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Of the six players that played more than 20 minutes per game for the Lumberjacks, two were from Texas, one was from Missouri, one was from Oklahoma and two others went to a Junior College in Texas.
Coaches aren’t only looking to find hidden gems, however. With the proliferation of grassroots basketball, the Internet and social media, and the myriad of scouting websites, players that are overlooked are few and far between. That’s why stories like those of Otto Porter and Ron Baker are so incredible.
No, what these coaches are looking for is a development track. They’ve seen a lot of these guys play when they were younger. They watched high school games in person or on film. They’ve attended workouts. How have the recruits progressed? Is the skinny kid getting stronger? Did the chubby two-guard lose some weight? Has the dunker’s jumper gotten better? Did he improve his ball-handling? Or add a jump hook? Or utilize his ability in the pick-and-roll?
That’s a lot for a coaching staff to work their way through, and they only have 15 days to do it.
And that’s what makes July’s live-recruiting period so important.