PHILADELPHIA -- Sitting on the bleachers at Philadelphia University this July, Roy Williams spun a good yarn about another visit he took to the recruiting camp there a few years earlier.
“I remember saying to my assistant, ‘Who is number such and such?'" the North Carolina coach recalled. “I told him, ‘I may not know much but I know that kid can play.’ The kid was John Wall.’’
That story, told by many a coach who was sitting in the stands that day, is part of the lore of Wall and the allure of recruiting -- you never know when another John Wall might blossom into an overnight sensation with long-lasting NBA staying power.
At that moment, that transcendent second in time, everyone has a chance -- from the plucky mid-major that started recruiting him early to the national powerhouse suddenly salivating over the newfound talent.
Well, almost everyone. If you’re Tommy Amaker or any of his seven Ivy League coaching brethren, you have to hope that the next John Wall brings his transcript with him when he "blows up" on the recruiting scene.
“You can’t help but notice a kid who has talent,’’ the Harvard coach said. “But honestly, we don’t waste a lot of time on those sorts of situations because usually it’s not going to work for us. There’s no point in falling in love with a kid unless you know he has a chance to be admitted.’’
The nuances of July recruiting are unique to every school but the nuances are even more nuanced at a handful of places. In lieu of athletic scholarships, the Ivy League offers a hefty price tag (usually offset by financial aid) and rigorous admission standards, not exactly the exchange every kid is looking for.
Consequently, the July period for guys like Amaker is a little different. Everyone targets its wish list of players, logging hours watching games and hoping it pays off in a letter of intent. In that regard, the Ancient Eight is no different than the SEC.
But along with a sweet jumper and soft hands, the Harvard coaching staff has to be assured its targets have one thing -- good grades.
“We can’t just come out cold and hope a kid can measure up academically,’’ Amaker said. “For the most part, we have to be certain they would be a candidate for admission. We have to know they have a chance academically, no matter how good they might be athletically.’’
There was a time, of course, when Amaker might not be in a tussle with high-major programs for the same talent. That’s changed, though, with the evolution of mid-majors, the recent postseason successes and, of course, Linsanity.
Talented -- and smart -- players know they can go to Harvard and still go to the NBA, which ironically enough only makes Amaker’s summer job even harder.
“Our challenge is the kids we're attracted to, so is everyone else,’’ he said. “Who wouldn’t want a kid who is a good student and a great player? So we’re competing with everyone.’’
So how does Amaker combat such stiff odds? He follows sage advice any Harvard alum would appreciate: keep it simple, stupid.
“Our pitch -- it’s Harvard and winning,’’ Amaker shrugged.