Commentary

Tales of all sorts happen in recruiting

Updated: July 22, 2011, 11:46 AM ET
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- It may not rival Jack Kerouac's literary masterpiece, but if college coaches put their heads together they could come up with a walloping version of their own, "On the Road."

Stick five coaches in a room and you're bound to hear some good tales, war stories of stripes earned on the recruiting trail.

During last week's EYBL Peach Jam, ESPN.com asked some coaches to share their best On the Road adventures. Here are some of the most memorable:

[+] EnlargeRich Shrigley
AP PhotoDespite being recruited by uncle Norm Sloan, Rich Shrigley decided on Boston College.

I got this, coach

Rick Pitino had spent so much time recruiting Rich Shrigley that he told his boss, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, not to say a word during their visit to Shrigley's home in Nashua, N.H.

"I just said, 'I got this. I'll do all the talking,'" Pitino said. "I must have said it 20 times. 'I know everything about this kid. You don't need to talk. I'll do all the talking.'"

Pitino begins his spiel, pitching what would make Syracuse a better fit than NC State, another school in the running for Shrigley's talents. He wanted to emphasize that the Wolfpack and coach Norm Sloan had more players at Shrigley's position, so he'd be better served at Syracuse, where there wasn't such a numbers crunch.

"So I'm just getting started on the part about NC State and his mother says, 'Yes, I told Norman that,'" Pitino said. "And Jim and I just look at one another. Finally Jim says, 'Do you know Coach Sloan?' She said, 'Yes. He's my brother.' I didn't say a word the rest of the night."

Boeheim, however, said plenty and nearly 30 years later, he remembered the tale vividly.

"We had to pull over after we left the house," Boeheim said. "Funniest thing I've ever seen. Yeah, I'll do all the talking, he kept telling me."

Shrigley wound up staying close to home and going to Boston College.

Praying for his savior

The city of Chester, Pa., loves its basketball players. The crowds at the high school games there feature some of the most colorful and entertaining personalities around. So when Phil Martelli went to visit Jameer Nelson, he knew he was visiting more than just a future basketball star.

He was visiting a city's beloved son.

"I walked in and there had to be 65 people crammed into this tiny row house," Martelli said. "There were people sitting under tables, everywhere. I knew his parents, but I'm trying to figure out who am I supposed to direct my conversation to. Who's important here?"

After a meal that Martelli described as a "feast," the family asked the Saint Joseph's coach to gather in a prayer circle.

"They're praying for Jameer and thanking me for my presence there," Martelli said. "And I'm praying for Jameer and thanking God for Jameer and all of a sudden, Jameer's mother fainted. I think she was just overcome by it all. Well everyone else just kept right on praying. I cheated. I peaked, so I saw what happened."

That's Arkansas, M-I-S-S…

By the time he pulled into the convenience store, Fran McCaffery had U-turned, turned around, crisscrossed and doubled back more times than he cared to count.

Completely lost and now desperate to find the high school gym he needed in Arkansas, he pleaded his case to the woman behind the counter.

"I'm asking the lady for the help and she kept saying, 'Where is it?' and I'm thinking, 'Well, isn't that what I'm asking you?'" McCaffery recalled. "Finally I'm just aggravated and I shout out, 'Well it's in Arkansas.' She looks at me and says, 'Well honey you're in Mississippi.'"

McCaffery sheepishly got the directions to cross the state line and went on his way.

[+] EnlargeBob Huggins
US PresswireAfter a home visit to Detroit in the 1970s, Bob Huggins has not eaten rhubarb pie since.

Yes please, may I have another

Just getting his start in college coaching, Bob Huggins joined Eldon Miller and other members of the Ohio State coaching staff on a home visit for a player out of Detroit.

At the end of the meal, the player's mother brought out a big rhubarb pie for dessert.

"And it was awful," Huggins said. "I mean terrible. We're all pushing it around on our plates, pretending to eat it."

The coaches did a good enough job hiding their food that the mother re-emerged from the kitchen and asked, "Who'd like seconds?"

"And everyone says at the same time, 'The big guy,' and points to me," Huggins said. "I haven't eaten rhubarb pie since."

Flying spaghetti

Meeting with Kyle Singler and his family, Arizona coach Lute Olson and his assistant, Josh Pastner, sat down to a nice spaghetti dinner.

Olson took his first bite and promptly started to choke.

"I think it just went down the wrong way but we're pounding him on the back, everything," Pastner said.

The pasta eventually came out.

"It just sort of shot out, all over the plate," Pastner said. "Not pretty."

Ticket to ride

His flight to St. Louis delayed, Roy Williams was speeding along the highway en route to Tyler Hansbrough's home in Poplar Bluff, Mo., when he spied flashing blue lights behind him.

Nabbed, Williams apologized profusely as the officer asked for his license and the rental car agreement that served as the car's registration.

"After a while he comes back, hands me my ticket and says, 'You shouldn't have beaten Mizzou as many times as you did,'" Williams said. "Well now I'm mad and I'm late and I have a big mouth so I say, 'Well if we get this kid, we'll be beating them a lot more in the future.'"

Williams drove off, kicking himself for being so short-tempered and hyper careful to mind the speed limit.

"Don't you know not a half-mile later the blue lights come up behind me again," Williams said. "I'm sitting in my car thinking, 'Roy, you idiot. When will you learn to keep your mouth shut?' He walks up to the car. He had forgotten to give me back my rental car agreement."

I am not a crook

Searching for a recruit's home in an extremely affluent neighborhood, then-Hofstra head coach Jay Wright and his assistant, Joe Jones, pulled into a driveway Jones thought was the right one.

Wright wasn't convinced, so he sent his assistant to the door to double-check. Rather than ring the doorbell, Jones started peering through the windows alongside the front door.

"All of a sudden he comes sprinting back to the car," Wright said. "It's not the right house. I look up and there are six terrified people staring at us through the window as we pull away."

The coaches eventually find the recruit's home -- a good eight doors away.

"We had to tell them to please reassure their neighbors that they weren't being robbed," Wright said.

Nothing good happens at 6:15 a.m. Or does it?

The first time Russell Springmann saw Kevin Durant he called his boss.

"I asked him what our philosophy was on offering sophomores," the Texas assistant said. "It was sort of after the fact, to be honest, but I wanted to check anyway."

Rick Barnes was convinced Durant, who lived in Maryland, would never visit Texas. "Why would he fly over ACC and SEC territory to come to us?" Barnes said.

And when Durant did visit Austin, Barnes was still convinced Durant would never sign with the Longhorns. But Springmann insisted the Longhorns had a chance.

Until about 6:15 in the morning on the day after Durant arrived on campus. At the time, juniors were allowed to visit before Jan. 1. Young for his grade, Durant was only 16 when he visited and Springmann had given his players firm marching orders: no craziness on campus with the young recruit.

The night before, Springmann thought, had gone well. The always-joking Barnes had managed to draw Durant, a pretty shy kid, out of his shell. The coach had him laughing and relaxed.

"My phone rings and it's Kevin's dad saying, 'I need to talk to you,'" Springmann said. "I said, 'Well, I'm up so let's talk.' And he says, 'No, face to face.' Well I'm panicked now."

With his stomach in a knot, Springmann drives over to the hotel. Standing in the parking lot is Wayne Pratt, Durant's father.

"He says, 'Don't you worry about anything from here on out. Kevin is coming to Texas,'" Springmann said. "He said he knew as soon as he saw Kevin laughing and relaxed with coach the night before."

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com. Follow Dana on Twitter: @dgoneil1.

Dana O'Neil | email

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