New NCAA rules: Player perspective
Editor's Note: New NCAA rules allow unlimited contact by coaches via calls, texts and social media to recruits who have completed their sophomore year. Today, we look at how players and families are responding. Tomorrow, we'll gauge the reaction of the coaches.
MINNETONKA, Minn. -- During the weekend, a 6-foot-10 sophomore named Diamond Stone dominated his peers in a gym near Minneapolis.
The big man, ranked second in the 2015 class by ESPN RecruitingNation, belied his bulk as he floated around the court and impressed notable college coaches at the NY2LA tournament in the year's first evaluation period.
Bo Ryan, John Thompson III and assistants from a variety of powerhouses could only watch, though. It's against NCAA rules to initiate contact with Stone right now.
But the Wisconsin prep star knows a barrage is coming.
"Pretty much, I'm just relaxing," Stone said. "I realize I have to work hard every time I go to the gym. Coaches are going to come after me. And I just have to stay focused through that. Stay humble."
Rules enacted by the NCAA last summer now allow college coaches to -- without limitation -- text, tweet and call Stone and other players who've completed their high school sophomore year. The switch already has affected the recruiting landscape for both players and coaches.
Past stars were wooed by colleges through handwritten letters and in-home visits. Today, a direct message via Twitter could be equally meaningful for some kids because their phones and social media connections are so vital in their daily lives.
According to a Pew Research Center report released earlier this month, 78 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 own cell phones and 37 percent possess smartphones. The latter is a 14 percent jump from 2011, and proof that technology has dramatically altered the way teenagers communicate.
It also has transformed the methods coaches use to reach teenage athletes, many of whom prefer a text or tweet over a phone call or letter.
To prepare for that, many players and their families have fortified and created buffers to avoid the inundation feared by critics of unlimited contact.
For Stone, that buffer goes by the name Bob . . . or Dad.
His father, who's also an assistant coach on Diamond's Milwaukee-based Young Legends AAU squad, despises the new rules. He believes they give coaches too much access to his son and his peers, and he already has implemented rules to wall off the pending flood.
Diamond, who's received interest from a multitude of blue-chip schools, cannot respond to media inquiries without permission. All text messages, tweets and phone calls from coaches must be forwarded to his parents before he responds. If his son violates the rules, Bob Stone will take away his phone for 30 days.
"I think grown-ups should talk to grown-ups and kids should talk to kids," Bob Stone said. "I think if a coach wants to have communication with my son, they should check with us first. He's not old enough to pay bills. He's not old enough to make decisions. I just think it's disrespectful to go through a 16- or 17-year-old kid when he has parents. . . . I think there's an order for everything."
It may seem extreme, but the constant attention can overwhelm players at all levels. And that's what Bob Stone and other parents, mentors and coaches hope to avoid.
Casey Schlatter, a smooth 6-9 forward from Iowa who's received scholarship offers from multiple mid-majors such as Creighton and Northern Iowa, utilizes a setting on his phone to avoid the chatter from coaches whenever he needs a break.
"Sometimes, you'll be working out, you'll come back after and you'll have quite a few messages and it's like 'Holy cow,' " he said. "I have a list and I'll just have the messages go on hold so I don't have to answer . . . so it doesn't consume me."
This is not the recruiting process that Brad Lohaus experienced. The former NBA veteran learned about schools through in-home visits when he was a McDonald's All American in Phoenix in the early 1980s.
When one coach fell asleep while watching a video about his team with him and his family, Lohaus figured that particular program might not be the best fit for his services.
That was one of 30 in-home visits from college coaches the Lohaus family hosted. That approach to luring athletes was more typical then.
"We didn't have any of these camps. My high school coach was also the dean of students so he handled everything," said Lohaus, a former standout at Iowa. "Everything went through the school. I had some in-home visits, but it was all kept away from me. I narrowed it down pretty quickly to four or five teams that I really wanted to go to. Not like this. Seeing it from the other side is a whole different story. I'm glad there are rules in place."
Coaches used a variety of techniques when they pursued his son, Wyatt Lohaus. The 6-2 guard has verbally committed to Northern Iowa, so he's avoided most of the hoopla since the rules changed. He did not, however, navigate the process alone.
He was surrounded by knowledgeable minds that understood the overall, unyielding nature of recruiting -- find talent, sign talent. Wyatt's father played in the NBA for more than a decade. Larry Bird, his father's former teammate with the Boston Celtics, is his godfather.
Those two helped Wyatt Lohaus elude the static prior to his commitment.
"The coaches were all respectful of the rules," he said. "It's not like they're hounding you 24/7. But it was fun getting to talk to coaches and know they're recruiting you and know that they're looking at you."
High school and grass-roots coaches had more of an impact prior to the technology takeover, according to AAU Iowa Barnstormers coach Greg Stephen. But, he said, the new rules have helped the college coaches build stronger relationships with players and their families, a positive for everyone involved.
"The biggest difference is that the parents have a bigger role, which I think is outstanding," he said. "The way it used to be, if a college called a player, they couldn't call anybody else in the entire family for that week. Now a college coach can call a player, they can call the mom, they can call the dad and they can develop that relationship."
Dickey Simpkins, the former Chicago Bulls forward and founder of the Next Level Performance AAU program, advises players to create an impenetrable circle that includes their AAU/high school coaches, mentors and parents. He said that's the only way to ensure normalcy for kids who are pursued through so many avenues.
"You have many ways of communicating. Back in the day when I played, you had to catch the guy at home on the phone because they didn't have cell phones and all that stuff going on," he said. "So that's a big change . . . [The recruit] needs to have a support group and they all need to be on the same page to monitor that, maybe restrict it or not allow it until he's learned about recruiting so it's not overwhelming. I think a lot of kids get overwhelmed and they get caught up in the hype and sometimes that can make them make impulsive decisions. They gotta be on the same page."
The weekend tournament in suburban Minneapolis offered only a snapshot of the effect that recent NCAA legislation has had on recruiting. But the players and coaches who attended the event confirmed that the shift already has fueled adjustments in the general culture of attracting talent -- talent such as 6-10 center Dante Hales of Dallas. The sophomore is still raw, yet was effective in multiple matchups, and witnessed by high-level college coaches.
But he won't reach anyone's campus for two more years.
So he concentrating on books and basketball right now. And he's not concerned about the recruiting floodgates that could open once coaches are allowed to contact him in a couple of months.
"Once I'm ready, I'll start to get more into it," he said. "But I'm not ready right now. I just need to stay focused."
He also needs to keep that phone charged.