Recruiting is a year-round process, but spring and summer evaluation periods are when schools can get ahead or make up some ground in the recruiting sweepstakes. If a school is not involved with a prospect by the end of his junior year, it will be difficult to get in the mix, so it is important for coaches to make the most of the evaluation periods.
Spring evaluation period
During this period, the college basketball season is officially over, so recruiting becomes a top priority. By this time, college coaching staffs should have had postseason analysis of all their returning players and meetings with each player, and they should have had in-depth staff conversations to analyze future needs. Coaches also make their schedules to see the priority players first. However, good coaching staffs also monitor a group of players that would act as secondary options.
The assistant coaches do most of the leg work to start but if a school has offered, or is thinking about offering, a student-athlete, the head coach must do his part by working hard and showing up at the prospect's high school in the spring period. Some coaches even like to meet everyone involved in the prospect's schooling (teachers, the athletic director, guidance counselors, etc.) and watch him work out.
Other means of recruiting are via phone or e-mail, but the most important time you can give a recruit is face time. This is how a school can separate itself from the competition.
While face time is very important, college coaches are limited to visiting high schools Monday through Friday. As a result, each member of the staff should try and visit as many schools as possible, and not just to see the seniors they plan on offering. This is also a good time for coaches to make inroads and stay ahead of the process with underclassmen.
Weekends during the spring period can also be extremely busy due to unofficial visits. Coaching staffs set up visits with their top candidates and will ask candidates to bring along family and coaches. Each school treats unofficial visits differently -- some treat it like an official visit and put on the full-court press, while others like to take it at a slower pace. Regardless, the sole purpose of the unofficial visit is to have the prospect and his guests become familiar with the head coach. This is often when scholarships are offered, if the coach hasn't already extended one.
A popular way to further evaluate prospects and build relationships between recruits and coaches in this period is during team camps or elite camps, as some would call them. In a team camp a college coach can watch the prospect play with his team against other high school teams right on the college campus. In this setting the college coach will also work with the player in a small group environment, putting the player through a series of drills and teaching individual skill development or some sort of offensive or defensive concepts.
What is so important about this setup is that the coach and player can get a feel for each other. The coach can analyze the player's skill and work habits up close, while the prospect can see how the coach teaches the game in a competitive atmosphere.
Summer evaluation period
Due to the lack of evaluation opportunities in the spring, college coaches are forced to get out in summer and watch the players they are interested in to see if they have made improvements in their games.
July is crucial for players to compete and improve, while the coaches decide how to allocate their scholarships to help build a championship team. This is the best time to evaluate a player against top competition. Once again, coaches organize their evaluation schedule around their top prospects and often must travel to many venues across different time zones in a short amount of time. Some elite programs even have access to a private plane -- a tremendous luxury.
Most coaches sit through dozens of games and watch hundreds of prospects because if they can't land who they want, they must be ready to make a decision on other prospects. This is also a great chance for coaches to evaluate a prospect's basketball character, other than his skill set. Is he a team player? Does he help his team win? Is he coachable? What is his body language after a bad play or when he goes to the bench? Plus, all coaches are always looking for that diamond in the rough, that late-bloomer, or a breakout performer -- St. John's Dom Pointer (Roseville, Mich./Quality Education Academy) and Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon (Norcross, Ga./Greater Atlanta Christian School) are perfect examples.
After following their top prospects throughout July, coaches look to set up home visits and official campus visits.
Paul Biancardi, who has been a head coach and assistant on NCAA tournament teams, is the national director of basketball recruiting. He is also one the voters for the McDonald's All-American Game and Gatorade Player of the Year. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.