Having just returned from a week away on vacation myself, and with March Madness in full force (in my opinion probably the best opening weekend ever in terms of close games and finishes), we now focus our attention to basketball recruiting. Well, that and spring football practice, of course.
Since most fans--even some basketball fans--aren't very familiar with the basketball recruiting process, I thought I'd kick off our basketball recruiting coverage with a general overview of how the whole process works. There are some key differences with football, primarily that there are two signing periods instead of one, and that most high school recruits sign before their senior season rather than after.
In what follows, I will break down the entire process along a high school player's timeline, beginning with their 9th grade year going all the way up to the signing periods before and after their senior year. Hopefully this timeline will give readers a perspective of when the key times are for recruiting, and where Coach Grant is with each of the upcoming classes as he attempts to restock the talent at the Capstone. I won't have any information on specific prospects in this piece--that will come later. For now I just want to introduce everyone to the basic timeline so that people understand where we are before we start looking at who we're going after and who we have already signed.
Before getting to the recruiting timeline, a big factor in basketball recruiting that must be mentioned is the prevalence of the AAU summer circuit. Virtually every major basketball prospect participates on summer league AAU teams, often spending as much or more time practicing and playing with these teams and coaches as they do with their high school teams and coaches. The AAU circuit is important for two major reasons. First, the level of competition is generally higher than that of high school, due to the fact that only the most serious, year-round players--especially those looking for college offers--participate in the AAU circuit. This means that performance on the AAU circuit is a big determining factor in the scouting process for college coaches. Second, these AAU coaches, who are used to handling big-time recruits and are often seen as agents by some of the very young prospects themselves, can become big players in the recruitment of a prospect, often far more so than a high school coach. College coaches will have a hard time being successful recruiters if they are unable to build relationships or at least earn the respect of these powerful AAU coaches. Many believe that this was a big reason why former coach Mark Gottfried's recruiting slipped during his last few years, as he seemingly fell out of favor with many of the state's top AAU and high school coaches. It's too early to tell how these guys view Grant, but he was reportedly very well respected as an assistant at Florida when going after many of the nation's top recruits while he was there. Assistant coach Antoine Pettway has also reportedly been making a very big splash in the recruiting circles during his brief tenure on the staff at Alabama, so hopefully that bodes well for our chances with the state's top players in the years to come.
Okay, so below is the timeline that a high school basketball prospect would follow. To clarify one confusing part, Coach Grant and his staff are currently working on three parts of the timeline simultaneously, one part for the 2010 class, one part for the 2011 class, and one part for the 2012 class. Due to the small number of basketball recruits relative to football recruits and the earlier signing period, coaches must establish relationships with top-level prospects well before their junior year to have a shot at landing them. For this reason, coaches are constantly grooming these relationships for classes coming down the road in future years while simultaneously trying to lock down rising and current seniors leading up to signing day. This is also a big reason why even for next year's freshman class, Coach Grant started out behind other coaches since most had already established ties with the 2010 class before he was hired in 2009.
- 9th grade season and before: Coaches may already be recruiting and in some instances even offering a small handful of prodigies or can't-miss kids, but mostly college coaches will simply be keeping an eye out for kids emerging as possible future prospects, often even beginning to contact them to show some interest if they think they have potential.
During 10th grade season: Coaches and their assistants will begin to show up for high school games of players that have impressed them either as 9th graders or in the AAU circuit the summer before. Coaches may go ahead and extend offers to players they feel sure will be ready to play at the next level. Mostly though at this point they just want to be sure to show attention and build relationships with several players they feel will be major prospects, and by this time most have a pretty good idea who the big prospects will be.
- Following 10th grade season: Coaches will be all over the rising juniors on the AAU circuit during the summer. This is the number one most key time for evaluating prospects, as signing day for these players is only a year or so away. It is during this time evaluating players on the AAU circuit that most major college coaches extend most of their scholarship offers and formulate their recruiting board and list of targets for this particular class. This is the stage where Coach Grant is with the 2012 class. He was hired soon enough to be there at this stage for the 2011 class, but not for the 2010 class.
- During 11th grade season: Having already extended several offers, coaches will be hard on the trail for those players they are after, attending games, visiting in-home, and inviting for campus visits. They will also be keeping their eye out for additional prospects who may be improving their stock as juniors, or extending additional offers for those lower on their board if they see some top targets start to lean in other directions. For players, this is a key time to start narrowing their choices.
- Following 11th grade season: By this point, coaches will be pretty sure who they want to go after, and probably have a decent idea which players they have a shot to land, but it is not uncommon for coaches to offer late-bloomers or fast-risers who have made a big splash on the AAU circuit who may not have impressed as younger players in previous summers. This is also the biggest key crunch time in swaying recruits, as most of them will decide where to attend in just a few short months.Think of this time as the December-February stretch for football, when all of the undecideds choose where to commit. This is the stage where Coach Grant is for the 2011 class. He will spend most of this summer going hard after these players. He was hired soon enough to be there at this stage for the 2010 class (next year's freshmen), and was able to pick up two big commitments from players you would probably classify as late-bloomers, although both look like they very well could be steals given their AAU and high school performances during the past year. Luckily for us, both players failed to impress the big-time programs before their junior years, so Coach Grant coming in late in the process did not hurt us with them. I will have full profiles for both of these players, Trevor Releford and Charles Hankerson, in the coming days.
Fall Signing Period (just before start of 12th grade season): The first signing period lasts for one week in early November. It is at this point that the vast majority of high school players who have offers sign and make official where they will be attending following their senior season. To give you an idea, 89 of the ESPN top 100 players for the 2010 class signed during this time in November, including Alabama's Trevor Releford. Charles Hankerson just missed the cut for the ESPN top 100, but he's in the Rivals 150, and he likewise signed with the Tide this past November. Most schools have their signing classes more or less completed at this stage, but that is not the case for Alabama since Coach Grant got a late start on the 2010 class. Most of the few high school players who don't go ahead and sign in this period are either pro prospects who are considering options overseas or players who are not expected to qualify academically. The remaining unsigned high school prospects are usually waiting to sign after the season because of a tenuous coaching situation, while a very small percentage of others are simply genuinely unsure and want to put off their decision. Signing period for the 2011 class will be this November, when Grant is looking to sign as many as five or six players for that class, his first in which he will be on truly equal ground. I will have more on the prospects we are looking to sign in November for the 2011 class after the late signing period ends for the 2010 class.
During 12th grade season: Since most teams have already signed their full classes, many coaches will simply spend this time focusing on juniors, but many others will be looking to fill a gap or two with either one of the few high school players that didn't sign already or with a JuCo prospect. Since many JuCo prospects are questionable to qualify and others are simply really-late-bloomers who didn't have big offers coming out of high school, a large number of JuCo prospects are still available at this time. This is the stage where Coach Grant is for next year's freshman (2010) class. Grant is looking to sign one or two more players for next year's class during the late signing period.
Late signing period (following 12th grade season): The second and last signing period lasts for five weeks, from April 14 to May 19. This is the last chance to sign players for the upcoming season. Once again, the vast majority of players have already signed by this point, but those who were left unsigned or got a late offer coming out of JuCo will make their decisions during this time. The late signing period is mere weeks away for the 2010 class, so we'll have much more coverage on this and the prospects we hope to add during this period.