Originally created 07/19/00

Proposals could lead to struggles

This is the final article of a four-part series that examines the state of summer-league basketball as it relates to those in and around the fifth-annual Nike Peach Jam this week at North Augusta's Riverview Park.

In his two seasons as head basketball coach of Winthrop University, a small Division I program in the Big South Conference, Gregg Marshall has orchestrated a turnaround the stuff of storybooks.

The 37-year-old grabbed the reins of a stagnant operation in 1998, won a conference title and took the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament. He duplicated the twin feats last season, helping Winthrop, located in Rock Hill, S.C., become the first Big South team ever to earn back-to-back trips to the NCAAs.

But the NCAA's most recent effort to change the culture of college basketball might make sustaining such postseason success difficult for coaches such as Marshall.

In April, the NCAA's board of directors voted to end summer men's basketball recruiting "as we know it," cutting the number of days college coaches can recruit during the summer from 24 to 14 in 2001, then to zero in 2002.

The mandate was wrought to eliminate the influence of shoe companies, summer coaches and agents. College coaches are fine with ridding pollutants from the scene -- they're just opposed to the way the NCAA plans to go about doing it.

"I'm sure there are some things that probably could be done to tweak the system a little bit, to make it better," said Marshall, who is at Riverview Park for this week's Nike Peach Jam. "But eliminating summer recruiting altogether would certainly hurt schools like ourselves who use this time to see many, many thousands of kids."

THE QUESTIONS AND ANXIETY regarding the changes prompted Division I men's basketball coaches to convene last Sunday for an emergency meeting in Las Vegas.

About 150 members of the National Association of Basketball Coaches attended the four-hour session, and they emerged almost unanimously supportive of finding a compromise with fewer constraints.

The NABC said it plans to propose an alternative by November, when the NCAA's Basketball Issues Committee -- which is charged with developing a new model for summer recruiting -- will meet.

Alabama coach Mark Gottfried attended the meeting Sunday, hopped a plane late that night and arrived in North Augusta on Monday morning.

He said the discourse was marked by "a lot of frustration."

"Coaches are real frustrated because college presidents seem to make rules that basketball coaches feel like they don't have a lot of input with," Gottfried said. "The consensus among the coaches is we'd like to have more access to the kids, more time to talk to them per week, more opportunities to get to know the kids."

During contact periods, coaches are allowed to evaluate prospects and talk with them via phone once a week. Without summer recruiting, the number of days allowed during the academic year would increase from 40 to 70, days in which prospects play for high school coaches.

Pete Gillen finds himself largely at odds with his peers' views on summer recruiting. Though Virginia's coach said he thinks the NCAA will find some way to keep it, he called its current state "a mess."

"They'd like to get the high school coaches back in it, so if the NCAA was running a camp, high school coaches would run it," Gillen said. "That would be good if we could get the high school coaches more in touch with the kids. Because now when you're recruiting kids, you don't even call the high school coach anymore. It's the AAU guy.

"There's some people that are undesirable that are not accountable. How can you account for some type of street runner or a guy that's giving kids drugs or something?"

BUT SHIFTING THE recruiting emphasis to the school year would force coaches to take to the road during the season, when the daily rigors of running a team already leave them strapped for time.

And they'd travel more to see substantially less; rather than spending a few days evaluating hundreds of players against good competition during the summer, coaches would see only a few prospects per trip.

Traditional powers are capable of adapting. But coaches such as Marshall, burdened by the limited budgets and little name recognition of mid-major and low-major Division I schools, face a daunting struggle.

"What they're trying to do is legislate something that's aimed at two or three summer coaches," said Elon coach Mark Simons, whose program is months removed from its first season in Division I. "It kills us, because this is the only time of year that we can afford to get out, with the size of our staff and the size of our recruiting budget."

Simons' roster is composed of players from Indiana, New Jersey, the Midwest and Southeast, geographical diversity achieved thanks largely to the benefits of cost-effective summer recruiting.

Ending it would gradually force Elon to take on a more local flavor, limiting Simons' recruiting forays to areas reachable by car from his school just east of Greensboro, N.C.

"We couldn't fly across the country to see recruits," Simons said. "`What the new rules will do is make us go back to the old days; we'll have to regionalize our recruiting again."

First-year Eastern Michigan coach Jim Boone said attending camps such as the Peach Jam is essential to remaining at least somewhat competitive with the traditional powers, whose six-figure recruiting budgets lend them a distinct advantage.

"It really affects us a lot," said Boone, who spent his previous four years at Robert Morris College. "It's an extremely important time for us, being a mid major. Not only from a budgetary standpoint, but from a time standpoint as well. We can see so many kids at one site. Even though we have pinpointed specific individuals we're recruiting, we're also doing a lot of evaluating as well.

"That's a lot of man hours we have to make up during the time of year when our teams are playing, when we would have to go around the country and see at least the same amount of kids."

THE POPULAR COMPLAINT that those making and influencing the rules -- college chancellors, presidents and athletics directors -- are out of touch and uninformed is at least attempting to be addressed.

The NCAA recently has undertaken efforts to learn more about the issues. NCAA president Cedric Dempsey was at last week's ABCD camp in Teaneck, N.J., to speak with Sonny Vaccaro, director of grass roots basketball for adidas, to discuss ways to improve summer recruiting.

"We realize there are a lot of people that have some experience and insight into it," Dempsey said last week. "The bottom line is we're trying to find a positive learning environment for the kids playing out there."

Gottfried said the flaw of the pending legislation is that it would increase the coaches' dependence on influences the NCAA seeks to eliminate. Unable to attend summer camps, college coaches would be forced to rely on summer-league coaches and third parties in the gyms as their sole source of information.

"These events are to see the best players go against the best," he said. "You get a true evaluation. There's always flaws in everything, but we need summer evaluation. The kids are still going to play, whether we're there or not."

Dempsey said he plans to forward his findings to the issues committee.

"Hopefully, they'll come away with a better perception of our summer period," Simons said. "Maybe they'll see they're not such a bad thing. If they cut it to 14 days, I think we can live with that. But I don't think it was broken before."

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.


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