In today’s college basketball landscape, there truly is no offseason. Coaches at all levels flock to AAU tournaments across the country throughout the summer to catch a glimpse of the premiere high school talent.
After a promising season that saw Penn take eventual Ivy League champion Princeton to overtime in the semifinals of the inaugural Ivy League Men’s Basketball Tournament, the coaching staff has hit the recruiting trail to find the missing pieces needed to help the team get over the hump. Games, seasons and championship hopes often hinge on how well a coaching staff can recruit.
Even with the formation of a solid young nucleus, which includes rising sophomores AJ Brodeur, Ryan Betley and Devon Goodman, and incoming freshmen guards Jelani Williams and Eddie Scott, Penn’s coaching staff still needs to find more complementary talent if it hopes to challenge in the coming years.
Although the entire offseason is important for recruiting, no month is more crucial than July. During July, the “” lasts the entire month. In addition to the contact period, there are also the “evaluation periods.” Evaluation periods consist of three five-day periods where, according to , “off campus face-to-face contact is not permitted... Coaches can still visit a prospect’s school. Visits to schools are ostensibly for the purpose of evaluation. Prospects can visit colleges and receive written and electronic communication.” Though Penn cannot offer athletics scholarships, they can still give recruits permission to issue verbal commitments.
July is also the month in which the most tournaments occur, at both the national and local level. During this time, coaches have permission to evaluate prospects at AAU tournaments. Almost every player on Penn’s roster came to Penn as a result of July recruiting.
“As a staff we were able to see a lot of talented players, we were able to get to some big time events,” Penn assistant coach Joe Mihalich Jr. said. “Specifically the sneaker events, the Adidas Championship, the Nike Peach Jam, of course the Under Armor Championships.”
In addition to the large sneaker events, local events run by the “Hoop Group” in Philadelphia provide addition avenues to scout local players.
Per NCAA rules, Coach Mihalich was not allowed to mention any current or former recruits by name or their specific recruiting process. However, with nearly 20 percent of the current roster from schools within a 45 minute drive of the Palestra, it seems likely that local tournaments have also played a big role in getting quality basketball talent to Penn.
Local players on Penn’s roster include Betley and Goodman, who played high school basketball in the Philadelphia suburbs, and veteran guards Darnell Foreman and Jake Silpe, who played in South Jersey. Although Silpe struggled to find playing time after a strong freshman campaign, Betley, Goodman and Foreman all started the playoff game against Princeton and carved nice roles for themselves by the end of the season. So local talent not only comes to Penn basketball, it also contributes to Penn basketball on the court.
At these tournaments, it is not only important to find talented players but also players that fit into head coach Steve Donahue’s system.
“We are always looking for the best possible talent, but of course a big part of what we do is shoot the ball. That’s always attractive especially from three,” Mihalich said.
In fact, out of the players who finished the season in the top ten of minutes per game, eight shot better 30 percent from three point range. Though shooting 30 percent does not make anyone a sniper, it does warrant opponents’ respect. On the recruiting trail it is important for Penn to find guards, forwards and centers with respectable jump shots. Forward Max Rothschild was the only player to pose no threat from three point range and still see consistent minutes for Penn last season, though his role was mainly to rebound, defend and provide rest for Brodeur.
Coaching staffs must also implement efficient strategies to see as many players as possible for optimal recruiting. Right off the bat, more important than three point percentage is a potential recruit’s standardized test scores and grades. With Penn offering less admission leniency for talented but underqualified athletes than most institutions, Penn’s coaches will not even consider a player if it is clear they do not have the academic ability. Penn’s academic standards eliminates much of the talent pool from consideration.
Still, the strategy of Penn’s summer recruiting hinges on divide and conquer. It is rare for multiple coaches to watch the same game or be at the same tournament. July is a time where priority recruits are looked at more closely and where lesser known recruits first come onto the radar. It would be inefficient if all the coaches stayed together throughout the month because they would not be able to see as much talent.
Another reason Penn’s coaches watch different games or attend different events is to allow multiple coaches to evaluate a player in different circumstances. Recruiting is never an exact science and there is always the danger of seeing the prospect on a particularly “good” or “bad” day. Strategizing and allowing different coaches to see a certain player across multiple days and weeks allows the coaching staff to obtain a better perspective on the prospect. They have more opportunities to evaluate a player and how they perform at a consistent level.
Additionally, before coach Steve Donahue and the assistants scatter across the country, the coaching staff has a meeting to outline what tournaments coaches will attend and prospects. Then, throughout July, they are in frequent contact discussing thoughts on players and how they could fit in at Penn.
At Penn, however, the coaches do not always collaborate with just each other. Joe Mihalic Jr.’s dad, Joe Mihalic Sr, coached at Niagra for 15 years and has been the head coach at Hofstra since the 2013-2014 season.
“My dad will often recommend players to me for me to look at,” Mihalich said. “Especially ones that are strong academically.”
On the recruiting trail, where Penn competes with other Ivy’s for a select group of players who can get into the Ivy’s academically, collaborating with other coaches almost never happens —though Mihalich has admitted to grabbing a bite to eat with a few rival Ivy League coaches. Using a connection through his dad is neat way of getting a broader more eyes and ears to evaluate talent.
It is often very difficult to find ways to catch a good glimpse at any one prospect with the sheer number of players at any given tournament. What is also helpful to coaches is the layout of many tournaments.
“It can be tough, but what helps is a lot events take place at locations that have up to six courts under one roof,” Mihalich said. “We can catch a couple games without going too far. There are some events where you can sit in one spot from 8 a.m to 8 p.m and watch games every hour on the hour.”
By the end of July, the coaching staff knows who they want out of the rising senior class and who they will target in the rising junior class. Officially games are won and lost during the season, but what the staff does in July goes a long way to determining whether Penn will be playing late in March or watching the tournament from home.
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