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High school basketball prospects, coaches navigate new reality of recruiting process

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Stonewall Jackson guard Hannah Williams brings the ball up court against Colgan during the regional semifinal at Colgan on Tuesday, February 25, 2020.

Even though the date comes late, high school basketball seniors usually have a proper amount of time to finalize their college choices before making it official April 15, the first day of the spring signing period.

Underclassmen, meanwhile, prepare to use the spring and summer evaluation periods to raise their profile in front of prospective college coaches.

Under normal circumstances, the spring and summer recruiting schedule would have worked like this in 2020. But the regular schedule is no longer in place. The NCAA announced Wednesday that it was extending the current recruiting dead period through July 31. That means no in-person contact between coaches and recruits on campus or off.

With no tournaments allowed for July, the decision also eliminates a crucial month on the recruiting calendar. 

Wednesday's announcement marked the fourth time the NCAA has pushed back the end date since it cancelled the remaining winter and spring sports season in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The original end date was April 15 followed by May 31 and then June 30. 

With the evaluation cycle in flux, high school prospects and high school coaches are doing their best to adjust accordingly as they navigate this new reality of the recruiting process.

A number of seniors were in good shape by the time things shut down so they were able to choose their college without worry. Others, however, were left scrambling, hoping a roster spot and scholarship money remained even if they were unable to see the school in person.

Although juniors are six months away from when they can first sign national letters of intent, the delayed evaluation period continues to put the critical AAU season on hold. That in turn will affect how some prospects get seen as they make the biggest decision of their life so far.

Elite recruits are in a better position since they have already compiled a number of offers to choose form. A cancelled summer season won’t impact their status as much.

Those, however, who need the added attention will have to rely on other means to generate attention if no summer showcase tournaments take place.

Colleges can still communicate with recruits through phone calls, video chats or text messages. But they may also rely more than ever on the prospects to make their case through things carefully selected highlight films.

What follows is how some local players and coaches are approaching this unusual time.

THE JUNIOR

Colgan’s Alyssa Andrews received her first offer as an eighth grader. The list has only grown to more than 30 since then.

“I’ve put myself in a position to be where I’m at today,” Andrews said.

That’s why Andrews isn’t panicking if there is no summer basketball season and why she’s in no rush to narrow her choices down. She constantly hears from coaches and has enough offers to fall back on.

“I’m taking it slow,” Andrews said. “I’m in a very good position. I don’t have to worry.”

Andrews credits her time with her AAU team with helping generate attention from colleges. Andrews has been with Team Takeover since her freshman year.

“It’s the best decision I ever made,” Andrews said. “I’ve improved so much as a player and I made a lot of connections.”

Recruiting or not, Andrews remains hopeful for a summer season.

“I would still like to have the summer just to improve and get better,” Andrews said.

Ranked the No. 65 player in the nation by espnW for the class of 2021, Andrews still plans at this point to choose a college before the high school basketball season ends, but remains flexible if things change because of the coronavirus.

The 6-foot junior was named the Class 6 state player of the year. She averaged 22 points a game in helping the Sharks reach the state tournament for the first time in the program’s four-year history.

THE SENIOR

Hannah Williams ran long distances at night to free up her mind. She also found comfort in playing music or talking to non-basketball people as well whenever the stress of making her college choice began to overwhelm her.

Had the scheduled worked out as planned and recruits were allowed to visit campuses and coaches were permitted to make in-house visits, Williams would have been in a position to sign on the first day of the spring signing period April 15.

Instead the coronavirus upended the recruiting process. And as uncommitted high school senior, Williams now faced some tough decisions.

With roster spots and scholarship money already doled out by most colleges for the class of 2020, she’d have to sign with a college she’d never seen and do it fast.

Williams was scheduled to visit her first choice, West Texas A&M, only to see the trip cancelled.

All of a sudden, an already anxious-filled time felt even more so.

“I was upset,” Williams said. “I got a little worried.”

A second-team all-Class 6 selection who averaged 20 points a game as a senior, Williams had a number of college offers. Although she had the opportunity to sign earlier, Williams chose to wait to see what else might come along.

West Texas A&M was her first choice. But with everything shutdown, Williams said the school backed off, leaving her to look elsewhere.

Point University, an NAIA program in Georgia, reached out to Williams via text message to see if they could schedule a time to talk. Williams knew nothing about the college, but she agreed to talk to them after she researched it.

Williams liked that Point kept in constant contact with here. She liked the basketball team’s fast-paced style of play and she liked what she saw during the virtual tour of campus. Most of all, she liked they gave her space to think about what she wanted to do.

On April 17, she signed with Point. With schools closed, there was no celebratory signing ceremony. The school emailed her the paperwork and she sent it back without second-guessing her decision.

“It was a leap of faith,” Williams said.

THE COACH

With the main window closing to generate attention from college coaches, Keith Honore has focused on presentation and relationships in promoting his players.

“I’m going to have to be a car salesman,” Potomac’s boys basketball coach said. “This is the most important summer for them.”

Honore has nine juniors, led by first-team all-state selection Tyrell Harris. Harris doesn’t have any offers yet, but has attracted plenty of interest. A breakout performance over the summer is all it would take to elevate his status and receive scholarship offers.

In talking to college coaches he knows, Honore encourages his players to make a two to three minute highlight film followed by a two to three minute footage from the prospect’s best game. College coaches are being flooded with video and don’t have time to wade through it all.

It’s not an ideal way for college coaches to evaluate players, but they make do for the moment, holding Zoom conference calls and conducting virtual tours while understanding what’s at stake.

“They have to make the biggest decision of their lives through the phone or computer,” said James Madison University women’s basketball head coach Sean O’Regan.

Honore doubts the summer season will happen. There still remain many uncertainties as organizations look to overcome logistical obstacles and, more importantly, the fear of returning too early and jeopardizing someone's health.

As the schedule remains fluid, Honore wants his players to remember one thing:

“The message is, ‘Stay ready,’” Honore said. “We’ve created for them a virtual workout program and we hold Zoom meetings. Even if AAU is cancelled and we move right into fall, the fall leagues become super important.”

David Fawcett is the sports editor for InsideNoVa.com. Reach him at dfawcett@insidenova.com

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