PHOENIX (AP) — The NCAA changed its college basketball calendar prior to the 2019-20 season, adding coach-led camps and high school tournaments to go with the club-ball events of the past.
The goal was an attempt to gain more control of the recruiting process and, hopefully, eliminate some of the shady elements from the sport.
Despite some successes, the new calendar seems to be a work in progress.
“Change is hard and it’s not just going to come overnight,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “I know the NCAA is committed to a three- or four-year plan to see if these things can be more valuable and help us with recruiting and help the state of the game. Also, I think it’s really important and obviously the influence of certain elements of the game that cause predicaments in recruiting.”
A federal investigation in 2017 revealed the not-so-secret dark underbelly of college basketball. Ten people were arrested, including assistant coaches at four prominent schools who were accused of funneling shoe company money to influence top-tier recruits.
The NCAA responded with a multi-pronged array of policy and legislative changes to wrap its arms around the amorphous recruiting machine.
Among the changes was a revamped recruiting calendar. Instead of making the live recruiting periods solely during big AAU tournaments, the timing was split among club tournaments, high school tournaments and NCAA-run camps.
The high school tournaments, held at sites across the country, were widely considered a success.
Coaches got to watch players in a more team-oriented environment — club games tend to be more one on one — and non-club players who otherwise might not have been seen by coaches got a chance to get noticed.
“We have seen this weekend how valuable high school basketball can be,” Matt King, executive director of the Arizona Basketball Coaches Association, said during the June Section 7 tournament in Phoenix. “And for these kids to be able to play basketball, we have to provide a safe environment with safe adults for them to be around. I believe we have done that this weekend.”
Most coaches liked the format, in part because the tournaments were so well-run, but also because they could to see recruits playing a different style of basketball.
“My staff said the high school thing was the best they had ever seen because it was organized so well,” Sacramento State coach Brian Katz said. “The teams were coached by their high school coaches, so it was more real basketball, as opposed to an open-gym type of thing.”
The basketball academies, held at four sites, gave recruits a chance to not only be seen by college coaches, but be taught by them.
One problem popped up: many of the high-level recruits did not attend the camps.
Some of it was the NCAA’s difficulty in distributing information about the new program and some club coaches may have steered their players to other events. It also happened to be the same week USA Basketball held a junior team camp in Colorado, a conflict the NCAA will try to avoid in coming years.
“We certainly thought in this first year some of that would happen,” NCAA senior vice president for basketball Dan Gavitt said at the Phoenix camp. “Players have choices to make, but we think it’s a great opportunity. It’s the only place college coaches can evaluate them that week.”
Live recruiting at club tournaments was limited to two weeks this year, one each in April and July.
Peach Jam, the Nike-sponsored showcase, continued to thrive, drawing many of the top teams and players to South Carolina. The Adidas Summer Championships and Under Armour Association Finals were also in the South, but players were spread across the country instead of being concentrated for the multiple events held in Las Vegas in previous years.
Las Vegas had been the epicenter of high-level amateur hoops. Thousands of people descended upon Sin City every July and a game two years ago between club teams led by Zion Williamson and LaVar Ball drew a crowd so large LeBron James was reportedly turned away.
Las Vegas was the site of one big tournament during the live recruiting period this summer, the Las Vegas Classic, but attendance by college coaches was thin and organizers streamed games so coaches could watch remotely.
“There were so many events across the country, it’s just diluted,” Katz said. “They made it a little confusing and I think it’s going to take a couple of years to figure out what’s going on exactly, what’s going to work and not going to work.”