Part I – Working The Phones
Names and places have been changed to protect anyone who thinks this might hit too close to home…but these examples are based on true events from the past few years. These are, obviously, not the real names of these coaches, players or schools.
Seated at a minuscule desk forced into a weary office, Steve McKite is searching through scattered piles of dog-eared papers and small notes. McKite was just hired as an assistant basketball coach at Eastbury College, a Division I basketball program, which is his latest stop after his last gig ended as the head coach of a Division II program in the midwest. He had a good thing going in Division II, but coaching changes are inevitable; despite two winning seasons in a row, the new Athletic Director decided the school wanted to go in a ‘different direction’, and McKite, along with his staff, was let go.
Eastbury’s head coach, Lonnie Maxwell, is in his second year on the job; last year was rough, winning only 3 games in front of empty gyms. Maxwell and McKite played together in college and when Steve was fired from his head coaching position, Maxwell asked him to come to Eastbury and try and help him turn things around. Being an assistant coach means more recruiting; Eastbury not only was beaten on the floor last season by teams with better athletes, most of their starting five graduated as well. They need players, and they need them as soon as they can get them. But they need the right players – hopefully good kids who are overlooked.
So McKite’s first job is to hit the recruiting trail and see if he can find some players who are talented enough to help Eastbury win, and then see if he can convince those players to come and play for him – or rather, for Coach Maxwell.
The facilities at Eastbury are less than desirable. The college campus is located in a small, pretty town, but the gym looks more like a high school gym than a Division I college program. Faded paint of the team mascot adorns the entryways and exposed pipes run the length of the hallway leading to the locker rooms. McKite’s office feels like a janitor’s utility closet and he’s pretty sure it was exactly that at some point, because sitting directly underneath the fraying splinters of his desk is a rusty drain.
In order to get players to come to Eastbury he’s going to have to find kids who are unassuming and aren’t expecting the glitz they see on television during March Madness. Fortunately, he already dealt with a loads of that while coaching Division II. Unfortunately, he knows if he had been a bit more successful he might still have that job. He hasn’t finished unpacking yet, with scattered awards and a few boxes sitting on top of what was already in the office when he arrived two weeks ago.
McKite’s left hand finds what he is looking for – a roster list from an AAU tournament he attended a couple of days prior during a jaunt across this unfamiliar recruiting area. He had crisscrossed five states trying to catch as many quality AAU tournaments as possible in a region he has never scouted before. Next to a few players’ names are small notes or marks – indications of players that looked like they might be worth pursuing. On this list he’s got twelve names of players he wants to contact – three of whom he’s already pretty convinced are better than any player Eastbury had last season.
He picks up the phone and starts down with the first on the list.
After a few rings, the automated operator voice jumps in: “You have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service.”
Oh, well, cross that name off for now, he thinks. The reality is that many players’ contact details are wrong on AAU rosters. Even though he’s not writing off the player, the reality is he’ll probably have recruits lined up before he ever would be able to track the kid down.
On to the next name.
This time a woman answers the phone on the second ring.
“Hi, I’m coach Steve McKite, calling from Eastbury College. I’m trying to reach a player named Jeremy Hoyle?”
“Oh, that’s my nephew,” the woman replies, then after short pause, “uh…who did you say you were again?”
“Steve McKite. I’m an assistant coach with the basketball program at Eastbury College. I’d like to talk to Jeremy a little bit about his college recruitment, if I could…or I could talk to a parent if I need to.”
McKite waits in silence and looks back at his list of names. Hoyle is a 6’5″ small forward who played really well in two games he saw; versatile and athletic, with college size as a wing. It’s likely he already has colleges talking to him, but McKite has to start somewhere.
“He’s not here.”
“Okay, I’m sorry to hear that. Do you know when he might be back? Or does he have a mobile phone?” McKite asks, hopefully. A mobile phone would make the player easier to reach – via text, which is a lot more consistent way to contact teenagers at the moment.
“Yes, but I don’t know his number.”
McKite leaves his number with Jeremy’s aunt and hangs up. Pretty much oh-for-two at this point, he thinks. Ten more players to try on the list. He picks up his phone again and starts punching in the next set of digits.
On the fifth player, he finally reaches the person he wants directly. Marquise Davids, a shooting guard who also was playing a lot of point guard when McKite saw him, answers the phone immediately.
“Hi, I’m coach Steve McKite, calling from Eastbury College. I’m trying to reach a player named Marquise Davids?”
“Yes sir, that’s me, coach. I’m Marquise.”
“Marquise, I caught a couple of your AAU games last weekend. I wanted to reach out and ask you about your college recruiting. I know you don’t know me but I’m going to just come out and ask you – are you being recruited by any other colleges?”
“Yes sir, I did speak to a coach from State a couple of weeks ago. But that’s the only coach. He called me and talked to me a little bit. But nobody has offered me or anything like that.”
They talked for a few more minutes; Davids has a 4.2 GPA and plays for a public school about six hours away. When McKite tells him, “I can’t offer you today but we are interested and want to keep up with your recruiting. Would you be interested, if it worked out, to play for us at Eastbury?”
“I’ll play wherever I can, coach. Wherever is the best place for me, I’ll be there.”
McKite thanks Davids and hangs up. He likes the kid – he’s smart, he’s polite and he sounds mature. But he’s not the first option that Eastbury wants at guard right now. However, the conversation has McKite thinking – a player that grounded and mature might be someone to pay more attention to.
Back to the phone and the next name.
It takes three more calls before McKite talks to a player he really wants – a 6’8″ post player named Luka Felix; McKite is expecting a heavy accent, but is surprised to hear an American voice on the other end.
McKite introduces himself and asks if Felix has other colleges recruiting him.
“Yeah, a few coaches have talked to me, ” he says, “my coach says North Ambrose and Eastern offered me last week…I don’t really know all of the schools.”
“How are your grades?” McKite asks after a few more questions.
“Um, I think they are OK. You would have to check with coach on it.” McKite has heard this before. He gets the coach’s name and number and asks Felix if he would consider playing at Eastbury if they were to offer.
“Where is it?” asks Felix, “Is it D1?”
McKite laughs and says “Yes, it’s D1, man, c’mon, you need to know these things if you are going to be a hooper!”
Next phone call is to Felix’s coach, at a school called Full Court Elite Academy, which sounds less like a school and more like a gym with an administrative office. The school’s website doesn’t even list an athletic program.
Felix’s coach is a man named Darius Hager, who tells McKite that several schools have offered Felix already.
“What’s the possibility we could get involved with his recruitment?” McKite asks.
“Well, I don’t know if Felix wants to play for Eastbury, coach, he’s not sure if he wants to play in your conference. But I might be able to talk to him about it. I can probably help swing him your way.”
“That would be a big help, coach, we do need a big man. I’d like to come by and watch some workouts sometime.”
“Yeah, we can do that. Our gym is pretty tiny, I’ve been working on getting some renovations in here. It really needs some upgrades.”
McKite knows what he’s hearing – the coach wants money. The problem is that if Eastbury had money to pay for players, they would have money to upgrade their own gym. He’s not sure if the coach actually knows what he’s doing or if he’s trying to make money off of a lower end Division I big man. McKite asks about grades.
“His grades are good. We have him qualified, we are good to go. Just let me know when you can come down and we can talk about it.”
McKite agrees on a date to come by the school and hangs up, looking back at the list. Five states of scouting, hundreds of miles driven, hotels, bad road food, ice cold gyms in summer heat…has resulted in talking to 3 potential players, only one of which sounds like a definite Division I player and only one other player which sounds like he can actually stay in college for four years.
It’s late, and it’s been a long day for McKite. Calling the recruits was the last thing he needed to get done before he leaves for the day, and it’s a tough way to finish up. He pulls up Google Maps and starts to try and figure out where Full Court Elite Academy actually is, but the search just shows him an intersection in the middle of some rural fields.
As he grabs his car keys and tries, fruitlessly, to straighten up the already embarrassing mess of papers on his desk, his phone chirps.
It’s an email from Marquise Davids:
Thanks so much for reaching out and talking with me today. I just wanted to let you know I appreciate your taking the time and I hope to talk to you again soon. I also wanted to let you know that I am playing in an AAU tournament next weekend and if you are nearby I hope you can drop by. I will send you the schedule when the tournament publishes it.
Thank you again,
The tournament dates listed on his email are the same as the date he’s already agreed to visit Luka Felix at his school.
He turns off his phone, turns out the lights and walks down the pipe-lined corridor that leads to the parking light.
Next, Read Part 2: Rubbing Elbows