A recruit’s résumé is like that of a job applicant. Multiple areas combine to create a package coaches can evaluate. These on-court candidates are judged mainly on performance, character and academics, two which can be judged accurately and consistently.
But that character part? That’s tricky. To delve into that, coaches must refer to the references section, and that’s where the difficulty comes.
Just like a job candidate, an athlete’s best references will most assuredly praise them when college coaches call. Everyone is “the best.” Everyone has a “terrific work ethic.” Everyone is “coachable.”
“Nobody wants to be the one to hurt a kid’s opportunities,” Kansas State women’s basketball head coach Jeff Mittie said as he sat in his office in the Ice Family Basketball Center.
This is just one reason recruiting is so hit or miss. It can be tough to truly gauge a kid’s character. Mittie, who chuckled as he explained this issue, said getting around it can take a bit of work.
Mittie might ask coaches — “If she’s a senior, why isn’t she a captain?”— in an attempt to find potential red flags. Or he and his staffers could seek opinions of other coaches in a league, those who coached against a recruit they may be pursuing.
Sometimes, if a kid has transferred, college coaches speak with the coach from the first school. But even then, they must be careful and cautious because that former coach could be bitter that a talented player departed.
There’s always sifting they need to do, context they need to remain aware of when evaluating recruits. Basically, the battle is discerning what’s accurate and what isn’t in hopes of discovering the most authentic version of a kid.
“From the basketball side, the thing that’s always inaccurate is the 6-foot-4 kid who’s shorter than I am,” Mittie said, laughing. “I always deduct about two inches from every roster I look at.”
There’s just so much that goes intro recruiting these days.
Take the evolving digital age, for example. Brian Ostermann, K-State’s associate head coach, said he had no idea texting and email would become the primary forms of communication. He said he never could’ve expected that when he began his career in 1989 as a graduate assistant coach with Northwest Missouri State.
“I think the unique thing with text messaging is that sometimes conversations abruptly stop and that’s the end of that conversation, so to speak,” Ostermann said. “Whereas back in the old days, you might take that as somebody just hung up the phone on you because the conversation sometimes becomes one-sided.”
Not to mention social media advancements. These days, K-State has folks in the athletics department helping with graphics and other methods of sharing the program’s story and vision. Ostermann and other assistants, meanwhile, comb through a recruit’s social media accounts to get a better idea of what type of person they’re pursuing.
You may be surprised to hear that when Ostermann speaks with recruits for the first time, he doesn’t immediately sell the program. Instead, he educates. He must first lay a foundation.
What do you know about Kansas State?
What do you know about the Big 12?
Recently, a recruit said she thought Virginia was in the Big 12, so this educational part is important.
When K-State’s coaches finally begin to sell the program, they preach family. The tight-knit Manhattan community is a big point, and more so, how it all revolves around the university.
“You’re not going to go to breakfast here in Manhattan,” Mittie said, “and not see 15 K-State T-shirts.”
But getting recruits out to that breakfast place to feel the family atmosphere — not just hear about it — is always K-State’s largest recruiting challenge. Mittie and his staff implore families to take visits to Manhattan, to make the extra flight or drive a few more hours if they can.
When a kid visits, Mittie usually hosts a dinner at his home on Friday or Saturday night. The entire coaching staff is invited, including all of the family members. There may be anywhere from 30 to 50 people there on a given weekend evening when a recruit decides to visit.
“The challenge with recruiting, in my opinion, is finding out what really matters to the kid,” Mittie said. “Everybody is saying those things. Everybody has the best strength coach, everybody is a family. So how do we get our points across better than the other schools?”
Mittie said K-State wants recruits who visit to have interaction not scheduled by the coaching staff. For example, taking a walk around campus or going out on the town. Then, kids and families can experience it for themselves.
During visits, recruits watch the last 40 minutes or so of a practice. Mittie tailors that section to what position the recruit is, because he interacts with a point guard differently than he does a center. Then, he’ll ask the girl what she thought of practice. He said most like the up-tempo pace, quickly moving from drill to drill.
The K-State staff has a recruiting meeting just about every day, Mittie said. Maybe not a scheduled one, but if there’s, say, a practice meeting at about 10 a.m., then the coaches may spend 30 minutes discussing recruiting at some point. They talk about where they’re at with different recruits and hammer out the plan of attack.
Mittie wears the most hats. He must be deeply involved in recruiting because, at the end of the day, this is his program. But he also needs to handle the daily duties surrounding his current roster.
“As a head coach, sometimes you just come into the office and wait for everything to hit you,” Mittie said, chuckling.
Sometimes, K-State has “call nights,” when all of the assistants phone recruits and Mittie walks the hall, stopping by and entering each office to speak to a kid for five or 10 minutes before heading to the next. Each assistant coach calls eight to 10 kids during the evening, so Mittie speaks to about 30 recruits in total. Other times, assistants walk into Mittie’s office during the day to put him on the phone with recruits.
It seems discerning how to recruit each individual — based on what’s important to her — could be the most difficult part of it. And for all the time spent, there are wins and losses.
That’s just part of it.
“You don’t get everyone that you want to recruit,” Ostermann said. “They don’t all sign with the university that you represent.”
That seems to be the only constant in recruiting, a fluid art where the gameplan changes from kid to kid and programs may never reach their true ceiling.
“Recruiting can always be better,” Mittie said.