So why did Brendan Lavender, Drew Gordon and Emmanuel Negedu make unofficial visits? First of all, they had to. A player cannot make an official visit until their senior year in high school begins. All three players wanted to get a jump start on recruiting so they arranged to visit schools on their own dime.
Players may only make five official visits, while they can make as many unofficial visits as they want. For a player like Phoenix's Lavender, getting down to Tucson is not a huge ordeal. Jerryd Bayless literally made dozens of unofficial visits to Tucson both before and after he committed to the program (both times).
So what do players do on an unofficial visit? Almost everything that a player does on the official visit, at least in terms of viewing the campus.
On an official visit the staff rolls out the red carpet, at least as much as they can per NCAA limitations. They can buy meals, take the players off campus and do a little bit to entertain recruits.
An unofficial visit can only take place on campus. Coaches can have a meal with the recruits, but it has to be at the Student Union and the player has to pay for his own food.
According to assistant coach Josh Pastner, unofficial recruits get a tour of the school and the facilities, but their tour is limited to campus.
"We are restricted in what we can do," Pastner said. "We have to stay on campus and the recruit has to pay his own way."
An official recruit can be taken out to dinner around town, or even get to have a meal at Lute Olson's home, but the unofficial visitor is not granted that luxury.
Little can be pre-planned for an unofficial visitor, but in almost every case they not only tour McKale and the training facilities but get to check out academic life and housing. Almost every visitor takes the time to meet with academic advisors to get a better feel for what life as the student portion of a student-athlete is all about.
Of course basketball is on the agenda. Visitors play pick-up games with the current team. Sometimes these games are on public display at McKale, while other times they will just trek on over to the rec center to play.
The unofficial visit allows the recruit to interact with the team, which is often times a crucial portion of the visit. Many players have stated it was how well he got along with his future teammates. Conversely, if the team does like the recruit his recruitment can suffer.
The recruit has the option of staying on campus in one of the dorms, but like everything else about the visit, the recruit has to pay his own way, even if he wants to stay in the dorm.
Unofficials benefit the school as well. First and foremost it allows the schools to bring in players early, and hopefully get an early commitment. Of the eight players signed in the 2006 and 2007 recruiting classes, all visited Arizona prior to their senior seasons. Granted, a few of the players' first exposure to Tucson was at the Lute Olson Elite Skills Camp, but they still made it to town before the fall.
It can also let the staff know who is serious. The program only gets 12 official visits, so they have to be careful who they bring in. If a kid is willing to pay his own way, then they know he could be serious. It can also help the players and the program weed each other out. A player may come to Tucson and not like it, or the staff may host a player early and realize it won't be a good fit.
All in all the unofficial visit allows players and the program to get a good feel for the program and allow them to make some decisions before the fall.