UA grid, hoop coaches hit recruiting trail

In his weekly column, Dudley E. Dawson talks with University of Arkansas assistant coaches Chris Vaughn and Rob Flaska about how important spring recruiting evaluations are for future success in their respective sports. The Arkansas Toyota Dealers have a special promotion for Razorback baseball. Click on a banner to enter a contest for free tickets to Razorback baseball.

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There may not be any University of Arkansas football or basketball practices or games going on right now, but there sure is plenty happening that will effect the future success of both of those programs.

The coaching staffs of both the gridiron and hoop Hogs are busy picking up the frequent flyer miles, putting mileage on their rental cars and evaluating prospects that could help them in 2005 and beyond.

Razorback recruiting coordinator Chris Vaughn is one of seven football coaches currently on the road in search of the next Cedric Cobbs, Matt Jones, Shawn Andrews and Batman Carroll.

"The biggest thing we are out here doing right now is identifying and evaluating kids that we have heard about or read about or have actually seen play already while recruiting one of their teammates," Vaughn said. "We are also looking to uncover some kids that the recruiting services missed for whatever reason."

According to NCAA rules, schools are able to take four weeks at their discretion out of the April 15-May 31 time frame to visit schools. While out they can use one evaluation on a prospect's athletic ability and one on his academic qualifications.

"Luckily you have some schools that are having spring practice right now, some next week and you just try and time it the best that you can," Vaughn said. "You can also see them in an athletic period and get a good idea of his ability."

Vaughn and fellow assistant James Shibest will be on the road for four weeks , four more assistant will be out for three weeks and two more a pair of weeks with no more than seven out at any one time.

Those assistants will then report back to Arkansas head football coach Houston Nutt, who will be out two weeks himself seeing players and being seen.

"We'll get Coach Nutt out and let him see the best of what we have uncovered," Vaughn said. "It's a very important time and you really want to make a push during this time with your recruiting."

Razorback coaches will make appearances in the states of Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana and a few other spots of interest in an effort to get the list cultivated down to the best players available.

"The first thing we will do - and will always do - is to get a grasp on the state of Arkansas and try to identify the players that we have here in our own state that can help us win," Vaughn said. "That's first and foremost.

"We are out here looking for tight ends and offensive tackles, which are commodity positions for us- big time defensive ends that can get to the quarterback, a big-time running back and so on," Vaughn added.

Arkansas already has a big start on that with the recent commitment of 6-1, 200-pound Pulaski Oak Grove running back Darren McFadden, a player regarded as one of the nation's top 100 players and someone who joins cornerback Brannon Kidd of Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College as the UA's first two 2005 commits.

"I can't stress enough how we want to win first with the kids in the state of Arkansas," Vaughn said.

If Arkansas doesn't follow up its banner 2004 class with a top-notch one in 2005, it doesn't appear it will be from lack of effort.

"We've got around 5,000 or so names in our recruiting database now and we will narrow that down considerably in this time that we are out on the road," Vaughn said. "In fact, we will all come back with 40 to 60 names and then get it down to 200 to 250 or so and then eliminate some more.

"We will find out there are some kids that are very interested in us and some that are not," Vaughn added. "Then we'll attack that final list to come up with the best class we can."

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Arkansas assistant basketball coach Rob Flaska is one of three Razorback assistants that are joining UA head coach Stan Heath on the road right now.

In the past couple of weeks that quartet has been to Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, Washington, D.C. and many other basketball recruiting hotspots to evaluate prospects in tournaments and on their high school campuses.

This weekend they'll be at the Kingwood Classic , an event in the Houston area Friday through Sunday that will have the biggest collection of teams and prospects in the young AAU traveling season so far.

"I wouldn't call this an absolutely critical time right now, but it is a very important time for programs if you are trying to finish up your class this year or trying to get ahead for the next one," Flaska said.

The NCAA allows D-I basketball coaches to be out April 7-11 and then back out April 16 until the end of the month.

The hoops coaches then don't return to the road on July 8, which happens to coincide with the Nike, Reebok and adidas ABCD camps, the Peach Jam and several other events.

Coaches must come back off the road on July 17, but then can get right back out during July 22-31.

"These days you have better be fully on juniors before the summer begins and even have poked you head into the sophomore class," Flaska said. "Things get going earlier and earlier every year and we are out there busting it."

Arkansas' efforts right now appear to be mostly focused on players in the class of 2005 and not 2004 - even if Razorback signee Al Jefferson decides to leap to the NBA - with an eye also toward those who might be transferring and would fill a need.

They'll certainly get a chance to see many of the top players of the 2005 class this weekend in Houston with somewhere around 40 players playing in the event thought to be on the UA's recruiting list.

The vast majority of those recruits are guard types with Arkansas having loaded up on big players in the 2004 class.

"Certainly guards and shooters are a focus for us," Flaska said. "We will have two or three scholarships to give and you want to make the most impact and make the right choices when you have that small of an amount."

As with the football coaches, it is a time of evaluating, looking for a surprise and also cutting down the list for the basketball coaches.

"The three of us (assistant coaches) will have some 5 to 7 names or so that we will be concentrating on by the end of the summer so you are looking at gathering a list of around 20 or so to really get after," Flaska said. "We want that to be the best of the best and the ones we have the best shot at."

The biggest visit of the weekend will like be to Mississippi, where Heath is scheduled to visit with Jefferson as the 6-10, 255-pound man-child continues to debate leaping straight to the NBA from high school.

While the head coach focuses on keeping one already signed, the assistants continue headlong trying to make the 2005 class an impact one.

" We are working hard to try and keep bringing in the type of quality recruits that we have been fortunate to land so far," Flaska said. "That's what the name of the game is."

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