Typically, the NBA loves size coming out of high school (see Eddie Curry, Tyson Chandler, Kwame Brown and dare we say Leon Smith?). The Class of 2006 is laced with size - and not just big kids but big, mobile and athletic kids.
It's certainly within the rights of the average college basketball fan and maybe even college coach to write off guys such as Greg Oden, Derrick Caracter, Kevin Durant, Vernon Macklin, Darrell Arthur and Brandan Wright. In the past, kids with their size, skills and "protential" (it's time to invent a new word) bolt for the bucks and it's hard to blame them given their draft status. All things considered, they're tough players to recruit if you're, say, a big-time college coach.
You can get all the way to the alter with a kid such as Macklin but quickly Pachelbel's canon turns into a funeral dirge in the spring. Countless times (see Billy the Kid, Coach K, John Calipari and Roy Williams) big-time college coaches are left holding meaningless letters of intent while guys are out purchasing diamond crusted bling bling and walking MTV Cribs cameras through their new pad.
So, given what we know about the lure of The League and the talent out there in 2006, what is a big-time college recruiter to do? We asked some of the best in the business exactly what their approach is when it comes to the guys with "protential."
"I would write chain letters and an occasional hand letter showing interest, but to waste days (unless it's a tournament game) to watch these guys play would be worthless," said one Big East assistant.
"The only positive thing to come out of recruiting these kids would be quotes telling the media if they were going to college they would pick your particular school. You could use that quote with your next prospect."
The theme, when we talked to high-level assistants about recruiting these kids, was consistent: you have to make the best use of your time.
"You have to make a decision in terms of what it's going to cost you in terms of investing the time to recruit those kids," said an SEC coach. "It becomes almost a case of making the best use of your time. Do you go see a Derrick Caracter and invest time or go see someone maybe not as talented but a kid who will be in your program for more than a year?"
College recruiters have been wise to the 2006 bunch for a while now and that's why a guy like Spencer Hawes (who might be a candidate himself one day) draws a much thicker crowd of big time coaches than Oden would. Most of the guys watching Oden are actually recruiting his AAU teammate Mike Conley, hoping to get in there with Daequan Cook and keeping a keen eye on sophomore Eric Gordon. Having all those prospects on the floor alongside Oden at the same time is like going to your favorite high school game and having the Laker Girls show up. Watching them is just a bonus!
Having said that, there are some cases in which it's just too tempting not to try. If your conference rival builds a practice gym, you build a practice gym. If he signs a Durant-type talent, you have to sign a Durant-type talent. It's a build up of arms and you have to make sure your arsenal is stocked too. But, as a college recruiter, you've got to pick your targets with extreme diligence.
"Rudy Gay, that guy could have gone straight to the league but it was important to him to get the experience in college," an assistant said. "Who knows what's going to happen but you have to evaluate and make those decisions."
Most recruiters stick with their comfort zone. Unless they have a hook such as a relative who went to their school, they know the coach well or the kid has always dreamed of playing in their arena, recruiters are apt to pass and find a kid who is actually going to college.
"I would rather recruit players who I believe will be great down the road and not deal with all the B.S. that comes with a Top 10 kid," a Big East coach said. "Don't get me wrong, we would take one of these kids, but the likelihood would have to be almost the perfect situation (sister goes to your school, lives in your own backyard or some sort of tie [to the program])."
College recruiters are very conscious of another important element: chemistry. A one-and-done dude can be damaging to what they are building. Syracuse had the perfect situation a few years ago with Carmelo Anthony. They were good enough to win a lot of games but needed that one guy to get them over the hump. Melo bought into what they were doing, the guys accepted him for what he was and the result was a banner in the Carrier Dome. It's not always that easy.
"It depends on how comfortable your head coach is about bringing a kid into your locker room who is open about staying one year," one coach said. "You better have a very strong, experienced team to handle that or it can kill chemistry." A long contract wouldn't hurt either folks; we're dealing in reality here. Guys run the risk of getting canned after just one disappointing season.
"Taking a shot at the Oden's, Caracter's and Durant's of the world is OK if it doesn't prove to be a detriment to the future success," an ACC assistant said. "Getting someone like that would obviously be a coup. Not getting them however shouldn't set your program back."
Sometimes it just happens. The best laid November plans can get foiled in the spring. You think people would be talking about Duke's depth if Shaun Livingston was in Durham? North Carolina with Marvin Williams was lucky. He was a much more important recruit than J.R. Smith. UConn, Texas, Kentucky and Oregon ducked knockout punches too last spring proving just how tenuous it is when recruiting Top 10 talents.
Sometimes that cookie jar keeps calling you and before you know it, you're up to your elbows in crumbs and all you have to show for it is an empty jar and a tummy ache. The temptation to recruit and sign one of these elite kids just takes over. You start thinking about cutting down the nets and, if you're an assistant, maybe even your first head coaching gig.
"It's a case-by-case situation," said one assistant coach. "Kevin Durant, if he's got the character and intangibles that he can elevate your team to win championships, you have to recruit him or you're making a mistake."
That's certainly sound reasoning, especially given the fact that Durant just turned 16 last month. But, somewhere in say maybe Boston or Portland, there's a guy with a pick in the first round marveling at the same statistic.