Craig Neal Talks Recruiting

Last season, Iowa Basketball Coach Steve Alford hired longtime friend Craig Neal to assist in recruiting efforts. Neal talked to HN.com during Thurday's Hawkeye Media Day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and discussed how things are going in that area. In this premium Q&A, Neal speaks about the positions they're targeting in this class, how the state of Iowa looks for the next few years, shooting for the big name recruits even if you fall short and much more.

How do you feel the recruiting has gone this season?

Craig Neal: Good. Better than expected.

Going out this year what areas were you needing to address, and how have you done in those areas?

The biggest thing is that you're losing five. We have Brunner and Horner and Erek and Doug, and we're counting Justin Wieck, plus the absence of Pierre. We had to get big, and we got two commitments early (Cyrus Tate and Jamie Vanderbeken). That will help with size.

We've gotten in on a couple of kids late. We've tried to look at kids that are a little bit more athletic; a little bit more speed; a little bit bigger wings. Tony's addition helps us with speed. Carlton has helped us with getting more athleticism.

So, we're doing good. We've got five scholarships. We've got two commitments, and I could see signing four and possibly a fifth one late just depending on what happens.

So, you definitely want four minimum on this class?

Yeah, we'll take four. It could be five. That's coach's call. If the right kids that we're recruiting want to come, then we'll take five.

Are you looking at junior college at all or is it strictly high school?

Yeah, we're looking at JC. We're looking at some kids that can really play. We'll just wait and see what happens. It's kind of hard. We lost one kid (Isaiah Dahlman, Michigan State) who we spent a lot of time on. He was going to come in and play. We need to find out who can come in and play right away because we've got to have guys that can come in and contribute some way. It's tough for high school kids to contribute right away.

One of our kids is a junior college commitment (Tate). So, so he's going to come in and play. He's a man. We'll see what happens.

But I think recruiting has gone a lot better than we thought. There was a time where if you asked Steve, we thought we were going to get a couple of guys we didn't. But we've always had a backup plan. We've been trying to fit the puzzle since Day 1. It' just that sometimes your puzzle pieces change.

So, if you can still fit in guys that's good. If it works out, and we get a break, it could be one of our better recruiting classes. We're going to have to get a break.

Are you looking at twos and threes, now?

Twos and threes and maybe another point guard (Chicago's Sherron Collins will be taking his official visit to Iowa City October 28). Everybody knows that we're recruiting all of those guys that we've been recruiting.

We've just got to keep recruiting. And it's going to be a thing where we just have to stay in the battle. We can't bow out of the battle. We're probably recruiting three kids in the Top 30 and two of them were in the top one or two. Those are the battles you've got to stay in. If you don't battle it out until the end and bow out early, then you never know what's going to happen.

Does it help your reputation of being a major player if you're in with the top kids even if you come up short?

I think it always helps. I think we've got a great thing to sell. We've got to convince kids to come out and visit. Once we get them on campus, we've got a pretty good track record right now. The kids that we've got on campus this year, they've committed.

There was one (Dahlman) that didn't, but that's just a different situation. He did what was best for him. But if we can get a couple of other kids on campus, the place sells itself. Coach sells it because he's such a great coach. And our players are big time sellers. They do a great job. It is a special place. We've got great fans, and a lot of enthusiasm and they care about it. Once the recruits see how much they care about it, it's a pretty easy sell.

Have you faced the negative recruiting that the program has struggled somewhat lately?

You do. They can't say much because we're going to have six winning seasons in a row. What's being down?

Missing the NCAA for several years before last year

Yeah, missing the NCAA. We made it last year. We beat Michigan State, 10th in the country. That's been a positive. That's helped us in recruiting. It didn't help us with one guy (Dahlman), but it's been a positive. The more you can get on TV and the more you can out there and be successful, the better you'll do.

We've been able to show some positive signs of growth. It takes a while to get a program to where you want to get. That's one reason why I committed to come here with (Steve Alford), and I think it's going in the right direction. Hopefully we can work to get some players.

How good is the 2006 Class and also the '07 group?

Two thousand seven is a real good class. Two thousand six is a good class. All that talk about kids leaving (early) is going to end. That will be a little different thing in college recruiting.

Two thousand seven, we've got a lot of good leads on some kids we're involved with. But we're only going to have two or three scholarships. It's going to be fit the puzzle. It's got to be the right kids.

I think we've got some kids down the road that could come early. As a matter of fact, I think we'll get one in the next two weeks.

Is that an in-state kid?

No. He's an out of state kid.

How does the state of Iowa look?

Iowa is OK. There are some junior kids that we got to see a lot this summer down in Orlando in AAU playing with Martin Brothers. The freshman class is as good as there has been in a long time.

This year's high school class of freshmen?

They'll be sophomores. The sophomore class probably has six or seven possible Division I players, which is pretty good. You're talking about four or five of them that could be 6-7 or bigger, probably two or three will be 6-9. So, it's a good class.

The junior class (in Iowa) is OK. This year's senior class is OK. There are some great players in both classes, but it's just do they fit the puzzle.

Other than what the university has to offer, what's helped you most in recruiting?

The NBA stuff is always a help. That's where all of these kids want to go. Michigan State, he went out and hired an NBA guy. It's not like there hasn't been a trend because you have kids now that you're going to have the Top 20 players that are only going to go to school for a year. They're going to look to see where they can go and play right away and be in a high profile conference and play in a big arena and get great coaching and develop. That's a selling point.

With what happened during the middle of last season and Steve being on the hotseat, did that bother recruiting at that time of year?

That hot seat is all by people that really don't know. Any coach is on the hot seat. Look at Coach (Joe) Tiller. He has great years, turns the program around. It didn't come into effect with any of our recruiting. There was never a question asked about us being in the hot seat.


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