Far-Reaching Ties

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy hired veteran assistant Sergio Rouco for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Rouco's ability to recruit internationally.

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Rouco, head coach at Florida International for eight seasons, was born in Cuba and raised in Miami, Fla. He has coached at the professional level as well; his most recent head coaching job was in Venezuela in 2010, where he led the Marinos de Anzoategui.

Rouco, 50, was hired by Kennedy in May. And besides the more than 20 years of coaching experience he brings to the bench alongside Kennedy, his reach far beyond the borders of the United States to snag recruits has been a significant addition to Ole Miss basketball.

Rouco brings a loaded Rolodex to navigate the intricate world of a recruiting system that is literally foreign.

"He's opened up avenues for us that we've never had the opportunity to explore," Kennedy said. "When you talk about international recruiting, you've certainly got to have some connections that cut through a lot of wasted time in pursing avenues that you have no opportunity to get.

"Serge's experience and his credibility have been invaluable, because he's had success with the Greivis Vásquezs and the J.J. Bareas and guys that have come to America and been successful and had the opportunity to play at the highest level. I think that credibility speaks to his ability to find the right fit, and for us, it opens up a door that we've never had open to us before."

Domestic recruiting is difficult enough. Recruiting abroad presents a number of additional challenges.

Sergio Rouco
File Photo

Unlike the process of scouting, evaluating and targeting potential signees in America, finding a player internationally means competing directly with the pull of the professional ranks at an earlier age than even the standard 18 years for NBA prospects at home.

Additionally, many countries excluding Canada, according to Rouco, do not have high school basketball. Many prospective signees do not compete in high schools overseas. For example, a 13 or 14-year old player is instead chosen by a club team, i.e. Euroleague.

"What we do is we see a kid and they're 16 and under at European championships, Latin America, and you identify them early," Rouco said. "You get on the horn, and you try to find out from their people, hey, does this kid belong to a club? Is this kid going to school? A lot of kids just drop off and don't go to school, and just say, hey, I want to be a pro athlete because they get some benefits and come from poor families.

"It is a huge, huge taking. You gotta have your ducks in order, you have to have your connections, you have to do your homework. We can identify a good player. Most of us in college basketball can do that. But can you get him into school? Does this kid have enough core classes? And it looks like every single year gets harder and harder and harder."

A player meeting eligibility requirements set forth by the NCAA is oftentimes a tricky proposition for American players. Not so much for international players, Rouco said, because a bevy of electives aren't offered overseas; a stark contrast to available courses in the U.S.

But there are road blocks along the way. Core classes are typically different for an international player.

An immigrant himself, Rouco is an advocate for the signing of a foreign player. He believes such a player arrives on campus with a better work ethic than, say, a local or nation-wide player signed.

"I think our guys are spoiled. I think our school systems are not up to par as some of the foreign countries, and I'm saying that as an American," he said. "We give out too many easy classes. As you see a transcript from a kid from, let's say, Venezuela. Or a kid from Italy. They don't take electives. In our kids' transcripts, they've got art, they've got P.E., they've got driver's ed, they've got the Cat in the Hat. They've got a bunch of electives. Kids overseas, they don't have that. They take physical education, and that's it. It doesn't surprise me for a kid to have three sciences in the same school year."

Maurice Aniefiok
Ben Garrett

But it all comes back to finding those kids which, again, is challenging.

Rouco said the most important aspect in the signing of an international recruit is the relationships built within said recruit's inner circle. His parents. His coach. His academic advisor(s).

And, of course, steering a recruit away from the professional ranks.

"This has been my bread and butter. I've taken advantage of being bilingual. I've taken advantage of being a coach overseas, and building relationships with coaches. You go to the youth tournaments. You go to the 16 and under European games. You identify them. And then word of mouth. Hey, is that kid (available for recruitment)? Oh, you know what? That kid belongs to C.K. Moscow. Or that kid belongs to Real Madrid. You're done. They're not going anywhere, ‘cause they're going to get paid and they're going to play ACB basketball (in Spain), highest level, at 18," Rouco said.

"But there's certain kids that have mom and dad, that want those kids to get an education. They see the light. ESPN, with college basketball, and the more kids like Greivis Vásquez. He's the perfect example. He came over at 14, went to high school at Maryland, played at Maryland. Greivis never went back to play for his national team until last summer. He had an education. He made it to the NBA. So other kids are going to do that. The Argentines are privy to it already; the (Manu) Ginobilis and those guys. The Puerto Ricans have been doing it with the (Carlos) Arroyos. Canada's huge right now with basketball. Huge. So the more kids that make it out of different countries, the more kids want to emulate and follow them."

Ole Miss is expected to sign Venezuela native Anthony Cortesia, a 6-foot-9 forward and three-star prospect according to Scout.com, on the first day of early signing period, Nov. 9. Maurice Aniefiok, a native Nigerian, is in his freshman season at the school.

The door is open overseas for Ole Miss, and Rouco is the primary reason why. Rouco said Oxford and Ole Miss has been a fairly easy sell, though the current facilities -- save for the state-of-the-art basketball practice facility -- can sometimes be a detriment in landing a recruit's commitment and signature.

"One thing about Oxford, with the kids I've brought in here, is the safety is great," Rouco said. "The facilities for them, maybe not on par for us in the SEC with other schools, but they haven't seen Alabama. They haven't seen Kentucky. The first thing they see, is they see Oxford and our facilities. That's when you've got to get it done. If you let them go somewhere else, you might lose them.

"We've had good success, I think, with the kids we've brought on campus," Rouco said. "I think the league we play in sells itself. ESPN sells itself. Coach Kennedy being a great offensive coach, and has produced guys to be in the NBA is a good sell. I expect us to be good in international recruiting, but I expect us to be good in recruiting altogether."


Note: Ole Miss is expected to sign two players today: Martavious Newby, a 6-foot-3 guard, of Memphis, Tenn., and Cortesia, a 6-foot-9 forward, of Montverde, Fla. Newby, like Cortesia, is rated a three-star prospect by Scout.com. There has been some speculation Newby was/is wavering on his commitment to Ole Miss. However, according to sources, that speculation was/is baseless. Sources indicated Newby has remained solid in his commitment. He is set to sign a letter of intent at 12 p.m. at a press conference at his school.

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