Coach Robert McCullum: Q&A Part II

South Florida Coach Robert McCullum sits down for a talk with USFNation.com. In the second and final part of our interview he addresses his relationship with AD Doug Woolard, the difference between football recruiting and basketball recruiting, and we talk about the balance between bringing in high school recruits and transfers. Read the rest of this exclusive interview with Coach McCullum.

USFNation:: Can you compare recruiting at Western Michigan to recruiting at South Florida?

Coach Robert McCullum: Well, not really. For one it's two different times. One was in '00-'01, now we're talking about '03 till now. I was recruiting for a different school, different demographics. I came here with no knowledge of any possible move to the Big East. We spent the first 8 months here recruiting for Conference USA.

USFN: Are you saying you could have used that as a tool to recruit?

CRM: No, I'm just saying I didn't know. The first seven or eight months we were recruiting for Conference USA. Then we find out, in about late October, that it's probably going to happen. Now you cant just get up and call kids back in October saying we're going to be in the Big East. It doesn't quite work that way, and at the same time, for so many reasons we're already fighting an uphill battle just being in the state. Going up against Florida and Florida State in terms of tradition, budgets and all of those things. Now you're going into the Big East and it's a big difference.

When I got to Western Michigan we were able to beat that 8-5 rule that went into effect. It said that you couldn't sign more than 5 players in one particular class or more than 8 in a two-year period. That rule hurt a lot of schools. Say you came in and there was a coaching change and you have some players leave, the way I did when I came to USF, you were limited to the amount of recruits you can bring in. We were fortunate that when I got there (Western Michigan) that we beat that.

When I first got here that rule was still in effect but eliminated the next year. If a player left you couldn't just go out and sign someone else because you were limited on how many kids you could bring in. At Western Michigan, from spring of '01 to spring of '02 we were able to sign 10 new players. We were fortunate to bring in 4 really good players, two high school and two JUCO players with three years of eligibility. It worked out great and all four graduated on time and we tried the next year and brought five more in and it was the best recruiting class in the league. We were able to go from ten wins in each of the two years before I got there, then seven wins in my first year, and then made the big jump from seven to seventeen.

It was a different start from with what I had at USF. We started there(Western Michigan) with a solid core group of kids and we had very few distractions. When I first got he job everyone stayed at least for that first year. The timing was just different and the core group was a good bunch of kids, especially off the court. At USF we were trying to change an image and lay a foundation, stress team and playing for the name on the front of the jersey. Then all of a sudden we learned we were moving to the Big East.

USFN: What is your working relationship with Athletic Director Doug Woolard like?

CRM: It's a good working relationship. We talk frequently, of course there is the head-coaching meeting, which is monthly. We talk frequently and it's a good relationship.

USFN: Most people are more familiar about the football recruiting process, but could you tell us about the basketball recruiting process?

CRM: I think basketball has more of an opportunity to evaluate players than football. For one, there are more games played than football. It's not like the football coaches can come home from their road games and check out a high school game like we can.

USFN: But what about the fact that they take over 20 guys and can afford for a handful of them to be busts?

CRM: Yes, the margin for error is much greater, but they also don't have the luxury over the summer as we do. We can go to a single event in the summer and see 100 prospects at one event. I can go to the Nike All-American camp and know that 75% of the players there are good enough. From April to July we travel, then in September you can see the kids in their schools. We have far more opportunities, we will go into the school year already knowing who we want.

You also have to keep in mind we have two signing periods, something they are talking about for football. We have a fall signing period, so when school starts we have already offered a number of juniors and even some sophomores. You rarely see a football player being offered as a sophomore because there aren't enough games to get an evaluation. We have ample chances to evaluate. We can catch a high school basketball game almost every day of the week.

USFN: Your team is bringing in a handful of transfers next year, how is that different, from a coaching standpoint, than bringing in all high school kids?

CRM: There really is not a difference. First of all if you go back to the basic definition of a recruit; a recruitable athlete can come from a high school, a junior college or as a transfer. There technically is no difference.

USFN: Isn't there a mental difference? For example a JUCO guy is going to want to step in and play right away, where as a high school recruit may not feel the same .

CRM: In that sense yes, but that doesn't affect the way you coach them. Believe it or not, the biggest difference is perception. For example, one of Auburn's starting running backs this year transferred in from South Carolina. Since he transferred you didn't hear all the hoopla that would have been there had he been coming out of high school. Here he was an unbelievable running back, but does that make him any less of a prospect because he's transferring from South Carolina? No it doesn't, it just means that you don't have any of the limelight or any of the hype and rankings.

Sometimes if there is a coaching change and the talent level is down or the last class was a large senior class, there may be a gap left. That's when you go to a junior college or get a transfer, someone with experience, been away from home, already played college basketball. All that makes the transitional period shorter.

USFN: Is there a balance that you try to keep?

CRM: There is always a balance. It varies from year to year, sometimes you may not take a transfer, and it just depends where you are in your program. You would always prefer all high school guys, in a perfect world. However, you always keep your options open and never-say-never.

Look at Bobby Knight, he went on record several times saying he prefers recruiting junior college players now. Go back 20-25 years ago, he had to be convinced to take a JUCO player. Now he is gone the complete opposite direction with regards to JUCO recruits.

There is always a balance there, the other thing is sometimes a junior college player is brought in to balance a young incoming class. If you are graduating an outstanding class, you don't want to rely on all high school guys to come in and start over. Now you have this junior college player ready to step up.

A perfect example of this in our conference is West Virginia. Three years ago they won one conference game. The next year they brought in a few transfers and then they won 17 games. They go on foreign tour and comeback and go to the elite eight. The starting center last was a transfer. Michael Gansey is a transfer. They have one right now (Jamie Smalligan) that is sitting out from Butler that they think is as good as Kevin Pittsnogle. The thinking is that they may not get the blue chip all-American that Villanova or U Conn will get, but they can get a very good skill guy as a transfer.

Until we get to the point where we can compete with the upper echelon of the Big East, I think the transfers will really help us get there sooner. At least that is the goal.


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