Interview: Stephanie Norman

Last week, VandyMania stopped by Memorial Gym to talk with Vanderbilt women's assistant basketball coach Stephanie Norman about what coaches do during the off-season, especially in terms of recruiting. Here's what she had to say.

VM: From a fan's point of view, from the banquet in April to midnight madness in October, there's not much in between. Could you talk about what the coaches are doing during that time?

Coach Norman: Well, we all just returned from our last weekend of recruiting allowed by the NCAA. We're into a dead and a quiet period, so the only thing that can happen from here on out is that recruits can visit our campus unofficially from here until July when we go out and do our thing again.

But what we as coaches are doing is we've met and talked about the needs of our team. Throughout this week, we've had a ton of meetings with our own players to find out what their goals and aspirations are.

VM: Is that something you do one on one?

Coach Norman: Um-hum. Coach Balcomb and then one of us assistants, whoever is in charge. Each kid has a mentor; like one of us coaches are their mentor, and we have probably anywhere between every two to three weeks a meeting with those three or four kids all through the year. So at the end of the year, whoever is that kid's mentor and Coach Balcomb will meet together. So the three of us kind of talk about the year and what their goals are for next year, how do they want to go about getting those, what are their plans for the summer ... those sorts of things. Just some housekeeping things to wrap up the end of the year. So that's ending tomorrow.

After those meetings we'll sit down and talk about the needs that we see for the upcoming recruiting class, how many scholarships we want to offer, realistically who do we think we can go after, those sorts of things. We'll do that and then come up with a condensed version of our top list right now which consists of about 115 kids, and we'll try to get that narrowed down to anywhere between 30-40 kids that we'll be sort of ear-marking for the summer to follow.

We haven't offered scholarships to anyone at this point, and a lot of that has to do with we're very big on getting to know them as people and part of that is having them on campus unofficially and getting to know their families.

So that's what we'll be doing for the next six weeks or so, just trying to get a bigger feel for their interests, gathering transcripts, and talking to their AAU coach and their high school coach and just kind of covering your bases to find out their interests before you head into the month of July so we can spend our time wisely in gyms of kids that are interested in our program.

VM: Do you try to get most of that 30 or 40 here for unofficial vists?

Coach Norman: Well, it would be unrealistic to get 30 or 40 kids here, but out of that 30 or 40, we have in our minds the ideal recruiting class that would blow everybody's socks away, but saying that and getting that are two different things. So you want to invite particular people to come on campus. I wouldn't say we're going to invite all 30 or 40 of those people, but all 30 or 40 of those people we are going to put a harder sell on, get more mailings, get more emails, those sorts of things, pay more attention to them than we have throughout the whole year, and a select few we'll try to get on campus and show them what it's all about.

VM: And then in July you go out and hit the road again?

Coach Norman: Right. Well, in June we have a couple of camps, so some of us will be involved heavily with getting that organized.

VM: Will you have an elite camp this year?

Coach Norman: No, there's no elite camp. I don't know if that's something that we'll go to in the future, but right now we don't have one. We have a team camp that we're trying to get started, so we'll see if that flies. So in between there, all of us will be taking a vacation. Most of us will be taking it in May.

VM: Then in July, it's time to hit the road for all the AAU tournaments, elite camps, and all those things.

Coach Norman: Right. Then after that you have the month of August which is kind of off again. And then September you have home visits. And then in August, actually, because we start school, we can have official visits the day school starts, you can have them in on campus. So probably in mid-August we can start some campus visits. September is home visits, and campus visits can happen in September as well. And then October campus visits as well. You really have a big period for campus visits, then signing comes right after that in November.

VM: What about the schedule for next year? Is that pretty much worked out?

Coach Norman: Kristin [assistant coach Kristin Schneider] is in charge of scheduling, and I think she has a couple of more games to pick up.

VM: Any kind of broad general description of what kind of a schedule it will be, like with so many freshmen coming in is that a factor?

Coach Norman: Oh, of course. I don't think you throw [such a big group of freshmen] to the wolves, so you can't put them in a situation early. You have to build their confidence. What people don't understand is that our [strength of schedule] last year was tremendous. It was in the top five for most of the season. I think we were as high as three. All of the "no names" that we played all won their conferences. Harvard won their conference, Holy Cross won their conference. It was amazing.

So everyone was like, When are you playing UConn? When are you playing Notre Dame? When are you playing all these schools? Well, if you look at the strength of schedule, it's not necessary. We don't need to be TCU, who killed themselves early by playing every ranked team in America. So I think it's great for the game and great for our school that in the future we will play some big games. I know we have talked to Stanford to try to get a-- They already come out to play Tennessee, so that's something we're interested in doing. Those sorts of things. But I don't think you kill yourself early with young kids for the sake of scheduling. We're going to get enough tough games in the SEC, so we don't need to kill them early.

VM: Nicole Jules, who was suspended at the end of the season, gave the invocation at the banquet. What can you tell us about her?

Coach Norman: Well, whatever happens to Nicole is up to Nicole. She's in control of her own destiny. That's about as much as I can say there.

VM: What about summer school?

Coach Norman: All of our kids will be in summer school. All of our freshmen will be in summer school.

VM: What about upperclassmen?

Coach Norman: Most of them. They all will be here at some point in time, either working or going to summer school, all the upperclassmen. Some of the kids, by choice, are not staying because they have other things. I know Venessa is trying to get a study abroad thing going, and some of them have internships arranged, but all of our freshmen and most of our kids will be enrolled in summer school.

VM: You say that you've had individual meetings and talked about recruiting needs. At what point do you get a clear picture of how many scholarships you'd like to be offering for the '04s and the '05s?

Coach Norman: You can have the exact number. That's not a problem. From what we have, you can do the math and figure how many we have to offer. What happens through transgressions throughout the year, you can't know, so you can't predict if one more might become available or not. The situations we have-- we currently have two players on scholarship that are walk-ons--

VM: And what that means is that at the time they first accept the scholarship there's not a four-year commitment?

Coach Norman: There's not a four-year commitment in any Division 1 school. That's the hard part, people don't understand that.

VM: There's no official commitment, but normally when a recruited player comes in, isn't there an understanding that if you mind your p's and q's and if everything does the way you hope they will go that you will be getting your scholarship every year?

Coach Norman. Right.

VM: But then for kids who get scholarships as walk-ons, I assume the understanding is a little different.

Coach Norman: Yes, obviously, it has to be. It's year-to-year. If we have scholarships left over, or if that individual somehow comes and makes her way to the top and plays, then of course that individual would be rewarded. But when kids come in a walk-on situation, there's never a promise of anything more than you have that particular year. So that's kind of how we've handled our walk-on situation.

VM: And right now we have two in that category -- Venessa and Erica?

Coach Norman: That's correct.

VM: What are the chances that there will be somebody signing in this late signing period?

Coach Norman: Zero. (Laughs.) Unless on the last day some big Russian 6'8 girl comes walking in our door. No, we have no intentions of signing anyone in the late signing period.

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