Washington Continues To Search For Talent

BELLEVUE, Wash. - It was 6:15 on a Friday night, and Raphael Chillious was watching basketball. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the Washington Assistant Basketball Coach does that a lot for a living, but the timing made this viewing slightly different. As of a week ago, the NCAA allowed college coaches to watch players in person during an evaluation period.

AAU tournaments pop up all over the country to take advantage of the idea that colleges will travel long distances for a first-hand account - to verify or debunk earlier thoughts on recruits.

“July, you don’t see your family,” Chillious told Dawgman.com while watching the Northwest Summer Showcase at Bellevue College, talking while both eyes were firmly fixed on a basketball game featuring the British Columbia AAU team DRIVE Elite. Most of the time Chillious is surrounded by other coaches in seating selections along the baselines, looking at the same games as everyone else but not always looking at the same players.

“You get good at your process to where you can communicate with your peers but you still know what you’re watching,” said Chillious. “I can talk to guys, but I never take my eyes off the court.”

Before stepping out for a quick call, Chillious was watching games and chatting up former UW assistant Cameron Dollar, now Seattle University’s Head Coach. A few minutes later a very understated Mark Few dipped in, information packet at the ready. The Gonzaga Head Coach worked his way down the line of chairs to the very end. He sat down and started watching the game. Utah Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak watched the game intently about ten seats to the right of Chillious and Dollar.

For even the highest profile college head coaches, the summer ritual of finding air conditioned gyms and watching game after game after game in search of that untouched gem in a river of prospects is seemingly as old as the game itself. “As soon as July tipped off, they went away,” Chillious said, referring to his family. “I had a vacation, but now they are on another vacation because they know I’m not home.

“It gets really hectic. My schedule this week has been pretty ridiculous. First two days you’re at one place, flying here this morning to watch these games, then fly out tonight and go somewhere else for a day or two. Then you go to another place before you come home. It’s the same way, all the way through July 27th.”

July 27th signals the end of the AAU summer tournament circuit, with most of the big events - Bigfoot Hoops, Fab 48, Adidas Super 64 - happening in Las Vegas. Most of the time Washington’s coaches are all in different cities checking out talent, and when things wrap up in Vegas they may all be in the same city but chances are they won’t run into each other because they are too busy tracking down their list of prospects before reconvening in Seattle to sit down and share what they’ve learned.

Chillious admitted that games like the ones he saw at Bellevue College, could be the end of the recruiting process for some of the 2015 prospects the Huskies have been actively scouting, and it might just be the beginning of something interesting for an eighth grader that’s moved up a level because of their ability.

“There’s kids at this event that we’ve seen for almost five years,” Chillious said. “There’s some that we’re just beginning to see that it will be a three or four-year process. So you get to see if they grow, get better. For me when I’m looking, every three months do they make an improvement? So you go from three months through four years, that’s a long evaluation period.

“Early on (the games are) a pretty big piece of the (evaluation) pie because the younger players aren’t playing against the same type of competition. A lot of times in AAU they are playing up in age group, so you get to see them against better players.”

The AAU tournament games are a much different beast from what college coaches will see from players at the high school level. High school games are so structured, while AAU game are typically more free flowing and allow for more creativity. “There are good coaches that run some good stuff, but it’s totally different than the college game,” Chillious said. “These (AAU tournaments) are for us to project where someone could be a year or two after you get them.

“If you’re watching a younger kid, you can measure him against better competition unless he’s at a really high-powered high school and their league is really good. So you get to measure against better competition; you get to see them in not as much of a structured environment and see if they still know how to play.

“There are going to be kids who score and do all that stuff, but you start to figure out who can play and who can play with other people. That’s the biggest deal in AAU. People get sucked in playing one-on-one, but then you figure out if they can get other people involved and know how to play with other people. It’s huge.

“The biggest thing is, are they coachable? Do they play really hard? Are they tough? Can they shoot? You can take care of everything else. If they are coachable, tough, good teammate and can shoot, you’ve got a good player.”

Then, as the Washington coaches continue to monitor and track prospects from different classes from afar, the process becomes streamlined due to all of the evaluation that’s already taken place.

“As (prospects) get older it becomes less and less of a piece of the pie,” Chillious said of the role of AAU tournaments. “You’re doing more babysitting and making sure recruits know you are there to watch them play.”

But even for the seniors-to-be, certain situations can occur that require college assistants to take that extra look, go to that extra game, sleep in a hotel room one more night, to make sure their decisions are the right ones for the program.

“If you have one scholarship and you have three guys you’re looking at for the same spot, this can be a separator coming to these events here,” said Chillious.

So that’s why, even when it looks like a recruiting class may be finished for a particular year, there’s a top assistant on the grind, looking and evaluating. It may not be for this year, it may be for next year. Or the year after that.

But the search never stops.

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