June 16, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
– `Tis the offseason, yet Monday found Kenny Thorne on the road scoring not only in his normal recruiting log but also in another to keep tabs on his home boys.
Title this, “The Notebooks.”
It is no story of romance. This is about re-construction; a tale about Thorne’s drive to lift Georgia Tech’s men’s tennis team back to respectability.
The Yellow Jackets struggled the past couple seasons with smallish rosters racked by injuries, transfers and decisions by well-standing student-athletes to leave their chosen sport to focus on keeping their grades nearly perfect.
The head coach has survived a weird phase, and Monday was odd in its own way as well.
Tech has one of the nation’s top recruiting classes on the way, and it is conceivable that the four incoming players – all from Georgia — will enter the lineup soon after un-sheathing racquets.
Even before Suwanee’s Elijah Melendez signed with the Jackets on April 30, Tech’s recruiting class was pegged No. 12 nationally by folks who rank such things.
Melendez was ranked No. 132 nationally when he signed.
That is half the reasons why Thorne is in the stands at the USTA’s Southern Closed at the Mobile (Ala.) Tennis Center.
Tech’s coach is keeping tabs on many of the top rising high school sophomores, juniors and seniors in the tournament, and he’s dialed in on Eubanks and Yun.
They are playing in Mobile, and Thorne is ready to coach `em.
The problem is NCAA rules prohibit him from instructing them on court until they enroll at Tech. So, he’s only able to coach them in his mind.
Thorne can talk to the incoming freshmen – but only after they’ve lost and been eliminated or after they win a tournament. Even then, he cannot instruct on a court.
That’s a bit maddening, but the Tech coach is building mentoring plans for each of his new players.
“It’s fun. You’re seeing the guys who are coming in, and … there’s kind of a buzz about it; they’re going to Tech,” the coach said of one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. “The tough part about right now is you can’t work with them.
“We have four guys from the state of Georgia, who live right around metro Atlanta, and man, it would be nice to work with them, but you can’t. It really helps me see them play, though.”
Thorne, who played at Tech before spending several years on the pro tour, is accustomed to traveling. He knows about scouting, and recruiting.
With the uncommonly large incoming recruiting class, however, he’s on the road recruiting and coaching – again, in his mind.
It is not a glamorous life, unless you fancy sitting in the sun and sweating profusely without even playing.
Thorne said it’s all OK.
He’s fattening both notebooks.
“I’m used to traveling; I did it my whole life. I love meeting families, and seeing what people are like. I like seeing guys play in different environments,” the coach said. “It’s brutally hot here, and easy to complain.
“If you lose your first round match, you go into the back draw and have to play two matches a day. That’s a great way to see what guys are made of. I’m at the courts all day, and then you get back [to the hotel], put notes together and go to bed.”
Thorne and assistant Derek Schwandt, who is working with the USTA’s National Collegiate Team this summer, trade thoughts on recruits and about the four Jackets-in-waiting.
They also talk to signees when permitted.
“Absolutely,” Thorne said. “We’re talking about how they can get better, and how they can get used to your coaching.”
Having already made five or six recruiting trips since the Jackets’ season ended, Thorne has more in store.
He’ll go the clay court championships in a couple weeks in Del Ray Beach, Fla., and he’ll be at nationals later this summer in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Chances are he’ll have to punch his passport as well. The Jackets have stayed close to home in recent recruiting, but that doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned foreign prospects.
Thorne is interested in a few European players, but not yet sure he’ll travel across the big pond.
“If I need to go overseas, I’ll do that,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure they are good prospects, and we have to get their transcripts and make sure they’re admissible [to Tech].”
The Jackets have landed a couple top international recruits in recent years without visiting them in their native countries. Thorne scouted Colombian Juan Spir at a junior tournament in Miami, and Spaniard Guillermo Gomez played before him in Atlanta.
That is not a normal route to landing international players. So before he hops on a plane for a big flight, Thorne has more due diligence ahead.
Mindful that he made a trip to Tunisia last spring only to lose a player of interest to ACC rival Wake Forest, Thorne will skip the pond only if he comes to believe he can pull big fish.
That means the players in question have to perform without Thorne or Schwandt watching live, and then their grades and academic viability must check out.
“We want to see results on-line to see if they’re at the level we think they might be,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we don’t spend money and go overseas just to go overseas. With the foreign players, you have to bank more on results.”
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