April 25, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
If you read Ken Suguira’s short blog in the AJC Monday about Georgia Tech’s predicament with Bobby Parks, the basketball signee from the Phillipines, this might be of interest.
I met new coach Brian Gregory Friday for the first time since he was hired about four weeks ago. I was out of town at that time, and our schedules did not match up until then.
We didn’t speak Friday about Parks, who signed a letter of intent to Tech while Paul Hewitt was still coach. The long and short: Gregory told the AJC that he’s having a hard time contacting Parks, and he and his family haven’t returned calls.
So Gregory and his new staff don’t know if the kid still plans on coming to Tech. Jeez, that’s got to be maddening.
Conversely, Julian Royal, the prized recruit from Milton High in Alpharetta, has said he’s still on board with the Yellow Jackets.
These two examples give something of a three-dimensional feel to some things Gregory and I did talk about: general philosophy about team building, chemistry and recruiting.
The football team had chemistry issues last season, as any fan of merit knows. Coach Paul Johnson, his staff and elder players are working to do something positive about that.
Gregory will have to do some of that, too, because chemistry was a little wonky with the basketball team. At least one player just wasn’t as on-board as he ought to have been. Had Hewitt not been fired, that player almost certainly would have been on his way out of town – or at least out of the program — after the semester.
“College basketball is riddled with talented teams that are unsuccessful. They win a lot of games, but don’t win championships,” Gregory said in suggesting those uber-talented teams don’t always reach their potential because they don’t blend.
The same thing happens with more moderately talented squads, too.
As with many things, this gets back to recruiting. That’s a skill that goes beyond identifying talent. That part of the process is, in fact, easier than pegging character. Can you project whether a kid will evolve into a leader? Or if, once in college be willing to be led?
Most of these kids are alpha in high school, and then made to morph into beta.
“You’ve got to do a lot of different things because in this generation, what is everybody worried about? Themselves,” the new coach said. “That’s one of the biggest challenges, to get guys to understand that they’re going to achieve more individual success by being part of something special.
“Our job is to pinpoint the type of people coming from the types of families that understand that.”
Here, according to Gregory, comes another trick.
“In terms of recruiting, that’s the hardest thing because you’re not allowed to spend the time with them that you once were. You used to have unlimited phone calls. The kids would call you back, talk 15-20 minutes,” he said. “You’d get to really know a kid. You don’t get to know a kid any more.”
It is no surprise to hear a college basketball coach carp about NCAA changes to recruiting procedures that limit the exposure of kids.
That practically seems like part of the job description, although Gregory ought to be mindful that his boss, athletics director Dan Radakovich, has been involved in helping shape the way the NCAA attempts to regulate recruiting.
Without getting into the specific changes over recent years, or the subjective call on whether that’s all been for the greater good or not, Gregory’s premise makes some sense – especially with regards to a kid on the other side of the planet.
That would be a kid like young Mr. Parks.
Given said limitations, how does a college basketball coach go about pegging the personality of a prospect?
“You’ve got to observe them with their teammates. Do they get along? Are they coachable? Body language is always big,” Gregory said. “And you try to do as much research as you can. Sometimes, you go to the school and grab someone in the hallway and say, `Hey, tell me about Jesse James. What kind of kid is he?’
“It’s amazing how guys will give up information. `How does he treat the teachers?’ You’ve got to do some work now.”
It stands to reason, then, that it would be easier to case a kid who’s closer, like Royal, than farther, like Parks.
“That’s why recruiting here, within this area, is so important because you do have a better opportunity to know the kids who are within an hour [of Tech],” Gregory said. “You can get them on campus, and spend more time with them.”
I get that. There is a boatload of talent in metro Atlanta and in Georgia. Yet to be sure, finding hotshot basketball players who want to be engineers is not a picnic, nor is matching the academic wherewithal of prospects with that of Tech.
Then again, what do I know?
You wanna know part of the reason Gregory and I didn’t hook up before last Friday?
A day or so before I first thought we might meet, he was met with an “opportunity.”
So he got on a plane and went to Spain . . . on a recruiting trip.
Maybe the basketball-playing future engineers are overseas.
How bizarre is this Parks situation? Is it bizarre at all, or is the kid just ducking? Opinions only to firstname.lastname@example.org.