When George Washington coach Jamion Christian walked into a gym for a live, in-person recruiting event in June, he was able, for the first time in over a year, to see whether some of the high-schoolers he was interested in were actually as tall as promised.
Until then, Christian, like other coaches, had had to rely on video.
But with the easing of pandemic restrictions, face-to-face recruiting is back.
Other than being able to verify the size of a player firsthand, recruiting continued along fairly normal lines for Christian and his staff during the pandemic.
He said his staff tends to watch 20 to 25 games worth of film on a player during a regular recruiting process.
“We just kind of continued doing what we were doing in terms of the film we were watching,” Christian said. “When you’re trying to project on someone, you’re not sure if a guy is 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-2, you can’t tell his mannerisms when he’s being coached hard, those kinds of things can be challenging [on video].”
Christian described a “rhythm” that exists in basketball recruiting where players tend to follow similar patterns of receiving offers in April to committing from June into September. He added that the pandemic threw the recruiting rhythm off course.
“There’s this natural rhythm that you get into in basketball and we’re just all out of the rhythm because we didn’t know what the next season was going to look like,” Christian said. “I think being out of rhythm was going to push people all over the place when making decisions. Some people went faster, some people like us went a little slower.”
He said due to the lack of in-person access to watching potential recruits last summer, the class of 2022’s rhythm was most affected.
“You’re not going to be able to make up that kind of time, you’re going to have to make some decisions on ‘22’s a little earlier with a little less information than people are accustomed to,” Christian said.
Coaches were allowed to resume in-person evaluations for two weekends in June for the first time since the pandemic began. During this period, coaches are allowed to assess athletes in-person, but cannot have in-person contact with players or their parents at the events.
Christian said he and his staff attended eight events in June on the weekends, while George Mason coach Kim English said his staff attended seven events.
“Being able to see a lot of kids on the same day and then being able to compare,” Christian said of an advantage of evaluating in person again. “I think that’s a really important process.”
“Player acquisition is such an important part of what we do and it’s really the only chance for us to get live evaluations,” English said. “It’s a very important cog in how we build our programs.”
Both Christian and English stressed that being able to evaluate players in person allows them to see the little things they wouldn’t be able to see on film, such as body language and coachability.
“I like to sit behind the bench,” English said. “I like to hear the kid when he’s out of the game, I like to hear what the coach wants to get done and see if he can go on the court and execute.”
English said with the ability to attend games in person again, recruits will begin to notice which coaches are at their games and who aren’t. He said his staff has been at every game a recruit he just landed a commitment from has played in so far and will continue to attend all of his games.
“It’s an advantage if you’re recruiting a player for that player to quickly realize how much priority he is,” English said. “It’s more than just the obvious need and fit for that player at Mason, but it’s also the commitment of our coaches that we’re all into you as an athlete.”
Since players hadn’t played in front of coaches for more than a year, English said he noticed the play was calmer than usual.
“Last week with their high school teams, I thought the guys were really calm,” English said. “They weren’t erratic, they weren’t wild, they weren’t overly selfish just trying to impress coaches, it was pretty settled.”
Coaches will be allowed to attend events again Thursday through Saturday and July 20-25 during the NCAA’s evaluation period.