Signing Day often means the end of friendships

Nigel Williams-Goss can vividly recall the day he learned the true meaning of the phrase “mixed emotions.”

On one hand he was giddy to be making the call to UNLV in December 2010 to inform the coaching staff that he would indeed be runnin’ with the Rebels.

On the other, that also meant the Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) senior point guard would have to call and end his relationship with Washington coach Lorenzo Romar.

“It’s the hardest call I ever had to make,” said Williams-Goss, who had come to know Romar’s tendencies, the things that made him tick and his challenges of raising three daughters. “I was happy to be a Rebel, but still lost a friend that day.”

Today hundreds of hoopers across the country will know that bittersweet feeling when they fax National Letters of Intent to colleges during the NCAA’s early signing period, which runs through Nov. 21.

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Most won’t be as lucky as Williams-Goss.

When UNLV coach Lon Kruger left for Oklahoma in April 2011, Williams-Goss re-opened his recruitment. One month later he committed to Washington.

“I got my friend back,” said Williams-Goss, who will sign with the Huskies this week. “It doesn’t always work out that way though. Most of the time these coaches have recruited us for years and become our friends. That’s hard to just stop all of a sudden.”

Matt Jones can attest to that.

Jones, a senior shooting guard at DeSoto (DeSoto, Texas), had built strong relationships with a handful of schools before committing to Duke last November.

“When I committed to Duke, that was it,” Jones said. “I didn’t hear from them anymore.”

That made it “a little awkward” when the same coaches showed up at his school this fall to recruit his teammates.

“It’s like seeing your old friend that you’re not cool with anymore,” said Jones, who will sign with Duke today. “It’s like, what do you say? It’s definitely uncomfortable. I kinda just wave and keep it moving. They do the same. That’s weird for someone you used to be cool with. It’s tough.”

It’s not any easier for the coaches.

Duke assistant Jeff Capel said it helps that he’s “in a profession where we know we are going to be told ‘no.’”

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“That's part of the business,” Capel said. “But the worst thing is to feel you had your time wasted. When that decision is made and you hear ‘no,’ immediately you try and figure out why.  Every coach feels like their situation and program is the best for the recruited prospect. So to hear ‘no’ when you've invested so much time is like a punch to the gut. At times, you may take it personally. But you have to move on.”

Capel typically congratulates a recruit who decides to go elsewhere and lets him know he’s still there for him. Then he leaves the decision of maintaining the relationship up to the player.

“These are 17- and 18-year-old kids,” said Capel, who played at Duke from 1993-97. “Once they make their decision, they may want to focus only on that school and staff.  I don't take it personal because I understand. I’ve been there and it was one of the hardest things I had done at that time.”

Theo Pinson is a year away from the awkwardness of ending relationships on signing day.

As the No. 6 player in the ESPN 60, Pinson has “gotten close” with most of the schools recruiting him.

“We talk all the time,” said Pinson, a wing at Wesleyan Christian (High Point, N.C.). “It’s not just about basketball. We talk about life, how my family is doing, school. I like talking to the coaches. We’re real cool.”

For that reason, Pinson “can’t even imagine” a time when all but one school will stop communicating with him.

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Aaron Harrison has a much different perspective.

Harrison, who, along with his twin brother Andrew, committed to Kentucky in October, said those “friendships” he formed throughout the recruiting process are easier to walk away from because they were disingenuous from the beginning.

The brothers, both ranked in the top five in the ESPN 100, are waiting to sign during the late period in April, but “still only talk to coaches at Kentucky.”

“Think about it,” said Aaron, a point guard at Travis (Richmond, Texas). “They were only your friend in the first place because of what you could do on the basketball court. If I couldn’t play basketball those coaches wouldn’t even know me. So it’s not as hard for me.”

That logic helps Kris Jenkins, too, but the senior forward at Gonzaga College Prep (Washington, D.C.) said the cold turkey cutoff takes some getting used to.

“When you commit, other coaches pretty much stop calling,” said Jenkins, who will sign with Villanova this week. “But once you sign, it’s really over. That’s definitely different. Of course I’m happy with my pick, but it’ll be a process. The good thing about it is as long as you’re with the right school it should make your friendship and bond with your school even stronger.”

Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter @JayJayUSATODAY.
Signing Day often means the end of friendships
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