HENDERSON, Nev. — High school football is three weeks old, college football is two weeks old and the NFL kicked off Thursday night.
But for college basketball coaches, Saturday was one of the most important days of the year: the start of the recruiting period.
And roughly two dozen coaches converged at one of the most prestigious basketball academies in the country, Henderson International’s Findlay Prep, for a private combine that featured only the Pilots, who will have 10 seniors on their 11-man roster this season.
“For us, because we’re recruiting a new class every year, we’ve really gotta hit those kids before we do juniors, or even younger kids,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “It’s hard for us, where someone else may have offered 20 juniors already. Part of what we do is we gotta get out. The first two weeks (of the period), we’re out. If I get home, it’s because I get home at 10 p.m., and I gotta leave the next day.”
Hosted by Athletic Gaines and its highly regarded trainer Travelle Gaines, and conducted by Findlay Prep coach Paul Washington, the Pilots were put through several drills over the first two hours, before displaying their on-court skills in an intrasquad full-court showcase following the testing.
“I felt like we did good for our first official workout, as far as the team,” said forward Reggie Chaney, of Frisco, Tex. “I think we have a lot of work to do, but as far as our first official (practice), I felt pretty good about it. We gave it our all, we pushed.”
Washington said it was good to get the combine out of the way on the first day, as his players have been back to school for a few weeks, and working out hard ever since to prepare for their private showcase in front of some of the nation’s top coaching staffs.
“When you look in the stands and you have pretty much a coach from every major conference represented, we’re pretty blessed to have them here in our building today,” Washington said. “The guys, to come and be working hard the last three weeks, and now they get to showcase a little bit of what they have, we’re pretty appreciative of that.
“This is the kind of combine or showcase that we need to get them all in college.”
Former Findlay Prep coach Todd Simon, now the coach at Southern Utah, said it was good to be back on his old stamping grounds, where he was an assistant from 2006-2012, and then head coach from 2012-13.
Simon, who was at Findlay for its national championships in 2009, 2010 and 2012, said it’s important to begin the recruiting grind on day one because it shows the players your priority and interest immediately.
“Recruiting is really synonymous with relationships,” Simon said. “The reality with this generation of kids is they’re going to go where they feel they can get developed (and) where they have great relationships with coaching staffs. For us it’s great. We feel like we’ve got strong relationships and get to know these people as well anybody in this gym. We feel like we’ve got a good shot and a good opportunity.”
Ghana’s 6-foot-9 Nathan Mensah, who will play for Findlay Prep for the first time this season after starring at Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.), showed a great deal of agility and power while banging in the paint with 7-foot-3 center Connor Vanover from Little Rock, Ark.
“I was looking forward to this day,” Mensah said. “We have been training and conditioning throughout, since I’ve been here, just to make sure we are in better shape so we can prove our skill level to the coaches coming. Playing in front of the coaches felt really fun, because it wasn’t like AAU. It was more like showing our skill level, where everybody is given the chance. So, I felt really great today, in front of these coaches.”
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard reiterated Simon’s sentiments, in that the most important thing right now is establishing relationships with recruits and making sure they know who is interested from day one.
“First day of the recruiting period is always exciting for all of us involved in basketball — players and coaches — specifically here at Findlay,” Beard said. “This is a place that has stood for excellence for a long time. Today was no different. The organization, the talent, the coaching, and everything here is a real treat for coaches.
“And two purposes this time of year: guys we’ve kind of zeroed in on, the relationships. And there is also a lot of evaluation going on during this period of time.”
Said Calipari: “The thing for us is ‘he made an effort to be here.’ For us, when you’re talking about coming from where we are, you make it an effort to be here. And that’s for players, coaches — you make it an effort to be here. We try to be strategic, but some of the stuff is relationship driven. We may be somewhere where we’re not really doing a whole lot of recruiting, it’s about relationships with coaches and schools.”