INDIANAPOLIS – Jason Delaney coaches one of the premier grassroots teams in the state on the Nike-sponsored Elite Youth Basketball League circuit. Last year, his Spiece Indy Heat team was led by IndyStar Mr. Basketball Trayce Jackson-Davis of Center Grove, Kentucky recruit Keion Brooks Jr., and Purdue recruit Isaiah Thompson of Zionsville. This year, Lawrence Central duo Nijel Pack and Dre Davis are among his star players.
College coaches know when and where to find the Indy Heat. But this year, due to the policy changes made by the NCAA in an effort to curb the corruption from outside influences, there is just one more opportunity in July for college coaches to see the Indy Heat, a four-day evaluation period (July 11-14).
“I have the benefit of coaching on the EYBL,” Delaney said. “Everyone (in college coaching) is going to be at the Peach Jam (played on that July weekend in North Augusta, S.C.). They are going to be at Adidas. They are going to be at Under Armour. But it is going to hurt kids at smaller programs because coaches are going to have pick and choose where to go in a short amount of time.”
But to Delaney, the recruiting calendar change does have an upside. He is also the coach at Cathedral. While two of the recruiting weekends in July have been eliminated, they have been moved to June and under the umbrella of the high school federations. On Saturday at Ben Davis, more than 120 of the top high school boys basketball players in the state will participate in the IBCA/IHSAA Underclass Showcase, a one-day event that began in 2002.
Indiana is one of just a few states that will host NCAA-certified events both weekends. The 15th annual Charlie Hughes Shootout is set for June 28-30 at Carmel, Hamilton Southeastern and North Central, where 105 in-state high school teams will compete with a guarantee of four games and the opportunity to play again in front of college coaches.
“We feel like we’ve been given a good opportunity here,” said Steve Witty, the executive director for the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association. “We have an opportunity to do something from a scholastic standpoint and want to do it in a first-class fashion. We aren’t going to try to re-invent the wheel this first year, but we feel like we have two good events in place. One is the showcase event like we’ve always done and the other is the Charlie Hughes Shootout, which has always been a really good event.”
Indiana’s model is probably ahead of the curve, compared to most states. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, only 18 states and the District of Columbia are scheduled to host events certified by the NFHS in June. Some events, like the Border Wars Jamboree this weekend in Zion, Ill., are open to teams and players from multiple states. Indiana is one of five states that will host more than one event certified by the NFHS. There are 27 states in all that will host events. The NCAA has also certified events for non-state association schools in Washington D.C., New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. There are certified events for junior college players in Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, New York and Texas.
As the NCAA attempts to lessen the influence of shoe companies in the fallout of the FBI college basketball corruption case, some wonder if the changes to the recruiting calendar will diminish opportunities for prospects to play in front of college coaches.
It is a concern for a player like Jaden Thomas.
Thomas, 16, is a junior at the International School, a 173-student high school on North Michigan Road far more known for its academics than its basketball program.
“I’m (at International) for academics and to better myself and better my opportunities,” Thomas said.
But the 6-3 Thomas can play, too. He averaged 27.4 points per game as a sophomore for the Class A Gryphons, who won just six games. Ivy League schools like Brown, Cornell and Princeton have reached out. So have coaches from larger schools — high schools, that is.
“I get texts and calls every day about coming over and transferring to another school,” Thomas said. “I think where I’m at is going get me where I need to be, athletically and academically.”
International coach Scott Adams said he would completely understand if Thomas wanted to leave for a bigger school. Adams calls him “as loyal of a kid as I’ve ever been around.”
“The recruiting for him as been as aggressive from the high schools as the colleges,” Adams said. “I think it’s great. I’m offended more coaches aren’t reaching out to him. There are some guys who walk with the pretty girl in the mall and guys look at them and they get offended or insecure. I’m the guy whose chest sticks out. For me, I think every school in the state should be reaching out for this kid.”
Thomas does not worry so much about getting seen at a small school as he does about the recruiting calendar. He plays for Eric Gordon’s EG10 grassroots program on the Adidas circuit, which will make a stop in Birmingham, Ala., during the July evaluation period. Thomas’ team struggled in the spring on the Adidas Gauntlet.
“Since there is only one live period in July, coaches are probably going to look mostly at the winning teams,” Thomas said. “It will make it kind of difficult for some players flying under the radar who might be great players. But I’m just going to go out there and play hard no matter who is watching.”
Thomas is invited to the Underclass Showcase on Saturday and his International team will play in the Charlie Hughes Shootout next weekend, playing games against Fishers, Eastern Hancock, Lawrenceburg and Northview.
“Not everybody’s recruiting is the same,” Thomas said. “Everybody’s journey is different. It can be discouraging at times because you see guys you think you are better than and they are getting offers and you aren’t. But there are hidden gems out there. I believe anywhere you are, you can get recruited. You just have to do your best and stand out.”
Will coaches have enough opportunities to discover those hidden gems? Though Indiana is hosting two events this month, the first will only include 120-plus players.
“I think we’re limiting ourselves a little bit,” said Franklin Central coach Criss Beyers, who coached the Indiana All-Stars earlier this month. “We’re taking one week and giving 120 kids exposure, but what about the thousand other kids? What are they going to do for exposure? I think that is a little bit of a missed opportunity.”
Delaney shares some of the same concerns. Only one of his players at Cathedral, rising sophomore guard Tayshawn Comer, is invited to the Underclass Showcase.
“There are kids losing out,” Delaney said. “One guy sees a list and wonders why his kid isn’t on there. More team stuff would definitely help. I wish there were more live periods. You never know when a coach may come to see a guy like Tayshawn and then likes one of our other guys. They follow that kid who continues to get better and it leads to something.”
This weekend is likely just a starting point to the changes brought by the NCAA’s Commission on College Basketball, led by Condoleezza Rice. There will be one more evaluation window in July (July 23-28) set aside for youth development camps at four Division I sites — Houston, Illinois, UConn and Grand Canyon.
June could look different next year. Witty said there has been discussion about moving the Junior All-Star games against Kentucky to an evaluation weekend.
“I think that would be better exposure for the players,” Witty said. “Coaches could come to those games and the showcase. And I think they would.”
Delaney is keeping an open mind about the new calendar. His top player last year at Cathedral, Indiana All-Star Armaan Franklin, performed better for his high school team than on his grassroots team. Though he ended up with plenty of scholarship offers and signed with Indiana, Delaney said it is a good example of the benefit of college coaches seeing players with their high school teams.
“Armaan was way better in our program than he was in AAU,” Delaney said. “There’s chemistry there. I’ve seen both worlds — where AAU has helped a kid a ton and got him to where he’s going and I’ve seen it from the high school team, too. It can go both ways.”
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.