NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — July has long been college basketball’s most controversial, hotly debated month. While the summer evaluation period offers underexposed high school prospects the chance to play in front of hundreds of college coaches, the month most often has been associated with the ills of the sport.
Attempts by the NCAA in the past to curb the influence of some summer league coaches, representatives of sports agencies and event organizers have largely proved futile. In its latest move to try to improve the recruiting culture, the NCAA could decide to shorten the two 10-day windows in July when coaches are allowed to crisscross the country to watch prospects at camps and tournaments.
“The consensus among coaches is that change is coming,” Memphis Coach Josh Pastner said. “What that change will be, there are a lot of balls being juggled right now.”
Last fall, the Conference Commissioners Association proposed the elimination of the July evaluation period entirely, a move that would have had far-reaching implications. The National Association of Basketball Coaches opposed such a move, warning that abolishing the evaluation period could increase player transfer rates. In October, the NCAA chose to conduct a year-long review of the issue, with the expectation of implementing any changes by the summer of 2012.
One possibility that several coaches suggested during Nike’s Peach Jam tournament here last week is to cut down the summer evaluation period to three five-day periods and give coaches a couple weekends in April to evaluate players.
As Georgia Coach Mark Fox said, “It needs an overhaul.”
If there is a face that represents the positive aspect of the summer scene, it is that of Washington Wizards guard John Wall, who went from an obscure point guard from North Carolina to a can’t-miss prospect after a breakout performance at a 2007 Reebok camp in Philadelphia before his junior season.
Wall said the camp offered him a “last chance” to impress college coaches and earn a scholarship. Had coaches not been allowed to watch him compete, Wall said, the camps would have been a “waste of time” and he instead would have spent the summer playing in a small North Carolina summer league.
Wall went even further, saying that he never would have been able to play for Kentucky and wouldn’t be in the NBA now had college coaches not watched him play that summer.
“You’re basically taking their dreams away,” Wall said about the possibility of eliminating the July recruiting period entirely. “[High-profile camps] might be some kids' biggest thing they ever do the rest of their life for basketball.”
Some college coaches said they would undoubtedly learn about an emerging player’s talents even if they could not watch him during the summer. While true, they would need to rely even more on recruiting analysts or summer league coaches for the information. While most summer- eague coaches operate above board, one first-year ACC assistant said that because there is no April evaluation period now, he was forced to gather information on players primarily from summer league coaches this spring, “which is exactly what the NCAA does not want us to do.”
For many top coaches, July is about showing up at events to be seen by prospects they are courting. And with events staged the same week in Minnesota, Wisconsin, West Virginia and South Carolina, not even a deft recruiter like Kentucky Coach John Calipari can attend two camps simultaneously.
“The kid at the other site says, ‘Coach isn’t here,’ ” Calipari said. “I can’t be in two places. It’s gotten to where we can do what we have to do without the summers. When I leave here today, I’ll have a cardboard cutout up there and they’ll say, ‘He’s up there, look at him!’ ”
In the not-so-distant past, Adidas and Nike would jostle to attract the top talent at their early-July camps. Now, the best players are more dispersed across the country because there are more events. Too many, some say.
“It’s unbelievable now what it has turned into,” Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said. “And these tournaments are so watered down. Is that good?”
Many event organizers make college coaches gain entry to their camps by making them fork over hundreds of dollars for information packets on players. One Southeastern Conference coach said, “Wouldn’t you host one if you could make $200 for each program?”
“They are getting a couple marquee teams to get everyone in, charge a lot of money [for the packets] and then get 150 bad teams and then say, ‘Hey, Mike Krzyzewski is going to be here,’ ” Izzo said about some events. “I see it getting worse.”
It’s also a grind. Fox, the Georgia coach, arrived at 2 a.m. at the Peach Jam here and promptly checked into his hotel. Room 324 had many things a guest would want: a couch, a television, a light. One problem: no bed. Too exhausted to complain, Fox slept on the couch and was at the gym less than six hours later.
Whatever changes loom, most coaches expect to spend less time on the road next July. How that affects recruiting remains to be seen.
“I have a theory,” Izzo said. “If you weren’t allowed out a day or you were allowed out every day, you’d get the same players. You’d find a different way to do it. The guys who outwork guys will still outwork them.”