With two years of high school remaining, Nate Britt, a talented point guard at Gonzaga College High, already has scholarship offers from Virginia and Georgetown. Virginia Tech is also courting him. And he and his father recently spent a day at Maryland meeting with new Coach Mark Turgeon.
He called his recruitment, in a word, competitive.
The region’s college basketball programs have long recruited the same high school prospects, but rarely have they all been so well equipped to do so at the same time. An eventful offseason saw four schools — Maryland, George Mason, George Washington and Navy — hire new head coaches and several schools hire assistants with local ties or recruiting acumen — or both. All this for one goal: secure talent in one of the nation’s most fertile recruiting areas.
“You look at the people who have been put in place, you are going to have some recruiting wars in the D.C. area,” said Steve Turner, Britt’s coach at Gonzaga. “There will be some battles for kids to stick around. It is a good thing for an area that is a hotbed for basketball.”
The tone of this recruiting arms race was set by Turgeon, who assembled a staff that includes Scott Spinelli, an assistant under Turgeon at Texas A&M; Bino Ranson, an assistant at Maryland under former coach Gary Williams; and Dalonte Hill, who was the nation’s highest-paid assistant at Kansas State. One summer league coach called it a “dream team” of assistants.
“The race is on,” Clark Francis, editor of the national recruiting publication Hoop Scoop, said recently. “How do you get the local kids to stay home? Maryland has done this. Does Georgetown need to do something else? It’s an interesting scenario now. It’s not a given one school is going to be better than the other at this point.”
It did not take long for Georgetown to make a move. On Wednesday, Georgetown announced the return of Kevin Broadus, an assistant and successful recruiter under Coach John Thompson III from 2004 to 2007. Broadus will serve as an aide to Thompson and will not be allowed to conduct off-campus recruiting visits.
But recruiting battles will be far from a two-school duel. Virginia Tech’s hiring of assistant Robert Ehsan should benefit the Hokies because Ehsan built relationships with prospects and summer league coaches during his six-year stint on Williams’s staff at Maryland. Justin Anderson, a Montrose Christian small forward, said he felt such a comfort level with Ehsan that he was tempted to commit to Virginia Tech after he reneged on his oral commitment to Maryland following Williams’s retirement.
That Anderson, the nation’s 23rd-ranked prospect by Rivals.com, instead pledged to play for Virginia speaks volumes about the Cavaliers’ recruiting efforts. Speaking at Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena, where he competed in last week’s National Basketball Players Association top 100 camp, Anderson said he was going to de-commit from Maryland no matter whom the Terrapins hired as head coach because his allegiance was to Williams. And now it’s to Virginia Coach Tony Bennett.
“I have not found a flaw yet in Virginia,” he said.
Other moves have bolstered the recruiting efforts of George Mason and George Washington, two schools that don’t always compete for the same prospects as upper-tier ACC and Big East schools. To replace Jim Larranaga, George Mason hired Paul Hewitt, whose success at Georgia Tech has largely been attributed to impressive recruiting.
And George Washington replaced Karl Hobbs with Vermont’s Mike Lonergan, a Bowie native who built Catholic University into a Division III power and was also an assistant to Williams at Maryland. Lonergan further strengthened his staff’s local ties by hiring veterans Kevin Sutton, a Falls Church native who also has international connections, and Pete Strickland, a DeMatha graduate.
And then there is Howard University, which pieced together one of the best recruiting classes in school history under Coach Kevin Nickelberry, a D.C. native who said, “You have to have relationships to recruit this area.”
Relationships with summer league coaches was seen as one of the issues that hampered Maryland’s recruiting under Williams, who was reluctant to cultivate relationships with some summer league coaches and embrace the ever-changing and often murky recruiting landscape.
Turgeon, however, has at least embraced the summer league coaches. Soon after he was hired, Turgeon reached out to the area’s three most prominent summer league coaches: Curtis Malone of D.C. Assault, Keith Stevens of Team Takeover and Bub Carrington of Baltimore Elite.
But Turgeon went a step further. In a move that immediately strengthened Maryland’s relationship with D.C. Assault, Turgeon hired the Kansas State assistant Hill, a former D.C. Assault player who is best known for recruiting area prep star Michael Beasley to Kansas State.
“If you can do that, you can sell sand to Arabs,” the recruiting analyst Francis said of Hill luring Beasley to Manhattan, Kan. “In terms of finding the right connections in a city to get the local players, this might be as good a move as there has ever been.”
Bringing Spinelli on staff also has benefits, some say. Baltimore product Naji Hibbert played under Turgeon and Spinelli at Texas A&M. “I don’t understand why [Spinelli] is not a head coach yet,” said Carrington, who coached Hibbert in Baltimore. “It was definitely a coup for Turgeon to bring him along.”
And the decision to retain Ranson was viewed as wise because Ranson cultivated relationships with some prospects Maryland continues to recruit under Turgeon. One, Shaquille Cleare, a center from Houston, has not yet committed, but he said Maryland is his top choice.
Ranson has also helped Maryland remain in the hunt for Mitch McGary, a power forward who is rated as the fifth-best player in the Class of 2012, according to Rivals.com. McGary, an Indiana native who plays for Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, said Maryland is recruiting him more aggressively than any other school.
“Coach Bino is pretty crazy,” McGary said at NBPA camp. “I like him, but he is off the charts. He’s like an aggressive car salesmen trying to get you to buy.”
Seth Allen, a guard from Fredericksburg, has orally committed to play for Maryland beginning in the fall of 2012. And among the noteworthy players who have recently made unofficial visits: Britt; McGary; Cleare; Christian Sanders of Houston; Arnaud Adala Moto of Episcopal High; Robert Carter of Thomasville, Ga.; and Jamel Artis, who played at Dunbar High in Baltimore before transferring to St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark.
“With all due respect to Gary — who had his way of doing things in recruiting as all coaches do and often made wine out of water with the talent that he got — he did not fully engage the AAU community as Mark Turgeon has quickly demonstrated out of the gates,” said Keith Cavanaugh of TerrapinTimes.com, who has covered Maryland’s recruiting since 1987. “In the last week, more top-shelf, elite national recruits visited Maryland’s campus than in the last decade, if not the last two decades. And you would have to go back to the 1970s for the last time a top five prospect visited campus.”
As for Britt, he said he enjoyed meeting with Turgeon and sees him as someone he could play for. Maryland is far from the only suitor for Britt, who was among the most impressive point guards at the NBPA camp. He said Villanova, Pittsburgh, Arizona and UCLA have also already offered scholarships. But with new assistants in place throughout this area, it may be harder for schools to poach talented prospects from this region.
“There are so many kids who go away,” said Carrington, referencing recent standouts such as Beasley, Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse), Kevin Durant (Texas), Josh Selby (Kansas) and Will Barton (Memphis). “It really should be hard now for another school to come in to this area and have the pick of the litter. It should not happen as often.”