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Welcome to Summer Camp

Caputo gets scant moments for a lunch break while watching 100 players over 16 hours. Virginia Tech assistant James Johnson, right, joins Caputo in searching out future prospects.
Caputo gets scant moments for a lunch break while watching 100 players over 16 hours. Virginia Tech assistant James Johnson, right, joins Caputo in searching out future prospects. (Mark Gail - The Washington Post)

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Caputo glances through a book the camps sell coaches for between $200 and $250. The book includes biographies and contact information of every prospect in the tournament, including cellphone number and e-mail address.

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His BlackBerry buzzes, vibrating on the bench beside him. Throughout the morning, Caputo complains about a problem with his device that automatically deletes e-mails and text messages. Many coaches have their PDAs holstered to their shorts, regularly yanking them out and reading and typing out e-mails or text messages.

"Especially now because you need to e-mail players, compliance, coaches," Caputo says. "If you have to sit down and check e-mails at a computer, it's a disaster."

Sometimes, it seems the actual games are secondary to the coaches' interaction with one another. Some coaches crack jokes; some discuss players. One asks Caputo for directions to Washington. Most coaches know the others, and regardless of name, the standard greeting remains "Coach" -- either a sign of respect or a cause for confusion in bleachers where nearly everyone goes by the same title.

By 1:45, a break in the schedule leaves coaches searching for the school cafeteria. Caputo sits a table with recently hired Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg, a George Mason assistant from 1997 to '99. Also at his table is U-Mass. assistant Antwon Jackson, a Washington native who coached players on the D.C. Assault AAU team.

Caputo orders a grilled chicken salad, part of a personal initiative to eat healthier on the road. Because of the long hours and string of games, there are few opportunities for a full meal. Instead, coaches snack on hot dogs and candy bars intermittently throughout the day or indulge in late-night dinners. Caputo capped the previous day with a Philadelphia cheese steak at midnight.

After lunch, Caputo returns to the court for more scouting and socializing. George Mason will have five scholarships to fill next season, and it is especially in need of wing players. One Washington area player is on the court that Caputo is watching -- DeMatha guard Jerian Grant from the Class of 2010.

Grant says Virginia Tech and George Mason are recruiting him the hardest. Sitting beside Caputo during the game was Virginia Tech assistant James Johnson, who also used to work at GMU.

At 4:20 p.m., Caputo exits the gym and heads to his rental car. He needs to make it to the College of New Jersey for a 6 p.m. game. He powers his GPS navigation device and plugs in the address. Itinerant coaches travel city to city, camp to camp, and often the lone constant is a robotic voice instructing the driver to turn left.

Sometimes, the traveling becomes so repetitive that coaches cannot identify their rental cars in a parking lot scattered with white sedans. As the final games finish, Caputo says, he can sometimes hear panic buttons sounding. His car today is a blue 2008 blue Dodge Nitro, which makes it easy to spot.

Caputo reaches the College of New Jersey in Ewing, site of the Eastern Invitational, by 5:33. The tournament features 64 high school teams from the Northeast playing on indoor and outdoor tennis courts. Bleachers are scarce, so many coaches stand against the walls. At 6, Caputo watches a game between Bishop McNamara and a Pennsylvania prep school. The coaches watching work for a range of schools, from major conferences to smaller Division I schools to Division III schools.

After a dinner of chicken parmesan with Longwood University assistants Tim Fudd and Bill Reinson at an Italian restaurant in Pennington, N.J., Caputo returns to the gym, where teams from Gonzaga and Bishop McNamara await games. The star of the evening is Bishop McNamara's Rashad Whack, who says after the game he's been offered scholarships by George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond and James Madison. His 27-point performance helps validate those offers.

Caputo makes sure he's one of the final coaches in the gym. Though he cannot talk to players and they cannot talk to him, he wants them to see him staying and watching their games as everyone else clears.

He doesn't return to his car until 11:25 and arrives at his hotel at 12:09 a.m. In one day, he has spent nearly 16 hours watching more than 100 players in parts of nine games. This is typical, and not only for Caputo.

"Recruiting is really every day," he says. "If you don't recruit 24-7, 365 days a year, then it just doesn't really work. It never really stops. It's like breathing."


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