It was one hour before North Carolina, then the No. 1 team in the country, would play Maryland, and Carolina Assistant Coach Eddie Fogler was standing on the runway of Cole Field House, his mind not at all on the game at hand.
He was waiting for Mark Amatucci, the basketball coach at Calvert Hall High School, to finish a conversation that had dragged on for 15 minutes.
In nine years as an assistant at Chapel Hill, Fogler has developed a reputation as a good recruiter. Now, in early January, he was waiting to introduce himself to Amatucci, who coaches Dwayne Ferrell. A prospect. A talent.
A 15-year-old sophomore.
"That's the way it is these days," Fogler said later. "It's getting earlier and earlier."
"Back when I was at Davidson, I probably wouldn't even know who I was gonna recruit this time of year," Lefty Driesell said recently. "Now, I've already got two commitments from players and I'm behind a lot of people.
"It's brutal. In the old days when the season was over, you could relax for awhile, sit back home and maybe enjoy what you've accomplished. Nowadays, the minute the season's over you got to get out and start recruiting right away or you're gonna get killed.
"Three of the best players I ever coached I never saw play before I signed them: John Lucas, Mike Maloy and Dick Snyder. I just went on what other people said. Today, even after you decide whether you think a guy can play or not, you still have to go see him play. Actually, you're going so he can see you or so his parents can see you.
"Ridiculous, isn't it?"
Almost every coach in America has recruiting horror stories.
Tom Abatemarco, a former Maryland assistant now at Virginia Tech, recently drove 5 1/2 hours from Blacksburg to Baltimore to catch a flight to Los Angeles (from Baltimore he could get a reduced fare). From Los Angeles, he flew to Oakland. Then he drove three more hours through a rainstorm to reach the player's hometown, arriving at 4 a.m.
"The next day I went to watch practice, then to a game," he said. "Then I flew back to Baltimore and drove to Blacksburg from there. I was sick for a week after the trip. I never said a word to the kid because of the rules. But I had to do it. We've got a good shot at the kid."
That is the recruiter's credo. Do what you have to do to get the kid. Sometimes you'll be within the rules, sometimes not. But recruiting never has been more complex or maddening than it is in 1982.
There are more rules and more coaches competing for players. Recruiting no longer is done passively during the season and aggressively afterward. It's done all year.
You write to sophomores, maybe even freshmen, to let them know you are interested. If a 6-foot-8 eighth grader shows up at your summer camp one year, you try to make sure he's there the next summer.
"I was in 18 homes this summer, partly because of the new rules, partly because I had to be," said Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps. "These days, if you haven't made your evaluations, if you don't know exactly who you want by the end of the summer, you're in trouble."
There are three basic reasons for the new recruiting environment.
Money. A successful basketball team today is worth millions to its school. More schools are playing Division I basketball and all those who play it are recruiting aggressively. "Ten years ago if you recruited a really top kid you might be competing with 25 schools," Fogler said. "Now, you're competing with 200. Everybody works at it like crazy."
Summer camps. They have become the coaches' main site for evaluation. Nobody waits until players start their senior seasons to evaluate them. Usually by then, they already have been labeled. "I think the camps are good," Phelps said. "You can go to two or three places and see a couple of hundred kids instead of having to go to a couple hundred places to see them."
"It's good for the big schools because they're the ones who are likely to make the quick impression on a kid," American's Gary Williams said. "But for a smaller school, where personal contact with a kid is more important in order to make an impression, it isn't. If they've all but decided by the beginning of senior year where they're going, you haven't got much chance."
Stricter recruiting rules. Once, high school seniors could visit as many schools as they wanted.
"You'd go up to a kid and ask him to visit," saidNorth Carolina State's Jim Valvano, "and he'd take out a calendar and say, 'Let's see, maybe after my swing through Hawaii, San Francisco and Vegas, I can fit you in next Wednesday at 2 o'clock for an hour.' Go to class? Don't be silly."
Gradually, the NCAA became cognizant of the "America's guest" syndrome among high school seniors. In the last five years, recruiting rules have become more restrictive. First, players were limited to six paid campus visits. Next year it will be five.
Then, contacts with players were limited. But coaches got around the no-contact rules by "bumping" players. If you just happened to be standing outside a locker room when a player came out, there was no rule against talking to him briefly.
"Bumping was an art," De Paul assistant Joey Meyer said. "I was a real good bumper. You start out with hello, how are you, and you usually end up in the corner with the kid for awhile. But it really got out of hand. The bump line when we were recruiting Isiah (Thomas) was unreal. I felt bad for the kid. He knew every time he came out of a locker room he was going to have to shake hands with all these coaches, smile, be polite, and listen and listen and listen."
This year, the NCAA has banned the bump. If a coach so much as says hello to a player, even if he talks to a player's parents, it is a violation. Still, many coaches estimate that perhaps 50 percent of the recruiters comply with the new rule.
In December, Duke Assistant Coach Bobby Dwyer was sitting in the stands watching 6-10 Tim Kempton play.
As Dwyer watched the game, the player's mother came over and began a conversation with Dwyer. "Mrs. Kempton," Dwyer said, "don't misunderstand, but it's against the rules for me to talk to you."
She nodded that she understood and walked away. Ten minutes later, she sat down with another coach. She remained there for the rest of the half.
"It was awful," Dwyer said. "I'm sitting there thinking, 'God, I blew it, I insulted her.' What could I do? Do I break the rule? Do I turn the other coach in? If I turn him in, have I broken the rule by talking to her even a little? And, to be honest, I'm not sure the other guy did anything wrong. I'm not sure if the rule isn't what's wrong. I'm not sure I'd want to turn a guy in for breaking that rule."
Another example. Fogler was watching a high school player, also in December. The player's parents walked in and sat down.
"Aren't you Eddie Fogler?" the father asked.
"Yes, I am," Fogler answered.
The parents began a conversation.
"I really panicked," Fogler said. "I said, 'Excuse me, but I'm going to have to find another place to sit right away. I can't stay here.' You know how it is when you try to explain something real quick and you end up blowing it completely. That's what happened to me. I did a lousy job. After the game, I was really bummed out. I almost called the family late that night to explain. I waited until the next morning. But I have mixed emotions. I know (North Carolina Coach) Dean Smith wouldn't break the rule with a 26-0 team or with an 0-26 team. But 0-26, Eddie Fogler might break the rule."
Because NCAA legislation now forbids any personal contact with a player once his senior year has started (except when he is visiting campus), the phone has become the No. 1 tool of the recruiter.
The normal modus operandi? Go to a game and make sure the parents see you. Stand around outside the locker room to make sure the player sees you. That night or the next day, call on the phone and tell the player how well you thought he played. Then, when you get back to campus, write a letter and repeat everything you said on the phone. Also, write the parents to tell them what a fine young man their son is. Then, write the coach to tell him how impressed you were with his team and, of course, with the young man you are recruiting.
"Isn't that just great?" Valvano said. "Here I am, every night, picking up the phone, calling some kid and saying, 'Hey, big guy, how you doing? How's your family? Great, great. Oh, and how's your dog, Fido? I just love Fido, what a great dog. And your girlfriend. Hey, she's really fine looking.
"Means a lot when the kid hears it 100 times, I'll bet. And anyway, do I really care about Fido? By the time the kid chooses a school, he not only thinks he's special among his peers, he thinks he's special in the adult world. That's not too healthy."
Driesell suggests cutting off phone contact. "That's easy to trace through phone records unless you go out to some phone booth every night," he said. "And even if you did that, what's to stop the kid from saying, 'Hey, Lefty called me, he broke the rules?' "
De Paul's Joey Meyer doesn't think additional restrictive rules would make much difference.
"If you're told you can't call the kid, you call his parents," he said. "If you can't call the parents, you call the coach. If you can't call the coach, you find a relative or a friend you can call. There's always going to be some kind of loophole.
"When we were recruiting Isiah (Thomas), I was keeping in touch with a relative of his who went to work at 6 every morning. He would call me just before he left for work to tell me what was going on. Then, there was this lawyer who was friends with the family. He would call me every night when he got home at 2 a.m.
"This went on for three, four months. My wife would just lie there and say, 'Hey, come on, go to sleep, what are you doing to yourself?' It was a good question. But I kept on doing it. By the time it was over, I just wanted him to choose a school, any school."
Meyer likes the new rules. "I think they make things better for the kids because things are more structured, better organized. A lot of them have a list of six schools they're going to visit before they even start their senior years.
"That's why you're seeing so many more early commitments. Kids want to enjoy their senior years, so they try to get the recruiting out of the way early. They make a decision, then concentrate on other things."
Most of the coaches agree that a player should be able to sign a letter of intent at any time. Under current rules, a player cannot sign until April of his senior year. The reasoning behind the late signing date in the past has been to keep players from locking themselves into an early decision they might regret later.
"But that's silly," Valvano said. "You let the kid sign whenever he wants to, but you don't force him to sign. You let him know, very clearly, that when he does sign, this is binding, it's going to be enforced.
"Now, even when you get a verbal commitment from a player, you have to baby-sit him to death. You have to go to his games to remind him you still care, you have to call him, write him. It's foolish."
De Paul had problems two years ago because of the current rule. It had received a verbal commitment in January from Dicky Beal, a quick, talented guard from Covington, Ky.
"When Dicky committed, we told the other guards we were recruiting that we had our guard and they should look elsewhere," Meyer said. "A commitment works two ways. When Dicky told us he was coming, we told the other guards we were recruiting to look elsewhere. They did. Then, when Dicky changed his mind and went to Kentucky, it was too late for us to get back in with the other kids."
Because many players want to make early decisions, summer recruiting is very much in vogue.
In some cases, coaches are visiting players so early that sometimes they haven't even seen them play. "My new thing this summer is going to be to tell the kid that the next coach that comes in he should say, 'Okay coach, you've convinced me, I'm coming,' " Valvano said. "Then watch the coach panic 'cause he hasn't even seen the kid play yet."
Coaches from smaller schools maintain that the big-name coaches have an advantage at the camps because they often are asked to do demonstrations. A coach can single out a player he is interested in by asking him to participate.
That also can backfire. This summer Driesell was giving a camp demonstration on the jump shot and how to use a fake. He asked Len Bias, all-Met from Northwestern High School, to help him.
Driesell ordered Bias to jump in the air when he faked his shot. Bias jumped and Driesell, trying to show how to draw the foul, jumped into him. His elbow hit Bias' lip, leaving the youngster bleeding. He ran from the court, and Driesell ran after him. Apparently, the coach's apology was accepted. Bias committed to Maryland recently.
Another major change in recruiting in the last 10 years is that with everyone now playing the game and trying to play it well, players everywhere are being pressured to stay home. Steve Stipanovich was greeted by the governor of Missouri when he visited the University of Missouri. Eugene Banks received hate mail when he opted for Duke instead of a Philadephia school.
Next year, the rules will become slightly more restrictive -- there will be a total of three months when coaches are not allowed to recruit offcampus.
"The more they restrict it, the better," Driesell said. "Better for coaches, better for the kids."
"What we need," Valvano said, "is a limit on the total number of contacts. Maybe four. I mean, total. You visit once, watch a kid play once, maybe twice, bring him to campus once. That's it. What more do you need? That way, you eliminate all the silly baby-sitting.
"And, when you develop a relationship with a kid when you're recruiting him, you can keep it going when he gets to school. Nowadays, you get close to a kid when you're recruiting him, then he doesn't see you his whole freshman year because you're off developing a close relationship with someone else."
The cycle, it seems, is never-ending. Every recruiter can remember scenes when he looked around and said, "Why do I do this?" Williams remembers walking into a hotel lobby at an all-star game as a young assistant and seeing dozens of coaches, many of them big names, standing around hoping to talk for a moment to a 17-year-old prospect.
Fogler remembers a big-name coach standing near a pay phone at the end of the hall in the hotel where the players were rooming. "Each time a kid came out with his parents or coach or whatever, this guy would pick up the phone and act like he was talking on it," Fogler said. "So, by 'coincidence,' he would be just hanging up when the kid walked by and would stop and talk."
"He got the kid he wanted."
Still, coaches know that the rules will be broken, and that the cheaters rarely will be caught.
"How do you prove cash?" Phelps asked. "You can't. And as long as the kind of kid who can make a 2.0 by taking tiddlywinks is being recruited, the kind of recruiter who cheats will find a way to pay him. It's up to the NCAA to step in and set up some standards."
"There is one other problem," Valvano said. "A lot of coaches won't turn their colleagues in. It is, after all, a fraternity."
"I couldn't see myself turning another coach in," Meyer said. "Unless what he was doing was unbelievably blatant. We all live in glass houses. I don't even know all the rules. I'm sure I've broken them at times and I'm sure every coach in America has at some point. Not big stuff, but little stuff. No doubt about it."
There also is no doubt that recruiting is getting more difficult.
"It's the competition," Fogler said. "You look around and it isn't just UCLA, Kentucky, Notre Dame, North Carolina working at it. It's Ohio University, George Mason, everybody. Ten years ago, Mason didn't even have a team. Now, they're everywhere. So is everybody else."
And, as Phelps and Driesell are learning this winter, any off year is disastrous.
"I learned one thing about recruiting early," Driesell said. "Never, never turn your back on nobody."
Some recruiting rules never change.