The reality of recruiting: How small schools dominate
On a damp, uninspiring Mother’s Day weekend, GC women’s basketball head coach Maurice Smith trudged to campus.
Braving the rain and leaving his wife and two daughters at home, the head coach headed to the office for a visit with a prospective recruit from Illinois named Erin Drynan.
This was the only weekend Drynan, a recruit with Division I offers, could come to GC to take her only tour of a Division II school.
“Nobody was here on campus, and it rained all weekend long,” Smith said.
For Smith, the deck was stacked against him. But as Drynan’s tour began, several members of the GC community came out and welcomed her to campus.
And to make a long story short, the 6-foot-2-inch forward from Chicago eventually committed to GC.
In recruiting, stories like Drynan’s are ones many college athletes will experience.
According to Next College Student Athlete, or NCSA, Division I schools only offer full-ride scholarships to 1 percent of the seven million student-athletes competing in high school.
Most collegiate student-athletes compete at either the Division II, Division III, NAIA or junior college levels. This means that these smaller schools are doing the most recruiting.
And many do not have the manpower or money of their larger counterparts to attract top-tier talent.
GC’s total recruiting budget in 2017 was $12,789, a figure so small that coaches often come out of their own pockets to finance recruiting trips.
“A lot of times coaches go in their own cars, use their own gas and buy their own meals,” said Jimmy Wilson, GC’s associate athletic director. “A lot of it is not reported because we don’t have the budget to do it.”
GC men’s assistant basketball coach Ryan Aquino pointed out that recruiting can require much time away from home. As a graduate assistant, Aquino said he drove out west four or five times each year to Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, Nebraska and Colorado in search of potential future Bobcats.
That was before the men’s program committed to scouring Georgia and the Southeast region for talent by spending time in the summer watching travel ball games.
“Coach Gainous and myself will go to an event and be there at 8 a.m. on Thursday and stay until 8 p.m. Thursday night and do the same thing Friday, Saturday and part of Sunday,” said Aquino, recruiting coordinator for the men’s team. “We do that two or three times in the month of July, and we’ll also do it in April sometimes. It’s a lot, but it’s the best way to see the most number of kids.”
Though playing on teams outside of high school requires a great time commitment from players, many say it gives them the best chance to be seen and pursued by the highest number college coaches.
“[Playing travel ball] helps a lot,” said GC softball player Caroline Snider. “Travel ball definitely gets your name out there because your coaches are emailing for you and talking for you as well. Some teams make brochures and stuff that they’ll hang outside the dugout, so coaches can pick up your profile.”
Aside from talent, many other factors help determine whether coaches at GC will pursue a player.
“We’re big in high-character,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter how talented you are. If the character isn’t there, we’re not interested.”
Smith said he pays particular attention to how players respond in the fourth quarter because that’s when traits like discipline, coachability and being a good teammate are revealed.
Along with valuing high-character individuals, GC baseball head coach Jason Eller said he values multi-sport athletes.
The final attribute that GC coaches seek is academic excellence.
“One thing that separates us from other schools is that we really hone in on the academics,” said GC head men’s basketball coach Mark Gainous.
Gainous said GC reaps financial benefits from recruiting academically superior athletes who qualify for the HOPE scholarship.
“Say it costs $20,000 per year to go to school, and HOPE is going to provide you $9,000 of it,” Wilson said. “Then we’ve only got $11,000 to try to make up if we’re going to give you a full ride. That’s how the HOPE scholarship helps because we have a smaller gap to fill.”
After coaches identify a player who meets their standards, many feel there is a high chance of winning a recruit if they can do one thing: get them on campus.
“For every 10 prospects we bring in and offer them an opportunity, we get about nine out of 10,” Eller said. “That says a lot about GC, our campus, our community, our professors and our students.”
Smith echoed that sentiment.
“We talk very little basketball,” Smith said. “80 percent of our visit is the other stuff. It’s academics, the various organizations on campus, housing and the family-type environment. It’s all that stuff we sell.”
For many recruits, like Drynan, this is what convinces them that GC is the best place to continue their academic and athletic careers.
“That GC genuineness—that’s what sells,” said assistant women’s basketball coach Jeremy Mayweather. “Everybody wants to make sure these kids are coming in and excelling. It’s an awesome place to be.”