Official visit becomes closing time for college coaches


By John Marshall

AP Basketball Writer

RENO, Nev. (AP) — University of Nevada coach Eric Musselman and his assistants hover around a computer screen, shifting names, categories and columns on spreadsheets that will be part of a PowerPoint presentation.

They deliberate over what columns should be named, where names should be placed, the page order, whether certain information should be included at all.

Forty minutes later, everyone in the room is finally satisfied.

The reason for the frantic edit? A recruit’s mother had asked a question about playing time — during a recruiting visit that was still going on.

“No detail is too small when you’re dealing with something this important,” said Musselman, a former NBA head coach in his first season at Nevada. “You basically have 48 hours to paint the best picture you can. It’s a lot of pressure.”

Coaches spend years cultivating relationships with recruits in hopes of getting them on campus for a visit.

An unofficial visit is important, allowing recruits a chance to see the campus, maybe meet some of the current players. It’s mostly informal, though, and coaches are limited in the contact they have.

The official visit is often the difference between landing a player or watching him play somewhere else.

Much more structured and with far greater interaction, official visits give coaches a chance to show recruits around campus, meet with academic and administrative advisers, see the athletic facilities, maybe play a few pickup games with their future teammates. It also allows the coaching staff to lay out its vision for the program, plans for the recruit athletically and academically and assure parents the program and school is the right fit for their son.

The landscape is constantly shifting, forcing decisions on the fly.

“You really have to get a read and sense for it, kind of show each individual case what they’re looking for,” Northern Arizona coach Jack Murphy said.

Under NCAA rules, recruits are allowed five expenses-paid visits. Schools are limited to a maximum of 12 official visits, so they have to be judicious about whom they bring to campus.

For his first recruiting class, Musselman had three scholarships, but next year could have up to five open spots. Murphy landed six scholarship players who came on visits for this year’s class, with two others who committed without visiting.

There also are considerations about when to offer a visit — too soon, the recruit may commit after visiting another school; too late and the recruit may already be gone.

“You’ve got to close,” Musselman said. “You’ve got to figure out how to make them feel comfortable about you as a head coach, your assistants, about campus, about education, about your four-year plan or whatever it is.”

That’s why details matter.

During an official visit to Reno last summer, Musselman and his coaches set up a down-to-the-minute itinerary for one recruit, from the time they picked him up at the airport to when he was dropped off.

In between was a stay at the Peppermill Hotel — considered one of the best in downtown Reno — tours of the campus, basketball facilities and weight room. There were meetings with athletic, academic and compliance staff; planned meals and free time with the current players.

At the end was a 45-minute talk with Musselman and his staff about the program and the recruit’s future in it — a closing pitch, if you will.

“As an assistant, your job is to talk, get engaged with the recruit, engage with the parents, get them on campus, get them on a visit and at that point, the bullpen comes in and the head coach has to close the game,” Musselman said.

The flourishes can make a huge difference.

Musselman likes to have cheerleaders give the campus tour and had the staff put up pictures of former Nevada players in the NBA on the walls of the basketball offices. The PowerPoint provides visual cues for the recruit and his family as they talk about his future.

Murphy always makes sure the recruits see the alpine beauty of Flagstaff and likes to close with a flourish.

He worked on Lute Olson’s staff at Arizona, with Josh Pastner at Memphis and was a scout for the Denver Nuggets, so he’s seen dozens of professional players up close. Murphy emphasizes his ties to great players by spreading photos of about 50 NBA players on a table inside a conference room that’s also adorned with NAU uniforms.

“Not everyone is going to play in the NBA, but everyone has that dream,” Murphy said. “The fact that I’ve been fortunate enough to have been on that level, be around that talent, I think it helps us in recruiting and something that resonates with the recruits.”

But for all a school can do for a recruit on the court and in the classroom, it won’t matter if they don’t feel comfortable there.

Many of the players will be living away from their parents for the first time, often coming from long distances. The recruits want to feel they belong, that someone will take care of them. The parents want to make sure someone is watching out for their sons, with their best interest in mind.

Murphy likes to showcase the family atmosphere at NAU by having dinner at his house, where the recruit and his family can mingle with players, coaches and their families. Murphy also brings his wife along to dinner when the recruit’s mother makes the trip so she isn’t the only woman at the table.

“You could feel there’s a huge family atmosphere at this place,” said NAU freshman Brady Twombly, who’s from Carlsbad, California. “Knowing that I can come here and feel comfortable, to know that everyone cares for me was a big deal.”

A lot is riding on it — for both sides.

By John Marshall

AP Basketball Writer

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