With the coronavirus pandemic altering all aspects of our lives, it should not come as a surprise that high-level college basketball recruiting would not escape unchanged. What might not appear as obvious is that Jay Wright would appear as one of college basketball’s early zoom-evangelists, and that he might use the newly-popular technology midway through his career to gain an extra edge.
Wright stresses one thing to every recruit he visits as to how his program differs from some of its top competitors around the country: he’s not skipping one of his team’s practices to visit them, and he’ll never skip a practice while they are a Wildcat to visit a recruit in the future.
“I’m here everyday with the team,” an increasingly-bearded Wright said on a Zoom call from his home on Tuesday. “The most important guys are the guys on the team.”
And while Wright still does most of his recruiting up and down the northeast corridor, the nature of running a top program means it is harder and harder to balance his necessary recruiting obligations with that promise he makes to all his players.
“A kid could be at one part of the country at his college if he’s a transfer and his parents are at another place, that’s a day and a half you have to shut down your practice or your workouts with your team so you don’t miss it,” he said. And you just got that accomplished in one hour pretty efficiently, damn, I might be zooming my butt off and not traveling so much.”
A couple things. First: it does not sound ideal that Jay Wright pulls the emergency break on the goings on of his program every time he has to make an out-of-town recruiting visit. *Extreme Stephen A. Smith voice* HOWEVER, I am almost positive that promise and others in the same vein have helped Wright lock down more than their share of recruits over the years, and that successfully fulfilling those same promises has helped build the program culture Wright has cultivated at Villanova.
It’s a little surprising to hear that a lot of recruiting at a major program isn’t already done digitally outside of texting, but at the same time when it is comes to recruiting it does matter who shows up, who shows they care. If Wright can use Zoom to recruit without losing the ability to demonstrate his interest in a player and it helps him fulfill these promises to his team without stopping workouts or practices, there’s no doubt it could turn into a way for Wright to gain an extra edge.
Obviously, however, Zoom cannot replace the entire institution of recruiting. The less conversational aspects of recruiting, such as player evaluation at AAU tournaments and other competitions as well as recruits’ visits to campus, are not nearly as easily facilitated digitally. These processes face no threat from coaches like Wright wanting to move steps online. But given that these functions are impossible to replicate, they are obsolete until social distancing orders are loosened. Wright’s program is not scrambling to recruit incoming freshmen from the class of 2020, but he is wary of how their absence will affect his ability to recruit in a much more important class of 2021.
I don’t think this is gonna affect us, really, in recruiting with the 2020 class,” Wright said. “It’s definitely gonna affect us with the ‘21 class the way we recruit. Not being able to get out in the Spring to evaluate, we’re not getting guys on campus in the Spring.”
Later he explained further, saying, “the Spring and Summer are really big for us. Fortunately we’ve gotten to see everybody. The Spring is when we really can kinda prioritize and then go to work with what we’re doing. That’s gonna make it harder for us... I think it’s gonna impact us a lot, and that ‘21 class is huge for us because I think we’re gonna lose a lot of guys, underclassmen and three seniors next year.”
Whether or not Wright commits to Zoom in the long-term, there’s no arguing the ‘Cats need it to hold up for at least a couple recruiting cycles.
Wright wishes he had decided to redshirt Antoine
Also in the Zoom call on Tuesday, Wright says that while Bryan Antoine handled the type of adversity he went through “better than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Wright wishes he had let his five-star guard go through an official redshirt season to get ready for 2020-21.
“We kind of redshirted Bryan Antoine,” Wright said. “In retrospect, we should’ve done it before the season started. We discussed it back and forth so much, and he was open to it. And I kind of thought, you know let’s take a chance because he could’ve helped us if we could’ve got him caught up to speed. And I also thought in the end if we make the mistake and he’s not ready, it still gives him the mental incentive to work through his physical rehab, which was important.”
More surprising than Wright’s realization is just how much Antoine was treated as a redshirt during the season, and how it explains much of what seemed inexplicable about him at the time.
“We were working him out, I didn’t want to say this during the season, but, we were working him out extra, day of the games,” Wright explained. “If we would’ve had to put him in a game late, he was exhausted because we would treat him like a redshirt.”