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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Bol Bol, a player at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., is among the top high school players in the country.

Monday, August 07, 2017 1:00 am

Final evaluation period brings coaches, recruits to Las Vegas

JOHN MARSHALL | Associated Press

 LAS VEGAS – Northern Arizona coach Jack Murphy followed the directions turn by turn as he worked his way from a high school north of Las Vegas to one to the south.

The GPS said his fourth stop of the day was just around the corner, but when Murphy arrived at the turn, the road was closed because of construction.

His destination in sight, he made a split-second decision. Murphy still had at least three more games to see, then catch a red-eye flight to Toronto for a one-day trip before returning to Las Vegas.

The distance, no matter how short, was now too long.

“I'm going to have to skip it,” Murphy said as he turned his car around. “I've got to pack before heading to the next game.”

Time crunches and decisions on the fly come with the territory for college basketball coaches during the live recruiting periods.

During the last week of July, which serves as the final of three evaluation periods during the month, coaches from most, if not all, 351 Division I men's basketball programs descend upon Sin City to watch the nation's top recruits.

Dozens of tournaments play simultaneously at close to 100 sites across the city, with roughly 1,200 teams competing in high school gyms, performing arts centers and the Cashman Center, a 98,000-square foot exhibit hall operated by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

At many of the high schools, the floor was split so two games could be played simultaneously. The Cashman Center was split into seven courts, including a showcase court in the center with extra bleachers for the bigger games.

The marquee game was on opening night, when South Carolina's Zion Williamson and SC Supreme faced Southern California's LaMelo Ball and Big Baller Brand in the Adidas Uprising summer championships.

More than 3,000 people crowded around the court, including several NBA players, and 80,000 or so watched a Facebook live stream of the showdown between top-10 recruits.

More than 1,000 people were turned away – LeBron James reportedly among them – and the Las Vegas Police Department was called in to help control the crowd.

“It's amazing how big this has become,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said.

The arduous recruiting process starts with identifying potential recruits, often before they're in high school. Coaches track their progress, reach out to the ones they're interested in and watch them play as often as possible.

The tournaments in Las Vegas offer a chance to see and be seen, giving the players an opportunity to show what they can do against some of the nation's best players.

Every coach has specific needs and is not only looking to fill spots in his next recruiting class but to build classes three and four years down the road.

Coaches head into evaluation week with a list of players they're actively trying to sign, recruits who may have caught an assistant's eye or a younger player who is on their radar. 

When top-tier recruits such as Williamson, Arizona's Marvin Bagley III or high schooler Bol Bol – son of former NBA center Manute Bol – are on the court, it's usually the blue-blood coaches in the stands, such as Kentucky's John Calipari, Kansas' Bill Self or North Carolina's Roy Williams.

“It is a little tougher at our level, but we find players who fit our needs,” said Sacramento State's Brian Katz, entering his 10th season at Sac State. “Everyone is here for the same reason.”