Q: Dom, I may be asking too much, but can you address the issue on how difficult it will be for recruiting because of the conference alignment. I hope I I’m wrong but my instinct tells me we may not be able to compete (with) the major conferences for the elite players.
A: Well, Frankie, it’s not too much to ask, but there are only so many ways to say it. … Yes, recruiting is going to be more difficult if UConn remains in this yet-to-be-named league with this new slate of opponents. No way around it.
For many years, UConn has played in a league that was one of the best, and often the best, in the country. Important Big East games, and its league tournament, got the lion’s share of national exposure and recruits all over the country saw that. Jim Calhoun, as he told Michael Kay on YES Network’s Center Stage a while back, got recruits to come and play in the middle of nowhere because the league was a destination.
Now, the league is the middle of nowhere – so the school has to be the destination.
On Friday, UConn had Tyus Battle from New Jersey, who could become one of the top recruits in the Class of 2016, on campus for an unofficial visit, so UConn’s staff is still competing, at least, for the best of the best.
The question is, can UConn overcome the disadvantages. Kevin Ollie and his staff will have to overcome them will energy, “elbow grease” and recruiting skills; the new facilities will help; and for a time the image of UConn successes of the last 12 years will still be in recruits’ minds. That will fade, though. In a few short years, UConn will be recruiting kids with no memory of their championships.
But we’re in an era where even mid-majors compete for championships, because they get players who stay four years. We’re in an era where there are a lot of good players out there, so if you get the right ones – regardless of where someone has ranked them – you can coach them up and succeed.
So UConn’s recruiting future is going to be what Kevin Ollie makes of it. There’s no denying it is going to be much more challenging, given UConn’s present circumstances. But as Ollie has said on this, “there is always going to be something.”
Back in December, before Ollie got his extension, I spoke with Paul Biancardi, recruiting guru at ESPN, for a story we did as a staff on Dec. 15th. Here was Paul’s take:
“”Two basic questions every kid has are, ‘What league am I going to play in?’ and ‘Who is going to coach me?’ … Then comes style of play and how he would be utilized …
“When UConn was in the Yankee Conference, they were in ‘no-man’s land’ then. They didn’t have championships, they didn’t have swag. They joined the Big East, and they hired a young coach from Northeastern and it took Jim Calhoun how many years to build that brand? … They had a brand, with the Big East, and now it’s blown up.”
“Tradition is part of the equation.Right now, the one thing UConn has to sell is its tradition, and who better to sell that tradition than someone [in Kevin Ollie] who has been part of it?”