High school basketball: College coaches value club and high school basketball in player evaluation

The scene was exactly what the past two June weekends were supposed to be all about: College coaches being able to put eyes on players they are recruiting — and ones they had never seen play before — in a different type of setting and platform.

Hundreds of coaches flocked to Illinois the past two weekends to evaluate high school players from across the state.

For years, decades even, high school players were rarely seen playing with their actual high school basketball team.

Yes, there were some fall open gyms. And there is always a random game during the winter months where a college coach, usually from a local in-state program or coach from a bordering state, will take in a prospect’s game. But with so much more added to the college coach’s plate in recent years, the time to evaluate players during the college basketball season is much more difficult.

Despite the naysayers or some of the uninformed rants that you hear when it comes to club basketball, there is also a definite need for it. The platform grassroots basketball organizations provide is a must in the evaluation process. It brings higher-level talent, from across the country, together under one roof. The overall athleticism and talent level seen in club ball is simply better.

There remain plenty of issues and problems with club basketball. But that’s for another day.

Overall, college coaches are liking the combination of evaluating players with both their high school and club teams in the summer months.

Loyola head coach Drew Valentine sees advantages to both and believes watching a player with his high school and club team is beneficial for different reasons.

Valentine says club basketball provides a chance to see the “elite of the elite from around the country” play one another. It’s a way, he says, to see how high of a level their talent is. But there is no question he finds value in the high school setting.

“I really like it, personally, as it’s fun to see them coached differently and in a different role with their high school team,” Valentine said. “They spend so much more time with their high school coach and their high school team, so it’s good to see how they respond to that, how they interact and to see the culture they are in.”

UIC head coach Luke Yaklich says he “loves” the blend of evaluating players with their high school and club teams. Plus, as a former high school coach in Illinois, he feels the best part is being able to get high school coaches more involved in recruiting.

“The involvement of the high school coach is key in the recruiting process,” Yaklich said of the shift to include scholastic events in the NCAA’s recruiting calendar. “But being able to see these players in different settings is invaluable.”

These past two weekends in Illinois were a benefit for everyone. Riverside-Brookfield and Ridgewood ran out close to 150 teams over the past two weekends. Normal West did a terrific job running its event during the first live weekend.

And while Edwardsville was the one event in Illinois I didn’t attend, it provided an opportunity for several southern Illinois players and many of the St. Louis powers to showcase talent.

Remember, there are many states across the country that provide no opportunities for players to be seen during the two June live periods.

Illinois is a state that was primed and ready to provide that opportunity for its players. Many states weren’t organized last year or equipped to handle live events. The very first year of the new recruiting calendar saw just 19 of 50 eligible state high school associations hold June events.

The recruiting calendar for college coaches to attend events and evaluate prospects seems to always need tweaking and never seems just right. But the blend of watching and evaluating players both in club basketball and with their high school team is a good one. There is value in seeing players play in both.

Playing with the high school team is just different. And the evaluation is different as well for everyone.

“I really like watching a player with his high school team, probably more than even AAU,” said one mid-major head coach who wanted to stay anonymous in fear of ticking off club coaches. “I need to see both [club and high school], but I often dislike what I see with AAU. But it’s the top players against each other, so it’s a must. But many times I consistently see more from maybe a specific player I need to see while watching them with their high school team. That’s where they are typically always theguyon that team.”

There are so many different variables involved when it comes to club basketball. Yes, the idea of more Division I talent and same-level athletes on the floor together, playing against one another, is needed.

However, a player may have to take a back seat to other high-profile players on his team, thus getting less of an opportunity to shine. Maybe an individual player is playing out of position or hardly playing at all. It’s hard to be noticed when sitting on the bench or as a role player when on the floor

There is often a comfort level and more familiarity with the high school team. They play together every day all winter during the season and then practice each day in camp throughout June. Players aren’t coming and going, a problem many club programs battle.

“With my experience as a high school coach, I know these players have had two or three weeks of camp and practice together,” Yaklich said of one difference between high school and club play. “So it’s a setting where there is more structure in place through the amount of practice time they have together.”

Yaklich, along with all college coaches, wants to see players competing in club play.

“You just consistently see, at the club level, size vs. size, athletes vs. athletes, skill vs. skill,” Yaklich said. “But I love seeing a player play in both.”

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