In order to get talent to program widely perceived overlooked and seen by some as taking steps backwards, you must get creative as a coach. Some coaches overlook character red flags while others grind out open gyms looking for a diamond in the rough. Others hire high school coaches as assistants provided they bring a favorite recruit along. Some flat out lie when they sell their program.
While I think the Dukes are certainly grinding, I also think they look for players hidden in plain view. Over the last year, the Dukes have received verbal commitments or pursued players from some of the best AAU teams in North America. Rarely were they the best player on the team. Sometimes they sat pretty far down the depth chart.
For the class of 2013, CIA Bounce looked like the club of choice for the coaching staff. The staff received an early commitment from Isaiah Watkins who also played for a loaded St Benedict’s in New Jersey. While Watkins played regular minutes, his CIA Bounce teammates Andrew Wiggins, Tyler Ennis and Xavier Rathan – Mayes stole the spotlight. To put into perspective how stacked Bounce was last year, Duane Notice had to come in off the bench. Jordan Robinson barely saw the court but averaged a double – double for a decent prep school during the regular season. They managed to land two of the under the radar CIA Bounce players and nearly nabbed a third.
This year, the Dukes have already gotten a verbal from another under the radar player on a solid AAU team. All Ohio used Eric James as a substitute over the summer behind Jae’Sean Tate who has committed to tOSU. James’ numbers weren’t the best but he didn’t play as much as one might hope. The talent ahead of him was just that strong.
Of course, going for the under the radar guys hasn’t been Jim Ferry’s only strategy but it has been the only effective strategy so far. Rene Castro, Dayshon Smith, and Jon Severe played high profile roles on high profile teams, but they’re enrolled in Butler, Dayton and Fordham this fall. Ferry gave each a nice run, but came up short.
While the Dukes might miss out on the top talent, other coaches might miss the lower profile guys entirely. Robinson and Watkins both look like potential contributors in the A-10 even if they lived in the shadows of higher profile players in AAU. Eric James could do the same. Though the lack of playing time at the big time AAU programs didn’t help their stock, it may have helped them as players. Generally those top AAU programs attract players with their brands, but they often offer superior coaching and guidance. They got all the benefits of playing at a top AAU program without all the hype. Hopefully, the hype will come in college.