I write this week on the first day of 2008, thinking just how fast the calendar turns its pages. It seems like yesterday, I was sitting in my high school study hall wondering where I might end up when I grow up… I never thought in my wildest imagination, I would be assisting high school seniors through the very same process.

This is the time of year when college coaches follow-up on their summer recruiting evaluations of young players at hundreds of high school basketball games around the country. College coaches often spend more time driving to and in high school gyms than their very own from January to March. I equate the recruiting process for coaches to game competition for players. We try to get to as many high school games as we can, so recruits can see how interested we are in having them attend our schools in the fall. In some cases, kids will choose schools based on how many times they see a college coach at their games. In essence, we keep a scorecard, school X has been to so many games, when school Y has only come once.

This week for example, our staff will travel to northern New England, and the next day, will travel to Philadelphia recruiting prospective young men to our program. As much work as preparing your own team for competition is, the recruiting process may be the most time consuming task college coaches have each year. This year, our staff has a lot of work to do as we look to replace four seniors who play significant minutes for our team this season.

Throughout the recruiting process, I am often asked what it is I am looking for in a player. For me, there are two important areas I look to address in players to compete at the scholarship level.

The first is talent. This may seem obvious, but if you examine it closer, it is not that easy. For example, I may look at my current team and see the glaring weaknesses they have and how a prospective high school senior could address them. However, my program currently sits in 9th place in an 11-team conference. I don’t need players who are merely better than my current players, but they need to be as or more talented than the players on the best team in our conference. If we cannot find those types of players, we may never catch those teams in front of us. As you can see, we must evaluate all the teams in our conference, not just our own throughout the recruiting process.

The second area of evaluation I look at is the physicality of the player. I am not a coach who looks too much into height and weight, but more at the players’ ability to create their own offense and handle the basketball against a tough, aggressive defender. If a player needs to have multiple screens set for them to get their own shot, I may pass on them. The reason is that there are so many good coaches at our level who can scheme their defenses to cover all those screens. College basketball is far too physical to spend time during the 35-second shot clock getting one player the ball every time down the floor. College players also need to be able to handle the basketball against pressure. When you are faced with rebuilding a program like we are at Mercy, we face full court pressure from almost every team on our schedule. In order to make teams pay for pressing us, I need to put as many ball handlers on the floor as I can. Being able to neutralize ball pressure makes your team offense so much more efficient and allows the coach to place the x’s and o’s anywhere they see fit to attack the opposing defense.

Our team is coming off a pretty successful road trip in New Hampshire. In our opener, we knocked off St. Anselm’s College in a hard-fought game that seemed in doubt right up until the final buzzer. Our kids were truly resilient and played our toughest defense of the season for the entire 40 minutes. Every player who stepped onto the court that night gave us valuable minutes and we were able to defeat a well-coached and talented team on their home court.

The second and final game of our road trip found us playing from behind the entire 40 minutes against Southern New Hampshire University. We ran into some defensive issues covering their talented post players. We made several runs to get back into the game, but in the end we ran out of steam and lost the game going away.

In all, I am proud of our kids for gaining a split on the road against non-conference opponents who are annually some of the top teams in the entire nation. Currently, our conference (East Coast Conference) is 4-20 against the Northeast-10 Conference. And, we possess one of those four victories! This road trip will pay dividends later this month when we face the top teams in our conference.

I wish all of you the very best for 2008 and may all of your goals be fulfilled over the next 364 days!

Yours in Hoops,
Tony Staffiere