“We put together an outstanding virtual tour to include all that is with academics, facilities, the program, [and the] assistant coaches did a great job of presenting it,” Brock said of the new recruiting method.
Each coach had to follow this similar method to survive in the virtual recruiting pool.
“We’ve taken to the same thing, like FaceTiming with kids and saying, ‘Ok, we’re going on a walk.’ And you’re walking and you point like, Ok, this is Gulick -- which is wild. But we tried really, really hard,” Long said.
While the virtual method of recruiting is unique to 2020-2021, it can never replace the real deal of seeing a campus up close with one’s own eyes.
“The negative side is if they come here and you show them around, they’ve at least invested in getting in the car, driving here, maybe their parents have taken a day off work and they’ve taken a day off school, whereas they can sit on Zoom and it’s like watching a game on the television as opposed to going to the stadium to watch. You’re invested and you’re more committed to the whole thing if you go and watch. I think you’re more committed if you come to Springfield and look than if you just zoom,” Gibson said of the process.
Perhaps more of a challenge than getting players to know campus and the program is making sure coaches are going after the right players.
Hundreds of thousands of high school players put together highlight tapes to send off to coaches, but those provide nowhere close to the level of assessment that comes with watching a recruit in-person.
“The highlight tapes are fine, but the highlights you know, they make every basket, they get every rebound, they get all kinds of dunks - it’s just not real. For me, I didn’t watch them and I still don’t watch them. For me, I want to see a game and see how the progress is made with different situations within the game,” Brock said.
Graves, his counterpart of the women’s side of the game, agreed with the notion that scouting without in-person experience is tough.
“It’s hard because we want a match. We want to know the match all around. Parent, family, kid and it’s really difficult to do that by video and difficult to do that by phone call. How do you get to know whether this kid is really the type of kid you want? Are they high character, which is really important to me? Are they talented, are they a match, are they coachable -- all that stuff?” Graves said of searching for recruits.
The loss of actual competition to go and watch live meant coaches weren’t seeing stuff they’ve been trained to pick up on over the years.
“I think that culture part is really important. (Recruits) show themselves banging a ball, but do they transition every time, can they serve/receive...I want the intangibles. Do you cheer? I pass the ball, but you get the kill, I want you to cheer for the kill, but then if you are the hitter, I want you to turn to the passer and be like ‘Great pass’ because you wouldn’t have the kill if it weren’t for me passing the ball. That camaraderie that happens in volleyball and that appreciation for each other, you can’t see,” Long said.
Part of the solution to this issue has been calling on networks of reliable people coaches have built up throughout their careers.
“We always say find the point of influence, who’s the most influential person in that young man’s life and that’s where you’ll really find out about the kids,” Cersauolo said.
“If it’s a coach, if it’s a mentor, if it’s someone at church, whatever -- with each kid, someone is going to be a major influence in their life, so let’s try to communicate with that person and that’s where you really find out what that kid might be about.”
A tricky aspect of that for coaches is making sure they got an honest assessment of a player they’re after, and not just a response the person they’re talking with believes they want to hear.
“If I say to a coach, how tough is this kid and they say, ‘She’s so tough,’ is it because they want me to take her? I have to be very intentional and purposeful in the questions I ask to get where I need the (conversation) to go. It’s just different,” Long said.
Despite both the methods of showing off campus and evaluating recruits being imperfect, it’s what coaches have had to do over the course of the past year.
While everyone hopes for a return to normal, some of these methods may actually find their way into the future of recruiting as society continues to grapple with COVID-19.
Another thing that changed for the coaches was they’ve seen their teams a lot less due to the pandemic. While no games was one thing, student-athletes and coaches have actually gone months at a time without seeing one another -- something they’re not used to given the community that Springfield College has always been known for.
“I love my team. They’re my family in a lot of ways,” Graves said of her girls. Women’s basketball, like many other teams, actually used Zoom to make a concentrated effort to stay in touch with one another more over the long layoffs and constant periods of isolation.