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TOM DAVIS: Coaching out of fear? Everybody does that. I want to see something else

Former Fort Wayne men's basketball coach and current Jacksonville University coach, Tony Jasick, watches his team compete against Illinois in Champaign earlier in his career. (By The Associated Press)

Today marks the start of six days this month in which college basketball coaches can evaluate high school players. Across the country, grown men will fill gymnasiums and fawn over teens, which exacerbate the warping of the youngsters’ perspective on life, often beyond repair.

It’s nauseating to watch, but coaches (and the complicit media) will tell you that it is a necessary evil and must be done. But like many aspects of college basketball, perception isn’t reality.

I was walking on the beautiful campus of Jacksonville University a few years ago and I asked Dolphin men’s basketball coach Tony Jasick if he ever grew weary of recruiting junior college players due to their often questionable academic history.

“No,” Jasick said emphatically, “because we don’t recruit those guys.”

He explained that a lot of players at the junior college level aren’t poor students they simply wanted to elevate their skill level and recruitment by following that path, so those are the players that Jacksonville pursues.

“You can recruit whoever you want,” Jasick said.

It was if a light bulb went off over my head.

Jasick is correct. Not only can coaches recruit whoever they want, they can take that simplistic approach and apply it to every aspect of their program. However, almost none do because of fear.

There are no more fearful or paranoid professionals than college coaches. Almost none in the industry will operate outside the norm when it comes to recruiting, scheduling, or player development because of a fear of failure, a fear of being fired, and a fear of being criticized.

The same people that talk ad nauseum in press conferences about the need for toughness by their athletes often don’t have any themselves. And that includes the ones with lifetime financial security, who have no logical reason to be frightened of anything.

It would be fascinating to watch an innovative and unique approach be applied by a coach and see where it led.

Right now, coaches reading this column are saying “It would lead to his/her firing,” but again, those are the same people scared to death to be different, so consider the source.

Some innovative ideas could include the following:

FORGET THE RANKINGS

Much like the subject of toughness, college coaches always talk about how they “love competition,” but then constantly complain about how difficult their jobs are. However, what makes the task of recruiting so challenging is that coaches are inefficient in doing so. Precious time is often spent in pursuit of the wrong players.

How much more valuable would the time have been for the Indiana basketball powers to have recruited guard Desmond Bane (now starring at TCU) a year ago instead of eventual Mr. Basketball Kris Wilkes, who ultimately signed with UCLA?

What was a better use of Purdue’s time, chasing after Caleb Swanigan for three years or the time spent recruiting former Boiler forward Vince Edwards?

Really, how valuable were Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State) and DeAndre Ayton (Arizona) to their programs this past season? And now they are both gone after five months.

I know this is blasphemy in this state, but if coveted recruit Romeo Langford doesn’t sign with Indiana on April 30 (he will, however), so what?

The Hoosiers will still have a season next year and they’ll still win a lot of games.

Coaches should find and sign talented student-athletes who want to be invested in the culture of their program and university for five seasons (more on that in a minute) and win a ton of games. Build a PROGRAM, not a bus stop.

FIND THEM THE FIRST TIME

The implementation of immediate eligibility post-graduation has created chaos in college basketball. However, look at the issue from a different angle and it provides an opportunity.

The same players who are being pursued with ferocity could have been signed right out of high school with a minimal devotion of time and resources.

Butler signed valuable transfers Kethan Savage and Avery Woodson, both of whom played critical roles en route to the Bulldogs’ trip to the Sweet 16, and suffice to say could have beaten out George Washington and Southeastern Louisiana, respectively, for the pair out of high school.

Xavier and Purdue battled this spring over former Dartmouth forward Evan Boudreaux. Don’t you think the Boilers or Musketeers could have gotten him to commit over the Big Green as a high school senior?

Coaches should develop the foresight, and courage to sign, Indiana-based players such as Bane, Ryan Welage (San Jose State and now Xavier) and Dylan Windler (Belmont), student-athletes who possess a foundation of size, athleticism, and ability, high-degrees of maturity and intellect, and then attack their development.

That leads me to my next point…

INVEST IN YOUR PLAYERS

I’ve been told by countless coaches that you can’t talk about redshirting players because “nobody will sign with you.”

Then apply Jasick’s words and “don’t recruit those guys.”

A coach needs to have the guts to not only redshirt every player but do so openly.

The right student-athletes (and you have the entire country to find 13 of them), who have the right priorities; maturity and intellect will understand the philosophy of the program and embrace it because it is in their benefit to do so.

You are helping them become better people, students, and athletes and they’ll realize that and their parents will, as well. Anyone who doesn’t honestly doesn’t have the kids’ best interest at heart and won’t fit into a strong culture anyway.

The student-athlete won’t be “sitting out a year,” as is often stated, he’ll be sitting out 30 days.

On 322 days of any given year, there are no basketball games for a specific program and a redshirt player will be as actively involved as every other player in the program. He’ll have 16 months of preparation for his first game and he’ll have a much more successful career – athletically and academically – because of it.

Every player in your program will be stronger, more athletic, more skilled, more mature, and more intelligent, and they’ll all graduate with two degrees. Sorry, anyone who paints that in a negative light is an idiot and bright (i.e. the right) people will realize that.

BUT THEY’LL LEAVE!

Again, fear paralyzes all.

Coaches are actually stopping the practice of redshirting, and in some instances slowing the academic development of their players, because of a fear that they will leave post-graduation for other programs. And they might. The transfer numbers don’t lie.

However, if a coach has developed the right culture, one based on success, caring, and chemistry, most won’t.

If a coach has confidence in what he and his staff have developed and implemented, they’ll be rewarded more than punished.

Those numbers don’t lie either.

FORGET YOUR BACKYARD

A program that enjoys the luxury of being a dominant one in its specific area can pursue those higher-rated players and get them. Good for them. But for the rest (i.e. most) of the college basketball world, don’t waste a second chasing after kids that don’t – almost instantaneously – recognize what makes your program special.

If an Indiana-based athlete can’t value – quickly – a successful program, which is filled with quality people, then move on – quickly.

There are talented basketball players from San Diego to Portland, Maine and everywhere in between and they all want to play somewhere, so go find them. You only need 13 (and maybe even 12 if you hold a scholarship in your pocket) players. It’s not that hard.

COMPETE

The Big Ten released its conference schedule for the 2018-19 season Thursday, but the remainder of each team’s schedules will be filled in over the next few months.

For a program such as Fort Wayne, which has played Arkansas and Kentucky tough on the road in recent seasons, as well as beaten Indiana in consecutive seasons, finding a game with a high-major opponent will be an arduous task for fifth-year coach Jon Coffman.

But wait, coaches all talk about their “love of competition,” right?

Um, that mostly doesn’t apply when it actually comes to competing. It’s a fear thing.

Programs need to fill their non-league schedule with three criteria:

• televised, national tournaments

• recruit-enhancing games/locales

• intrastate/regional match-ups

There is no reason for Michigan to play Alabama A&M when the Wolverines can just as easily schedule a game with Western Michigan (for example).

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE

In my line of work, and having to deal with college coaches on a daily basis, I am told with great frequency how things HAVE to be done in order to succeed and I’ll be told by many after reading this column that I’m wrong. However, I’ve experienced far too many extraordinary things to believe in limitations.

I was a college swimmer that had a passion for basketball and wanted to coach the latter. So I put in time and effort to learn enough and ultimately was able to do so at both the college and high school levels for a decade.

I attended Butler University when the Bulldogs had 12 season-ticket holders. I later covered the program as it played for a pair of national championships and lost its coach to the Boston Celtics.

You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t succumb to any flood of cynicism and skepticism.

Coaching with fear is something that is prevalent; I’ve seen a lot of that. But just once, I’d really, really like to see the alternative.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

See more from Tom Davis on college basketball

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