Relationships help men’s basketball recruitment

Relationships help men’s basketball recruitment

Relationships help men’s basketball recruitment
November 25
00:16 2014

Scott Sidway / Staff Writer

When a high school student is choosing his or her university, a handful of determining factors come into play. Location, prestige, opportunity to succeed, professors in a student’s intended major and employment rate are just a few.

But with college athletics, there is one additional factor that plays a huge role throughout the recruitment process.

“Relationships,” said North Texas men’s basketball head coach Tony Benford. “In anything, with recruiting or in life, it’s always about building relationships.”

Since taking over as head coach in 2012, Benford has brought in 11 players who either hailed from the Lone Star state or played in the state of Texas the previous season. One of the biggest reasons for the influx of local talent is Benford and his staff’s deep ties in the area.

“We’ve got really good relationships in this area,” Benford said. “I’ve been recruiting in this area for a long time.  [Associate head] coach [Rob] Evans has been in this area for a long time. We’re just having success with in-state kids.”

When a school successfully recruits a highly sought after talent, there is often a ripple effect in the following years. Benford said landing high quality local recruits over the past few seasons helps the Mean Green going forward.

“When you get a kid like Jeremy Combs and you’ve got local kids like T.J. Taylor and Jordan Williams, kids are attracted to that,” Benford said. “And then with the high school coaches and AAU coaches in the area, we’ve got really good relationships with them.”

Assistant coach Scott Monarch also has in-state connections, having coached at Panola Junior College and Tyler Junior College, while Evans has been recruiting in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for over 40 years.  Evans said one of the most important aspects of recruiting is starting sooner rather than later.

“You’ve got to start recruiting early. At the least, you’ve got to start following the kid and let him know that you’re interested in him,” Evans said. “If you get in on a kid when he’s a senior, then it’s just too late because he’s already got his six or seven schools he’s interested in.”

Freshman guard Greg White-Pittman was the exception to the rule for the Mean Green. White-Pittman said he did not start hearing from North Texas until his senior year of high school.

“It was funny. UNT came out of the blue,” White-Pittman said. “I had decommitted from Tulane my senior year of high school, and I think it was after the season they started recruiting me. I started hearing from them every day. And when I took my visit, that’s how it happened.”

In addition to White-Pittman and Combs, North Texas has already added a couple of high-profile high school recruits for next season. Center Rickey Brice of Pantego Christian Academy in Arlington and point guard Ja’Michael Brown of Pro-Vision Academy in San Antonio have already signed their letters of intent to play for the Mean Green in 2015.

Brice was ranked the 23rd-best senior in the state of Texas by Texashoops.com after averaging 15.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game his junior year and is North Texas’ first 7-foot signee since 1994. Benford said Brice’s athleticism matches his system and his size fits a need for the team.

“[He’s] a mobile big that has skill,” Benford said. “He’s a big that can score inside or outside too, and he can run the floor. So things will change next year.”

Recruiting a talent of Brice’s caliber is a multi-year process that requires persistence and patience. Evans received praise from Benford for the recruitment of the 7-footer and said that North Texas had a lot of competition courting him.

“That was a tough process with Rickey because Rickey was being recruited by a lot of big-time schools,” Evans said. “We knew we had to get it done early, because if we didn’t get him in the early signing period, it was really going to get thick.”

One factor that has helped Benford compete in a market that routinely produces professional basketball players is North Texas’ affiliation with Conference USA.  In addition to playing stronger teams every season, Benford said that being in C-USA gives the team more exposure to recruits.

“We’re playing more TV games now, so people are watching us,” Benford said. “I get people that call us all the time and say, ‘Hey, I’m watching you guys on TV,’ so that really helps.”

Benford said his long-term goal in recruiting is striking a balance between young guys and upperclassmen.

“Our class is finally getting balanced. You don’t want to have six or seven seniors. You want to have a balance of three or four,” Benford said. “We’ve got some good young players in our program, and our future looks really good.”

Featured Image: Men’s basketball head coach Tony Benford stands courtside as the team takes on Arkansas-Monticello University on Nov. 14. Photo by Harris Buchanan – Staff Photographer

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