Should I Hit the Recruiting Trail?

Your life as a college basketball coach used to be fairly easy, since it was based on just one principle—get the most talented players. A few months every year, you and your army of assistants and scouts would comb the country, looking high and low for the best players, and convincing them that your program was where they belonged. And even if recruiting didn’t go your way one year, you could expect that that the players you did get would be a part of your program for three or four years. Well, times have certainly changed. You still have to go recruiting, but the allure of playing big time college basketball for four years has faded. At first, your players started leaving for the NBA before they graduated, some as early as their sophomore years. And then, elite high school players decided that they didn’t need to go to college at all, going straight into the pros. To try and revitalize the college game, the NBA passed the “one and done” rule in 2005, requiring that its players be one year removed from high school graduation. But this made your job even tougher—even though the best high school players came to play for you, they only stayed one season. This left your program with little continuity and stability. What’s worse, you were left with little margin for error—if you didn’t recruit well each and every year, your team would be quickly passed by the competition. There have been a number of basketball programs that have found success using a completely different approach to team building. Rather than aiming for top talent that might be at school for two years, if lucky, coaches at smaller, lesser-known schools, often called the “mid-majors,” recruit lesser-known, complementary, role-players who have little ambitions for the pros and will likely be a part of the team for four years. And even though these coaches won’t be working with the next Michael Jordan, many have created cohesive teams that have had great success. Gonzaga University has made the NCAA tournament every year since 1999, while Xavier University has reached the “dance” every year since 2001. George Mason reached the “Final Four” in 2006, while Butler University made it all the way to the championship game in 2010. It’s not just that these teams are lucky. They’re the product of an approach to team building that emphasizes cohesion, cooperation, and commitment to the team. 1. What are advantages and disadvantages of each type of team? 2. If you were to decide on the superstar-player approach, how would you deal with the instability within your organization? 3. If you were to take the team/role-player approach, what steps would you take to help the team, its members, and outsiders deal with the perceived lack of talent?

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