By Jesse Wolfersberger: Freedom Newspapers
When Portales senior Morgan Hill received a letter from Navy in August, she didn’t think much of it.
“You get a zillion letters (from colleges),” she said.
Later on, a phone call let her know that it wasn’t just any letter.
“After we talked a couple of times,” Hill said, “they were asking when they could visit me and (have) me visit them.”
Navy head coach Tom Marryott visited Hill and her family in Portales and flew Hill to Navy’s campus for an official visit.
Hill knew if they were going to fly from Annapolis, Md., to Portales, and pay for her to go visit their campus, they were serious. Hill signed with Navy during the volleyball season, shortly after her visit.
Hill’s journey is typical for how a college fills its roster and how a prep player moves to the next level.
Navy women’s assistant coach Matt Dempsey saw Hill at a national Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament last summer.
“We were looking for a mobile post player who could defend,” Dempsey said. “I really liked what I saw. We think she’s going to be a great player.”
At 6-foot-1 with long arms, Hill’s defensive presence has helped Portales win two state titles in the last three years — success Navy originally was not aware of.
Dempsey said during the summer, Division I coaches fly all over the country to scout tournaments and look for talent. He said the tournaments provide information about the players and coaches use that and the games to target players.
“We know where we’re going to be every day of the recruiting period,” he said. “You’re not just looking for the best player, but the right player for the program. Each program is different.”
Eastern New Mexico women’s coach Dan Buzard said he and his staff compile a list of possible recruits, though that list is largely from New Mexico and neighboring states.
“We have a network of coaches that we trust,” Buzard said. “We’ll tell them what we’re looking for, and they help us out. From that, we make a list of ‘A’ players, ‘B’ players, and ‘C’ players.”
When scouting a player, Dempsey said he relies on instinct.
“I’ve been coaching for 20 years, so I know when a player has, for example, good hands,” Dempsey said. “It’s not always how many points you score, but how you move, if you are ‘active,’ as we call it.”
Buzard says he likes to scout while incognito.
“A lot of times, if they know you’re coming they try to impress you and they get out of their game,” Buzard said. “I look for poise on the court. Are they rattled? Do they play D? Do they play with heart or do they just go through the motions?”
ENMU men’s coach Shawn Scanlan said his priority while scouting is to see if a player has natural abilities.
“There are three things you can’t coach; quickness, size, and athleticism,” he said. “Those things are very tangible and very crucial. You can have everything else, but if you don’t have those things, you are starting from behind before the game even starts.”
Scanlan said, save a few exceptions, a player can not survive in today’s college game with just smarts and a big heart.
“The game has changed. When I was a high school senior, we had a 6-(foot)-3 post and we thought he was huge,” he said. “Now, if you don’t have above-the-rim players, you can’t compete.”
Howard College women’s coach Earl Diddle has coached and recruited on a variety of levels for more than 30 years, including a 10-year stint as head coach of the Greyhounds. He also said the game has changed, and because of that he looks for two things before any athletic factors come into play.
“One, they have to be academically capable. Two, they have to be coachable and have a good family background,” Diddle said. “Years ago that was a given, but today that better be on your checklist. You better know a little about mom and dad.”
Diddle said there is no question in his mind why basketball has changed in recent years. He said the AAU, which sponsors summer leagues for prep players, has thrown basketball into a tailspin of declining fundamentals and delusional parents.
“The parents have completely lost their minds,” he said. “They’ve completely lost their minds about how good their kids are.”
Diddle said because players are on AAU teams that travel all summer, most parents think their kids are better than they actually are.
Also, Diddle blames the AAU for declining fundamentals in the prep, college, and the NBA.
“I was going to write a book in 1980 called ‘The decay of the game,’” he said. “I would have been some kind of visionary. … (Fundamentals) aren’t dead, but it’s on the emergency table with those paddles on it.”
Scanlan agrees with Diddle about how the AAU has negatively affected the quality of basketball.
“When you play seven games in a day, what’s the value of a loss?” he said. “You don’t have hard losses because losing becomes something that just happens. There were good intentions (when the AAU started), but it’s gone crazy.”
Scanlan said the players are not to blame for the prominence of the AAU, and that it is the best avenue for a prep player looking to get a scholarship.
After all, without the AAU, what are the odds a player from Portales would be playing for a Division-I school in Maryland next spring?
PNT Staff Writer Kevin Wilson contributed to this story.