Georgia’s basketball talent attracts CELEBRITY coaches

ORLANDO — Jarmal Reid, one of the nation’s top high school basketball players, was tying one of his shoelaces when out of the corner of his eye he saw a man in a light-blue shirt walk by.

A few seconds later, Reid was informed by his AAU teammates on the Atlanta-based Southern Kings U16 — who were so excited that they were nearly out of breath — that they had all just experienced a brush with celebrity. The man in blue was none other than North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams, who took a nearby seat on the front row to be strategically positioned to observe the next game.

“We were all excited … it was like ‘Can you believe that’s Roy Williams? And he’s going to watch us play?’” said Reid, a 6-foot-5 guard-forward who helped lead Columbia High to the Class AAA state championship last season as a sophomore.

“When the game started, I tried as hard as I could not to look in the direction of [Williams]. Then I was talking the ball out of bounds and made eye contact with him. It was like ‘Oh my gosh, that really is Roy Williams.’ It was pretty cool.”

July is the most important month of the year on the NCAA’s basketball recruiting calendar. It’s college basketball’s dog-and-pony show, where celebrity coaches and their peers both stalk and fawn over stars of the future in a traveling circus across the country. Since Thursday, the majority of basketball’s inner circle has paraded around Orlando for the final stretch of the 20-day July evaluation period that ends Saturday.

TubbyAndPearl1

Ex-UGA coach Tubby Smith (now at Minnesota), his son and Minnesota assistant Saul Smith, and Tennessee Bruce Pearl sit together to watch the Georgia Stars AAU Team (Photo by Michael Carvell)

Players are there to be seen, as are coaches. With Georgia’s ever-growing crop of elite recruits, there are so many celebrities spotted at games one would think that the paparazzi was camped out in the gym’s parking lot. Two weeks ago, Kings coach Morris Gordon counted 31 Division I head coaches in the stands, including Williams, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, and Florida’s Billy Donovan. The star attraction was the 6-foot-8 rising junior from Milton High, Evan Nolte, who already has a dozen early scholarship offers, including from Georgia Tech and Georgia.

“You try not to pay attention to it, but you know who is sitting over there in the [NCAA coaches section] because they are so close to court,” Nolte said with a laugh. “It has been a big eye-opener for me this summer. The [older players] tell you avoid awkward eye contact with them, but it’s hard not to take a quick peek over there.”

As Nolte was talking to reporters near the gym entrance Tuesday, he looked up as a North Carolina assistant walked in and — without saying a word — winked. About a minute later, Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt had perfect timing, cruising by in his rental car with the windows rolled down as Nolte stood next to the team bus. Nothing was said, but Nolte noticed.

Florida coach Billy Donovan (AJC photo by Michael Carvell)

Florida coach Billy Donovan (AJC photo by Michael Carvell)

“With the big-name coaches we’ve had at our games this summer, it shows the rest of the country how good basketball is in the state of Georgia,” said Gordon. “When I got to Georgia in 1999, it seemed like the only thing that people talked about was football. But times have changed, thanks to Georgia guys in the NBA like Dwight Howard, Kwame Brown, Randolph Morris, Josh Smith and Louis Williams.

“Football is still big in Georgia and always will be, but basketball is getting stronger every year. It’s really telling when you have all those famous coaches at one team’s games throughout the whole summer. They are there for a reason, and the reason is that Georgia has a lot of great basketball talent.”

The Georgia Stars attracted a star-studded crowd of more than 40 head coaches for Tuesday night’s opener for the AAU U17 Nationals. When Miller Grove High’s Tony Parker, another of the state’s top juniors, caught a rebound and dunked so hard that it shook the rim, Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl and Minnesota’s Tubby Smith — sitting next to each other about 20 feet away — traded a quick glance and smiled.

The annual July tour with club teams trumps the high school season for recruiting because college coaches can evaluate hundreds of prospects in one spot over the two 10-day periods.

The games can be pressure cookers for all parties involved. The high school players view it as an open audition for the college of their dreams. Last July, the rags-to-riches story was Norcross High’s Jeremy Lamb, who was virtually unknown. He was “discovered” on July’s AAU circuit, soared into the top 100 player rankings, and was flooded with scholarship offers. A 6-foot-4 guard, he signed with Connecticut over Georgia and Texas.

This year’s “biggest find” may be Greater Atlanta Christian shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon, who has more than tripled his scholarship offers to 13 after being one of the leading scorers at the Nike Peach Jam.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt (yellow shirt) watches AAU basketball in Orlando (Photo by AJC's Michael Carvell)

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt (yellow shirt) watches AAU basketball in Orlando (Photo by AJC's Michael Carvell)

“Not all the kids may admit it, but I think most of them feel a lot of pressure because these college coaches don’t get a long time to watch them in person,” Milton coach David Boyd said. “The coaches aren’t going to be at every game, so it’s nerve-wracking if you don’t shoot the ball well or play well in one particular game.”

Ironically, with the elite recruits, the biggest pressure is on the coaches. They are aware that the prospects and their parents are taking roll call with coaches. Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, is one of the nation’s most highly regarded guards and mulling over offers from Duke, North Carolina and Florida.

“I bet Austin Rivers doesn’t feel any pressure — it’s the other way around,” Boyd said. “The coaches need to be seen to have a chance. Let’s say [Krzyzewski] and [Donovan] are there, but [Williams] isn’t there for whatever reason. Well, the Duke people are going to use that against Carolina in recruiting Rivers.”

While Rivers was warming up with his Each 1 Teach 1 teammates before the ESPNU-televised championship of Tuesday night’s Super Showcase, Donovan got up from his seat twice to walk along the baseline and talk on his cell. No one knew if the coach really was talking to someone on the other line.

But Rivers was watching.

24 comments Add your comment

POAD

July 29th, 2010
3:19 pm

If you are a great High School BBall player go pro and go to the Developemental league for a year or two. Take the money and keep smoking all the POT you want.

POAD

July 29th, 2010
3:21 pm

If you ain’t first you are jost poking fun in some other guys work.

Dawgs97

July 29th, 2010
3:22 pm

I hope and suspect Mark Fox was in that mix as well. And Fox has done a helluva job already with recruiting.

destin dawg

July 29th, 2010
3:30 pm

UGA FB and BB on a huge upswing in 2010 and beyond !!! I’ll bet Tubby Smith wishes he would have stayed at UGA !! Athens = best college town !! Go Dawgs

Burdell

July 29th, 2010
3:38 pm

Easy to be on an upswing when you’ve been downtrodden…

Paul in RDU

July 29th, 2010
3:41 pm

I would have thought that Mark Fox would have been mentioned if he was seen – and remember, for the coaches, these events are all about visibility.
I am sure that Fox will improve recruiting for UGA, and Hewitt has an OK track record with bringing in talent, but neither of them can compete with the top echelon guys like Ole Roy, Coach K, Calipari and Calhoun. It is a big deal when GT or UGA brings in 1 or 2 McDAA’s, but the top guys have bunches of them on theit benches.

James

July 29th, 2010
4:05 pm

Hewitt has an OK track recruiter really? Dude can recruit…..And yes kentucky lands many McDAA’s but we all know Calpari is slimeball and a cheater and anybody who signs with DUke and UNC is a McDAA reguardless what they’re ranked which is a joke.

AfghanHound

July 29th, 2010
4:42 pm

Why would anybody want to playy bb at UGa, where football is not just king, it’s all there is.

Atl Fan

July 29th, 2010
4:52 pm

Wow Mr. Carvell!! I must really applaud you for your much improved coverage of Ga High School Basketball. Its been the nation’s best kept secret for a while now, but now GA High teams and AAU teams are beginning to flex some muscle on the national scene. This year will be no exception as GA ranks at the top with the number of top 100 players for 2011 and 2012. This makes for a very interesting and competitive hoops season.

ormewood

July 29th, 2010
4:54 pm

The article is about so-called celebrity coaches which to me means coaches from out-of-state who have had major success. K has four NC’s, Williams has two in the last five years, Donovan won two in a row. You simply can’t put Fox in the same sentence as those guys. The point of the article is to illustrate that the talent of the current GA high schoolers is attracting attention from all over the coaching landscape.

Paul in RDU

July 29th, 2010
5:09 pm

Yep James – those UNC and Duke players are overrated. That’s why they have won 4 out of the last 10 NCAA Div 1 championships between them.

jarvis

July 29th, 2010
7:47 pm

POAD…mark it. That’ the first time you’ve made me laugh. That was pretty good.

Athens, Georgia

July 29th, 2010
8:30 pm

————————–
Nesbitt for Heisman
————————–

James

July 29th, 2010
10:04 pm

Paul in RDU you really are dumb. I didn’t say they were all overrated I said that pretty much whoever signs with Duke or UNC is a McDAA reguardless were they were ranked. Do you think Taylor King from Duke or the Wears from UNC should have been McDAA’s? Dummy…..

hoops coach

July 29th, 2010
10:16 pm

As an AAU coach in the Atl area……I can say Paul Hewitt is wasting his and the player time….Because he’s a dead man walking….

ormewood

July 29th, 2010
10:38 pm

James, funny that you mentioned those three guys in particular. They went to the same high school!

Milton dad

July 30th, 2010
12:16 am

Yeah carvy, we banged on you pretty hard last year leading up to – and through – the state playoffs for the paltry coverage of such a baller hotbed right in the ajc backyard. Man, now you’re tearing it up now with good coverage. way to go , dude. keep it up. Its gonna be a rip-roaring year for hoops. Don’t let the footballer skeep you down this fall. Go Milton. c’mon, wheeler, centennial, ncross, all y’all. get it on babay.

Paul in RDU

July 30th, 2010
12:39 am

James – Thanks for the insult – are you always so childish or did you not take your Concerta today? You said – and I copied this from your post, complete with typo and misspelling – “anybody who signs with DUke and UNC is a McDAA reguardless”. Seems to me that you are saying that they are rated highly even though they may not be very good. Or do you have another interpretation of your own words?
So – do you think that Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer, Tyler Hansborough, Ty Lawson, and Wayne Ellington are overrated? As far as the Wears are concerned – we’ll have to see – I don’t think that they were among the best HS SR’s but the other 2 UNC recruits were.

gafan

July 30th, 2010
11:22 pm

UGA and Gtech could easily win a national championship with the in-state talent alone. Thats not only in basketball, but also the sport of football and baseball. The problem is convincing the best talent to stay home.

Katbluefan

July 31st, 2010
3:02 am

JAMES, You can call Coach Cal names but remember, It takes one to know one. Roy Williams/UNC is under NCAA investigation so recruits might want to think before signing with UNC. Give Fox a little time and he will have UGA up and running. Plus beware of Auburn in the next few yrs. they have a very good coach. I believe the SEC basketball is going is greatly improve in the near future

Favors Went to the Wrong School

July 31st, 2010
8:17 am

Hoops Coach, as a UGA fan, I agree with you that Hewitt is walking the thin green line. I hate it because Tech can get in a better coach than him. As UGA basketball has really struggled for the last 8 years post Harrick, it has been fun beating Tech most years while having less talent, just because Hewitt can’t coach.

And I know that every one of the Tech fans that will read this blog will know that Hewitt is gone. You’d have to be a blind loyalist to want to hang on to him. Or an AD who has to pay him $7mm to go away. But it does scare me that Tech could actually attract a guy who can coach because they do have the ACC tradition and the state of Georgia to recruit in.

Carrington

August 4th, 2010
9:58 am

@Katbluefan -Hey….I’m a big time UNC fan, but have not heard about this investigation into Roy Williams. Can you give me some more info on that?

Not trying to ruffle feathers…just a serious question.

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August 24th, 2010
8:59 am

[...] radars, even though his high school coach always felt he was a D-1 talent, until he blew up at the Nike Peach Jam. Afterward, he had 13 total scholarships on the [...]

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September 2nd, 2010
12:21 am

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