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October 14, 2009

Top prospects require coaches to travel

Like numerous high school seniors, Tobias Harris knows he wants to go to college. He just doesn't know where.

Harris is receiving a lot of input as he tries to make his decision; indeed, college representatives are visiting him to help narrow his choices.

That's what happens when you're the nation's best high school power forward, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound hybrid who can handle the ball, rebound, run the floor and score from anywhere on the court.

Harris, from Glen Head (N.Y.) Half Hollow Hills West, is the No. 5-ranked player in the 2010 recruiting class, and he and his dad, Torrel, scheduled 11 in-home visits from college coaches as Tobias attempts to make his college choice. The high number of visits was just the right amount for Harris, who said they were necessary to figure out which schools would fit him best.

All the schools want Harris, and with him requesting the home visits the ball is in his court - so to speak. He has the leverage and is using it to his advantage.

Harris admits that 11 was an extremely high number of visits, but in his case, it was necessary because he is torn on where to go.

The home visits have worked so well for his son that Torrel Harris says he would advise all top prospects to do the same thing. He describes the atmosphere as a "business meeting."

"Everything starts to get real serious about a school when you have a home visit," Torrel Harris says. "That coach is laying out his plan. You have major discussions going on, major questions going on, coaches answering questions."

In that sense, in-home visits can empower the prospect and his family.

"As a parent, you're literally on home turf when a coach comes into your house," says Memphis assistant Willis Wilson, a former head coach at Rice. "The advantages of that are comfort and familiarity, and that can breed confidence to ask questions in another environment you might not want to ask.

"It's still a recruiting pitch [by the coaches], but you have an opportunity to interject, slow the pace, quicken the pace, change the topic, things you can't do over the phone or when you're on an unofficial visit or in a coach's office."

Prospects are allowed just five official campus visits, so the coaches involved in the Harris recruitment knew there was a good chance Harris would not even visit their school. But skipping the in-home visit likely would have meant the school had no chance at signing Harris. It seems like the number of in-home visits coaches are making are on the rise.

"I don't remember it ever being like this," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer says. "A lot of coaching staffs are getting run ragged. If you don't do the in-home visit, you're automatically eliminating yourself.

"It's basically, 'If you want to recruit me, then do an in-home visit with me.' "

From the prospect's point of view, Harris sees no downside to scheduling in-home visits. The visits helped him narrow his list of schools to Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Syracuse, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore, who spent more than a decade as an assistant at Connecticut, says spending time in living rooms can be beneficial not only for the player, but also the coaches. Moore says it helps coaches see players in their natural environment, including how they talk to their parents. Coaches know about the prospect as a player; in-home visits can give coaches a thorough glimpse of what kind of person they're recruiting, Moore says.

Harris isn't the only top 2010 recruit taking this route. For instance, during a week in late September, Portland (Ore.) Jefferson forward Terrence Jones scheduled five in-home visits - with coaches from Oklahoma, Kentucky, Maryland, Arizona and Kansas - in a span of six days.

Wolfeboro (N.H.) Brewster Academy's Jason Smith is a coach who hammers home the theme that relationships matter most in recruiting. Getting to know the coaches is key.

"A majority of the kids I've dealt with - they've always selected a school based on the relationship with a head coach and the coaching staff," Smith said. "Very rarely have we had a kid who picked a particular school because of campus life or anything else."

That aspect of recruiting could make in-home visits even more important. Coaches love wooing recruits during football weekends on campus, but more players and their families now initially want coaches to travel to their place before any official visits are set.

"The trend I'm seeing is that prospects and their parents - and people around them, handlers, people guiding them through the process - are becoming more savvy to the recruiting game and more aware of the leverage they hold," Meyer said.

Harris says having the coach come to him, rather than vice versa, is a good way to narrow the field. It also is empowering for highly recruited players. The top prospects are beginning to understand that they have a great deal of leverage in the recruiting situation.

"The in-home visits are a good idea because if you get the coaches in your house, it's a kind of uncomforting situation for them," Harris says. "If the home visits go well, it gets you on their campus."





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