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Recruiting enters cyberspace

The feeling is a familiar one. It’s late at night and you’re talking on Instant Messenger. A girl you like is also online, but you’re too nervous and you’re hoping she’ll initiate the conversation.

But instead of being an awkward high-schooler teenager desiring the girl for romantic reasons, you’re a high-powered coach at one of the nation’s top basketball programs, hoping to lure a female athlete to play at your school.

For many college basketball coaches across the country, and especially in the women’s basketball program at Duke, new technologies including Instant Messenger have transformed the recruiting process into a high-tech, around-the-clock operation.

“Recruiting is 24-hours-a-day now,” Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors said. “Text messaging, instant messaging—all of us coaches are online with recruits every single day.”

The Blue Devil coaching staff has designed a schedule to make sure there is always a coach available to talk to recruits at times when they can be reached.

“At the three o’clock hour it really picks up because the kids get out of school,” first-year Duke assistant coach Shannon Perry said. “You’ll see all the names start to pop up. You’re like ‘Okay, here we go.’”

With a coaching staff that includes three assistant coaches, Duke is able to stay years ahead—literally—in recruiting.

Perry oversees recruitment the current high school sophomore class, even though NCAA rules prohibit coaches from initiating contact with players before the spring of their junior year. Perry and other coaches must give their contact information, including screen name and e-mail address, to high school coaches to pass down to perspective players.

“The young kids, like the sophomores and younger, we can’t IM them first. You just hope,” Perry said. “Some of them it’s like ‘please say something.’ You watch them sign on and sign off. And then there are some recruits that you sign on and you’re like ‘Ugh, they caught me.’”

Over the years, recruiting has evolved into a complex system of coaches visiting players, making phone calls and writing letters. There are stringent regulations on the number of times a school can contact a potential recruit, including limits on the frequency of phone calls.

“I know that when I was graduating IM was just beginning, so I never really got that,” current junior forward Mistie Williams said. “It was mostly just a phone call a week, letters, that’s all.”

But for four top-25 recruits Duke signed in November, including New York forward Carrem Gay, these new technologies played an important part in the recruiting process.

“It definitely has improved communication because it’s free and you can get more information that way,” Gay said. “The Internet is open 24/7. Usually when I’m on one of the coaches, like coach [LaVonda] Wagner, is on too.”

Coaches around the ACC disagree on the merits of high-tech communication. North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell regretted the diminishing “personal touch.”

Other coaches, such as Maryland head coach Brenda Frese, believe that although there may be some inequities associated with the process, it can provide more avenue for information.

“It’s had a huge impact, especially with female prospective student-athletes,” Frese said. “That’s how they communicate.”

Electronic recruiting has yet to come under the full jurisdiction of the NCAA. It is on the docket for discussion this spring because the process has become more difficult for smaller coaching staffs.

“I think it gives a huge advantage to the schools that can afford it,” Goestenkors said. “You need the staff available to sit online and talk to these players.”

The NCAA will vote on legislation that could ban some or all electronic communication used during recruiting this spring. Goestenkors said although Duke has the resources to use technology to its advantages, she is in favor of banning its use because of inequities.

Until the NCAA begins to regulate, though, coaches will continue to sit by their computers, waiting for that “ping,” as Goestenkors described it, hoping for a chance to edge in on bringing that girl to Duke.


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