University of Maine men’s basketball coach Richard Barron, like other college coaches, is prohibited from visiting in person with high school recruits through the end of May because of NCAA rules designed to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Ariana van den Akker/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Richard Barron, the men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine, wants to see high school recruits in person. That way, he gets to see how the player reacts in different game situations and how he interacts with others.

“I’ve stopped recruiting kids because I saw the way they talked to their parents after games,” he said. “I’ve also continued to recruit kids because I saw how they got water for their teammates when they came out of the game, how they cheered on others. That type of stuff, you don’t see on film.”

For now, all Barron can do is watch film. On April 1, the NCAA extended its recruiting dead period for Division I and II sports through May 31 because of the coronavirus outbreak. The dead period  originally went into effect March 13 – a day after the NCAA canceled its winter championships and spring seasons – and was supposed to end this week.

The dead period prohibits any in-person recruiting, in-home visits or official on-campus visits. Coaches can still call, text, write or communicate with recruits via FaceTime or other virtual chats.

For college coaches, it means watching a lot of film, talking to a lot of high school or club team coaches, and reaching out to recruits more often.

“Let them know, we’re with you, we understand what you’re going through,” said Amy Vachon, the women’s basketball coach at UMaine. “We’re reaching out because we’re all in this together.”

For high school recruits, the recruiting dead period means they cannot make official campus visits, often the final step in a selection process that can be overwhelming at times.

“I’m trying to determine whether it’s critical to go on a visit to a school or not,” said Kennebunk High junior Emily Archibald, one of the state’s top girls’ basketball recruits who is looking to play at the Division I level.

“I know you get a better feeling if you do, I’ve heard about that feeling, just getting to see the campus overall and how the students interact and if you can see yourself there, if you can fit in there. Unfortunately, right now I can’t.”

Kennebunk High junior Emily Archibald, left, is one of the state’s top girls’ basketball recruits. She has had several on-campus visits canceled because of the NCAA’s recruiting dead period. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Archibald had several visits scheduled, but they’ve been canceled. She’s not alone. Evan van Lonkhuyzen, a junior soccer player at Yarmouth High, was scheduled to make several campus visits during the April vacation week.

“I have to kind of rethink those schools now,” he said. “If you can’t visit until next fall, and that’s the first time you meet the coach, maybe that’s not the right way to go.”

In soccer, high school players often attend camps on college campuses. They pay to participate in a camp run by a college soccer coach, hoping to catch his or her attention. Those camps are usually held starting in June, but that’s unlikely to happen this year. So van Lonkhuyzen has much to take into consideration now when looking at colleges.

“If I do get an offer from one school,” he said, “but want to wait until August or September to visit another school, maybe you don’t have that offer anymore.”

SOCIAL DISTANCING TAKES ON NEW MEANING

Recruiting by film has always been a part of college sports. Nick Charlton, the University of Maine football coach, said the Black Bears offered scholarships to wide receivers Earnest Edwards – who could be selected in the upcoming NFL draft – and Devin Young based on what was seen on film.

But, said Charlton, “There are certain positions it’s more important to see in person, like quarterback. If I, personally, or Coach (Andrew) Dresner or one of our other coaches haven’t seen a kid throw live, it’s hard to say he’s our guy.”

Not being able to go on the road, said Charlton, means the team has “to do a better job evaluating off film and developing better relationships with these kids. We have to FaceTime more, Zoom more, talk to their high school coaches more. It’s certainly going to change some things.”

The NCAA recruiting dark period is especially challenging for UMaine because of its status as the northeastern-most Division I school in the nation. “For us, the challenge is typically getting (recruits) to come up here, then understanding where we are and what we have,” says Nick Charlton, Maine’s football head coach. “Once they’re here, the place sells itself.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The biggest issue with the dead period may be the lack of campus visits. With UMaine being geographically challenged – the northeastern-most Division I school in the nation – it is imperative to get recruits on campus.

“I would say 85 percent of the kids who come up here on campus official visits end up coming to Maine,” said Charlton, who had visits canceled for several potential transfers. “For us, the challenge is typically getting them to come up here, then understanding where we are and what we have. Once they’re here, the place sells itself.”

Maine baseball coach Nick Derba also had plans to bring in several recruits for visits, including some transfers. Now he must wait.

“Geography is always an issue for us,” he said. “(The dead period) poses an obstacle to every school, but especially for us, it adds another layer.”

Now, said Derba, “We’re re-establishing relationships, or continuing to further relationships, with players we’ve already seen. We’re gathering names and videos and we’re getting our recruiting boards to a point where, when we can get out to actually see some players, we’ll have a larger list of names we can devote our time to.”

If college coaches can’t get to watch players, and if the players can’t visit campuses, there’s only one way to evaluate them: “We’re watching film, maybe doing more of it,” said Vachon. “We have more time to do it.”

And by film, they don’t mean the highlight clips every high school player has on the internet. “Everyone looks good (on those),” said Barron. “That’s why they’re called highlights.”

Barron said coaches have to watch film of several complete games. And even then, he said, it’s sometimes hard to gauge things.

“When you watch them in person, you see their size, the level of competition, you’re able to evaluate better,” said Barron. “It’s much harder to do that on film.”

But every coach has to deal with that now. “It increases the level of uncertainty for everybody,” Barron said. “And how you deal with that uncertainty will have big ramifications in the end result.”

High school recruits face that uncertainty, too. Hampden Academy senior Bryce Lausier, the Maine Mr. Basketball winner and Varsity Maine Player of the Year, recently accepted a scholarship offer from NCAA Division II St. Anselm, a school he was unable to visit.

“There was a lot of recruitment over the phone,” he said. “It was tough from a recruiting standpoint, but I’m fortunate they made me an offer. I felt maybe I could have gotten a few more (offers). But I think St. A’s is the best situation for me. I had a good conversation with the coach. I talked to some people who went there.

“I definitely would have wanted to get on campus, to see what it’s about, but in the current situation, I couldn’t. So I went with my gut feeling.”

Greely High senior Logan Bagshaw has received a scholarship offer from Division I McNeese State. But for now, he can only take a virtual tour of the campus. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Greely High senior Logan Bagshaw is facing the same thing. He was able to make a couple campus visits before they were shut down. He recently received a basketball scholarship offer from Division I McNeese State, but he won’t be able to visit the campus in Lake Charles, Louisiana, until at least June.

“It’s definitely a lot harder, because you can’t meet the coach in person,” said Bagshaw, who also has a scholarship offer from Division II Southern Connecticut. “McNeese State, that’s Division I. That’s pretty awesome. I took a virtual tour, they told me how much they want me. That’s cool, because I really want to go to a school that wants me.”

Biddeford High junior Abby Allen is getting scholarship offers from several Division I schools to play field hockey. She can’t visit the schools, so she’s taking virtual tours, looking at rosters and finding out about the coaches.

“I am a little stressed about it,” she said. “I know there are a lot of other juniors going through it, too, but it’s stressful. I know everyone is going to get through it. It’s crazy.”

Sure, high school athletes can take virtual campus tours. But as Kennebunk’s Archibald said, they’re similar to a player’s highlight video. “They always show the school when it’s nice and sunny and green grass,” she said.

NO EYES ON HIGH SCHOOL, CLUB TEAMS

The spring and early summer are important times for club basketball players and high school spring sports athletes. But the club season has been shut down, and its early showcase events have been canceled. In Maine, the high school spring sports season was canceled on Thursday because of the pandemic. Many early summer baseball and softball showcases have been called off, too.

College coaches are often seen at high school playoff games in the spring. This year, they have lost that opportunity.

University of Southern Maine baseball Coach Ed Flaherty: “It’s the (high school) kids who are juniors who are getting hurt most by this. If you’re a junior, and thinking (Division I schools), you might not get seen.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“For me, it really hurts,” said University of Southern Maine baseball coach Ed Flaherty. “I’m predominantly a Maine guy. I want Maine kids. And I rely on some of those games, some of the showcases at the end of the year, the state tournament games, to zero in on juniors.

“And right now, it’s the kids who are juniors who are getting hurt most by this. If you’re a junior, and thinking (Division I schools), you might not get seen. Even guys like me won’t see them. You might see them eventually in the summer, but you won’t see them as much.”

In basketball, club coaches are being asked repeatedly for evaluations and film. “I think college coaches have to trust the club and high school coaches more than they have,” said Brian Clement, a coach for the Maine Firecrackers girls’ basketball program.

“They are probably going to have to rely on the opinions of people who have seen a player and worked with her in practice every day. Unfortunately, there are going to be some good players who are not going to get recruited at the same level they were before.”

Robert Pilsbury, the director of Blue Wave basketball in Portland, said he has talked to 16 college coaches and is pushing his players. “I’m letting them know these kids can play,” he said. “It’s harder for college coaches now because everyone is transferring.”

Pilsbury said losing the showcases hurts Maine basketball players looking to play in college. “We don’t have many scholarship players to begin with,” he said. “So this period, in April, was important for them. It’s tough.”

Barron, at UMaine, said college coaches are scouring the NCAA transfer portal more aggressively. “The recruiting starts first looking at other schools,” he said. “Who’s leaving? Who’s the best Division II player who wants to play Division I? How people recruit the transfer market, where there’s a little more certainty in ability, affects high school recruits. Sometimes in times of uncertainty, it’s a standard you can trust more. This year’s unsigned senior class is who it hurts.”

Barron noted you may see high school seniors signing without going on campus, then transferring after one year.

No matter how the recruiting is done, UMaine’s Charlton said college coaches are going to have to rely on their instincts.

“Everybody is dealing with the same situation,” he said. “It’s what we’ve got to do. One thing I learned from Joe (Harasymiak, his predecessor), you go with your gut. You know when a guy fits our culture and what we’ve built.”


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