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House hunting and recruiting

This is part two in the College Recruiting Guide series.

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The Florida State University basketball team is currently enjoying one of its best seasons in years. The Seminoles (22-6, 10-5 ACC) currently sit at #19 in the AP poll and are in a four way tie for second place in the ACC which most onlookers consider to be the best conference in the nation.The Noles are currently considered by most bracketologists to be a #3 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

As with most programs that experience success, the Noles can thank an uptick in recruiting for their improvement on the hardwood this season. FSU signed the 11th best class in the nation in 2015 according to 247Sports. Coach Leonard Hamilton and his staff followed up that success in 2016 with a class ranked 12th nationally by 247. Those two classes have provided eight players who are all averaging at least nine minutes per game for the Seminoles this year. It is safe to say that those classes are providing the backbone for an FSU team that has the tools to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.

The Noles have not rested on their laurels on the recruiting trail. FSU has recruited a class in 2017 that is currently ranked #17 by 247 and there are still a couple of big fish left that the Seminoles hope to reel in. FSU is battling Georgia Tech, UCLA and Maryland for the signature of 5* guard M.J. Walker. They are also in the final four (UNC, Duke and Kentucky) for 5* FSU legacy forward Kevin Knox, Jr. If the Noles were able to snag either player it would be the third year in a row that FSU would have a class that included a 5* player. This would be the longest such streak in the Leonard Hamilton era.

Since the Seminoles are doing so well on the recruiting trail, it seems like a good time for the second installment in my recruiting series. You can read the first installment here.

You may be wondering why the picture at the top of this article is of a house for sale. Now is the time for a bit of a confession. I am a fan of the HGTV program House Hunters. In my defense, I'm currently building a house and my mother suggested that I watch the show to get ideas for my house. In the spirit of full disclosure I have to admit that while I am still watching the show for ideas, I have developed into a true fan and I will probably continue to watch even after my house is finished and I move in.

So, how the heck is House Hunters connected to recruiting? It isn't directly but the themes that run through a House Hunter episode are strikingly similar to the themes that run through the recruitment of a major college athlete. The hunters are similar to the recruits in that they have to make a choice. The current owners of the houses are like the coaches in that they want the recruits or the hunters to choose their school or house. The house tours are analogous to recruiting trips.

All of the House Hunters episodes follow a typical format. The episode begins by letting the viewer know in what city the hunters live. Next we meet the hunters (it's almost always a couple). The couple introduces themselves and they tell the story of how they met. After a little more background they tell us their wishlist for the house they want to buy. After that we find out their budget. Then we meet their realtor and the house tours begin. The realtor shares basic information (price, square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.) before each house tour. In each episode the hunters tour three houses. After the tours the hunters discuss the pros and cons of each house and then they choose which one they want to buy.

Part of the fun of the show is trying to predict which house they will choose. I almost always get it wrong. The reason is the same reason that it is often hard to predict recruiting. We are on the outside of the process and therefore we are dealing with imperfect and incomplete information. We accompany the hunters on the tours but since it's only a 30 minute show we only see a few minutes of each tour. In other words we get some information but not nearly as much information as the hunters receive. This is similar to a recruiting trip. We know when and where the recruit is taking the trip but we don't get to go on it with him. Therefore we don't have as much information on each school as the recruit does.

Also, we don't know the order of the preferences. In other words, we don't know what is most important to either a recruit or to the house hunters. One of the big points made on the House Hunters show is that there is no perfect house so the couples must make compromises. They never get everything that they have on their wishlist. Recruiting is similar. Through interviews we get a sense of what is on a recruit's wishlist but there are no perfect schools so compromises must be made. In recruiting and on House Hunters, we don't know what those compromises will be until the end of the process.

Finally, there is one huge piece of information about the recruiting process that we rarely (if ever) see beforehand and that is the nature of the relationship between the recruit and the coaches or school. Relationships are the most important factor in recruiting and we know precious little about that until the recruit makes his decision. To be sure, we know that a recruit likes the coaches at each school on his list otherwise they wouldn't be on the list in the first place. However, we don't know how much the recruit likes the coaches or the school (relative to the other schools on the list) and that can make a huge difference. If you really click with the coaching staff at a school it can often override any negatives that the school brings to the table. This dynamic happens on House Hunters in nearly every episode. The chosen house will not be perfect. It will suffer from some defect (maybe it's too small or not open concept or it doesn't have hardwood floors etc.) but the hunters will overlook that because they feel a connection to the house.

FSU is hoping that Knox and Walker feel that connection in Tallahassee.

Recruiting Update

Knox appeared on ESPN's Recruiting Nation last night. Host Matt Schick asked him for a negative about each school that he was considering. He deftly deflected the question by saying that he doesn't really look for negatives. He pivoted to what he looks for in a school. He listed style of offense and defense, team personnel and how the school runs in transition. The news from the interview is that he is pushing back his announcement to mid April. This is at least the second time that he has pushed back his decision date.

What does that mean for FSU? It's hard to say. Remember that we are dealing with imperfect information. However, it does indicate that Knox is at least a bit conflicted and that his mind is not made up. Conventional wisdom has him going to Duke but that is primarily because most 5* players in Knox's position would choose Duke. I will explain in much more detail in a future post why blue bloods have such an advantage in recruiting but they definitely do have an advantage. Therefore, when a blue blood like Duke is recruiting a player for so long and makes him such an obvious priority they tend to land that player. The conventional wisdom is reflecting this dynamic. It is not reflecting anything personal to Knox because he is not revealing much about his decision making publicly. In other words, Knox may be the exception. Time will tell.

Regarding FSU, if the conventional wisdom is correct that Duke leads, it is probably better for him to wait because each day that goes by without a decision is another day for him to change his mind in favor of the Noles.

Knox is finished with his official visits. His father recently commented on his son's recruitment.

Keeping in mind Knox's timetable for a decision of mid April, here are some important dates on the recruiting calendar. The regular (late) signing period for basketball begins on Apr 12 and ends on May 17.

NBA dates matter because, as I discussed in my first article, top recruits are interested in the roster of the team that they will be joining. The rosters will be determined in part by who enters the draft early and who stays in college. Here are the relevant dates from the NBA:

Draft Combine:  May 9-14

Draft Lottery: May 16

NBA Draft Early Entry Entrant Withdrawal Deadline: June 12

Another important date on the calendar is the McDonald's All-American Game scheduled for March 29. All of the top players will be there and every year the uncommitted players are heavily lobbied by their committed peers to join their teams. Knox (East team) and Walker (West team) will be playing in the game. In the best case scenario for FSU fans the two players will get together and decide to play for the only school on both of their lists (FSU). While this scenario is unlikely, fortune did smile on FSU two years ago when Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley got together on the All-Star circuit and made a similar pact. Could lightning strike twice? FSU fans sure hope so.