Cal Basketball: Coronavirus Delivers a Blow to Recruiting in a Critical Summer

Photo by Eric Albrecht, USA Today

Jeff Faraudo

For just the second time, Mark Fox was home this summer for his daughter’s birthday. That includes the day Olivia arrived in the world 18 years ago, which her dad missed.

It’s a staple of the college basketball calendar, where coaches are tied up every July, criss-crossing the country for tournaments and camps that display elite high school prospects. It’s the biggest recruiting month of the year, and attendance is not optional.

“I love the July evaluations,” Fox said this week. “That’s really important to us. All coaches would tell you, that’s something we really missed.

“That’s critical to be able to evaluate young players. To be able to see them compete. To see their physical skills. To really be able to measure their frame. To see how the react if they miss a shot. To see what kind of teammate they are. To see how quick they are in person, how powerful they are.

“All the things you evaluate. To not have that has really been missed.”

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the busiest month of the college basketball offseason. High-level tournaments were canceled and access to watch prospects was gone.

Fox says those in-person evaluations in sweaty gymnasiums gave way this summer to video study and Zoom calls. It’s a poor substitute, he says.

“That can give you an idea, but it’s not the real thing. It’s not in person and you don’t see a lot of them peripheral things you evaluate,” he said. “It’s a challenge for everybody. We’re all trying to navigate that the best we can.”

It’s not just that coaches can’t go to the prospects, but the players cannot make campus visits. And it’s not entirely clear when that will change.

The NCAA announced on Aug. 12 that the recruiting dead period has been extended. Again. As in for the fifth time since the pandemic exploded in March.

Here is their statement from last week

"The dead period has been in place since March and is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The (Division I) Council took feedback from coaching associations in making its decision, and most coaching groups recommended the extension through at least Sept. 30. The full Council will consider the dead period again in September.”

During a dead period, coaches are not allowed face-to-face contact with prospects or their parents, and cannot visit their high schools. And prospects are banned from making college campus visits.

“It’s dead, it’s dead, it’s dead another month,” Fox lamented. “There’s even been talk of moving the signing date. I feel bad for the prospects.

“They need to be able to interact with their future coaches. They need to be able to see the campus. To be able to meet their teammates and really spend time with them so they get a great feel for, `OK, this is the environment I’m going to spend the next four years of my life.’ “

Fox worries that both for prospects and coaches, mistakes could be made.

“It’s really been a very different world in recruiting, for sure.”

Cal, with three seniors on its roster, expects to use three scholarships for the class of 2021. The Bears have no commitments so far, but four other Pac-12 programs also have yet to land a prospect. And four more have just one player verbally committed.

Fox isn’t feeling sorry for himself.

“I’m thankful for the challenges we’re trying to navigate. I try to wake up every day and realize most people would be glad to have my challenges in life,” he said. “We can figure all this out. We all have frustrations. There’s some silver linings along the way.”

One of them was getting to spend time with his daughter on her birthday.

Asked how they celebrated, Fox suggested the pandemic limited their options.

“What can you do? You cook a hamburger in the backyard,” he said. “But I was present. That part was good.”

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Here’s a look at eight top high school prospects the Bears are pursuing, according to recruiting websites 247Sports and Rivals:

Hunter Sallis: Rated No. 11 nationally by Rivals, No. 19 by 247Sports, Sallis is a 6-5 point guard from Millard North High in Omaha, Nebraska. Cal has offered, but most expect Sallis to go with Kansas.

Daron Holmes: No. 30 overall by Rivals, No. 37 by 247Sports, the 6-8 power forward from Montverde, Academy in Florida has Cal on his list, but also some serious compettion, including Kansas, Arizona, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Oregon and USC.

Bryce Hopkins: Slotted No. 33 by 247Sports, No. 34 overall by Rivals, Hopkins is a 6-6 small forward from Fenwick High in Oak Park, Illinois. He reportedly de-committed from Louisville earlier this month, and now may wind up at Kentucky. Cal is the only Pac-12 school that appears on his list.

Jahmai Mashack: No consensus on Mashack, who is rated No. 48 overall by Rivals, No. 96 by 247Sports. The 6-4 shooting guard from Etiwanda High has a long list of potential schools: Tennessee, Arizona, Colorado, Louisville, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Cal.

Ben Gregg: Rated No. 59 by 247Sports and No. 73 overall by Rivals, the 6-9 power forward from Clackamas High in Oregon has offers from both in-state Pac-12 schools, along with Cal, Arizona, USC and Texas.

Obinna Anyanwu: No. 89 national by Rivals, No. 120 by 247Sports, Obinna is a 6-7 power forward from Cathedral Catholic High in San Diego, who apparently is leaning heavily toward USC. Cal, Arizona, ASU, Oklahoma and Texas also have offered.

Ty Ty Washington Jr.: Ranked No. 73 by 247Sports, No. 99 overall by Rivals, Washington is a 6-4 point guard from Compass Prep in Phoenix. Cal may be a long shot here, against Maryland, Creighton, Oklahoma, USC, Auburn, Ole Miss and hometown ASU.

Wilhelm Breidenbach: No, 92 by 247Sports, No. 130 by Rivals, the 6-9 center from Mater Dei in Santa Ana apparently has strong academic chops. He’s drawn interest from Cal, Stanford and Vanderbilt, but may be thinking Nebraska.

And six that got away:

Jaden Hardy: Rated No. 5 overall by Rivals and 247Sports, Hardy is a 6-4 shooting guard from Coronado High in Henderson, Nevada. He picked Kentucky.

Nathan Bittle: No. 9 by 247Sports, No. 18 overall by Rivals, Bittle is a 6-11 center from Central Point, Oregon. Consensus is he’s staying home to play for Oregon.

Peyton Watson: No. 16 overall by Rivals, No. 17 by 247Sports, the 6-7, small forward from Long Beach Poly picked UCLA from a list that also included Arizona, Arizona State, Michigan, USC and Cal.

Reese Dixon-Waters: No. 46 overall by Rivals, No. 45 by 247Sports, the 6-4 shooting guard from St. Bernard High of Playa del Rey picked USC back in March after also getting offers from Cal and Stanford.

Jackson Grant: Rated No. 60 overall by Rivals, No. 55 by 247Sports, Grant is a 6-9 center from Olympia High in Olympia, Washington. He picked hometown Washington after also fielding offers from Cal, Stanford and Oklahoma.

Kenneth “K.J.” Simpson Jr.: No. 101 overall by Rivals, No. 110 by 247Sports, Simpson is a 6-2 point guard from West Hills, California, who was offered by Cal, ASU and USC before committing to Arizona last weekend.

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Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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