'Operating In An Unideal World': How Iowa Women's Basketball Recruits During COVID-19

Adam Hensley

Iowa women’s basketball assistant coach Jan Jensen should be in Indianapolis right now.

She should have been in the gym watching the All Iowa Attack square off against the Illinois Midwest Elite on Thursday. In a typical offseason, she would have woken up at the crack of dawn and hurried to cram into a packed gym.

“I’m usually coming in hot with the Starbucks dripping on my hands and I’m running to the court,” Jensen laughed.

Instead, when things tipped off at 7 a.m. CT, Jensen found herself on her back deck with her breakfast, watching the game on her laptop.

That’s just the new normal for Iowa, as well as most coaches across the country.

COVID-19’s hand in the recruiting world forced coaches out of their normal routines. Instead of flying across the country and staying in hotels, the Hawkeye coaches can sleep in the comfort of their home and watch games online.

“The main thing is, I can get up in my own house and see my family, which to me, is priceless,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “During this July time, I’ve missed so many Julys (away from) my family I can’t even tell you.”

Much like how Jensen watched the All Iowa Attack from her deck, the Iowa coaches can keep up with games wherever they are — their homes, their offices — and in that sense, it’s convenient.

The Hawkeye staff isn’t spread thin across the country. In years past, it would be difficult for every coach to watch a single player, with everyone attending various tournaments at the same time. Now, that’s not an issue.

“You can just throw your opinion down the hall,” Jensen said. “‘Hey Lisa, come to my office. I got these two games up and I want you to see this player.’”

But while live streaming tournaments may be easier on the logistical side of things, it’s tough to fully assess a player by a single camera shot.

The angles on live streams often make it difficult to address height. A player standing 5-10 may see much shorter with a bird’s-eye view. Players can be listed at a certain height, but in reality, may not be as tall or short. With no in-person exposure, it’s not as easy as past offseasons to tell.

But the biggest concern Jensen pointed to was players’ non-verbal communication on the court.

“You can’t see the interactions on the bench and with the referees,” she said. “It’s hard to see eyes exactly. It’s hard to see the body language, and I think I put a lot of stock in that… Maybe a kid gets subbed and they don’t think they should get subbed, you don’t get to see that exchange with the coach.”

It’s a different challenge, one that isn’t exactly ideal, but Iowa finds ways to work around the limitations.

“The only thing you can do is have conversations with the AAU coaches, high school coaches, and even opposing coaches to find out what that person is like,” Bluder said. “Since you’re not going to be able to see it, you have to seek out other people’s opinions and hope that they’re honest.”

It’s also tough on the athletes and families.

For those in the 2021 class, the summer was supposed to showcase their skill before heading into their final season of high school ball.

In turn, Jensen said she saw two ends of the spectrum — prospects committing right at the start of the pandemic and others holding out till the dust settles in order to visit campuses.

Either way, it’s a difficult decision.

“You have other people who are really struggling as parents,” she said. “They don’t know if they should put their kids out there. Then their kids are like, ‘But if I don’t go, I might lose my spot on the team.’ There’s a lot of emotion in it.”

Luckily for Iowa, it’s 2021 class is relatively set. Iowa boasts a strong group with verbal commits from AJ Ediger, Addison O’Grady, and Sydney Affolter.

But work isn’t finished by any means for the Hawkeye coaching staff. There are plenty of games to watch and phone calls to make.

It’ll just feel a little different than previous offseasons.

“It’s not ideal. But we’re operating in an unideal world right now,” Jensen said. “...It’s another challenge, and sports are always full of them.”

For additional content, follow Adam Hensley on Twitter @A_Hens83.