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NCAA Early Signing Period: Prospects Pick Schools Sight Unseen

COVID-19 has shutdown travel for recruits, making the process difficult.

To say that St. Louis (Mo.) Christian Academy wing Jordan Nesbitt loves Memphis would be the very definition of an understatement.

“It’s just the perfect school for me,” Nesbitt told Sports Illustrated when he committed to the Tigers in early October. “Just everything about it. The coaches, the fans, everything.”

There was, however, one aspect of Memphis that Nesbitt couldn’t speak to directly… Memphis.

“Yeah, I’ve never actually been there,” Nesbitt said with a laugh. “It’s pretty crazy to think that I’m going somewhere without seeing it first, but this is where we’re at right now.”

In September, the NCAA announced that the recruiting dead period was extended through January 1, 2021, restricting all travel, in-person contact and evaluation with recruits; it was the fifth extension since March.

Recruits across the country contend that the elimination of official and unofficial visits have added intense pressure to the already stressful experience that is recruiting.

Leesville Road (Raleigh, N.C.) point guard Carter Whitt said grounding travel made his recruitment “harder than I ever thought it would be.”

“There were definitely other schools that I wanted to see,” said Whitt, who committed to Wake Forest where he has visited before. “But everything happens for a reason, and I believe that I’m going to the school that’s best for me.”

Still, some recruits subscribe to the belief that seeing is believing, no matter what.

Gabe Dorsey and his parents drove 10 hours to see Vanderbilt.

Gabe Dorsey and his parents drove 10 hours to see Vanderbilt.

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The Hill School (Pottstown, Penn.) shooting guard Gabe Dorsey was almost sure that he wanted to commit to Vanderbilt but was hesitant since he hadn’t been able to visit the campus, so two weeks before he committed to the Commodores he and his parents made the 10-hour drive on their own dime to tour the campus.

“Once I saw the campus I knew,” Dorsey said. “I’m glad I saw it though.”

Atlanta (Dallas) forward Daimion Collins said he wished he could’ve seen Lexington before he committed to Kentucky, but said he felt like he knew all about the campus from TV and countless Zoom calls.

“They did a great job of telling me stuff I needed to know and showing me stuff I needed to see,” Collins said. “I didn’t need to see it. I didn’t’ think I’d ever say that though.”

Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.) shooting guard Shane Dezonie felt the same way when he committed to Arizona.

It helped that he grew up a Wildcats fan and felt a connection with the school that transcended seeing the locker room or hearing the fans chant his name from inside the McKale Center.

“I would’ve never thought that I would commit to a school that I have never even been to before,” Dezonie said. “But that’s just the reality of what we’re all living with right now.”

College coaches have had to make the mental pivot too.

Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer said the pandemic has forced college coaches to stay flexible and creative.

“It’s led to multiple Zoom calls with recruits, which I give Coach K a lot of credit, he’s gotten really good at,” Scheyer said with a laugh. “Figuring out ways we can connect without seeing them in person is just an unusual thing to figure out, but we’re lucky to have a creative team. It’s really been a great challenge.”