Aug. 13, 2003
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -
UCSB's basketball future is foretold on a big white board, in names scribbled with grease pencil.
It is a list of 73 high school recruits.
"I have trouble keeping those names straight," confessed Gaucho coach Bob Williams. "I'm much better with numbers."
But he gestured toward his three assistants and added, "These guys keep them all straight for me."
UCSB will whittle those names to an even dozen when campus visits begin next month. The plan is to reduce it to a final five by the time the fall signing period begins on Nov. 12.
"Then we'd be done," said Williams, cringing at the prospect of extending the process to the spring signing period.
The four, mind-bending weeks of the summer observation period are over, and school doesn't start for another seven weeks. But this is no time for Williams and Co. to catch their breath.
"This is when the guys have to burn up the phone, working to get our schedule set for September," said Williams. "Which homes are we going into? Which 12 kids are coming onto campus? This is really the month you're juggling your recruiting and putting it all into place for September and October."
One of the biggest questions UCSB must ask itself is when to bring in the recruits. It hasn't helped to wait until school starts in late September.
"We've lost two or three kids that way," said Williams. "We're holding off, and they go visit other places where school has already started. They're offered (scholarships), and then they commit, and we don't even get up to the plate.
"We have our first visits now in mid-September. My staff has won out on that philosophical debate."
The board, meanwhile, changes almost daily, and not entirely by UCSB's choice.
"Some of them will weed us out," said assistant coach Marty Wilson. "We have some Midwest guys up here on the board, and even some Eastern guys. Some aren't going to want to go so far from home.
"But we'll also weed some of them out because they don't fit, as we get to know them, or when we see their transcripts. The list is going to shrink fairly quickly."
It's a crucial recruiting class for UCSB, which must replace five graduating seniors.
"Take a look around the league at people who've had big graduating class losses," said Williams, "and you'll see schools that drop from contenders to the middle of the pack."
The board has already undergone a major transformation. Williams erased all the wing players, leaving 30 centers, 28 power forwards and 15 point guards.
"We scratched one position, because I just don't think we have to bring in a wing at this time," he said. "But we've also added a lot of names -- especially to the 5 spot. That's what we were primarily looking for out there. We need some bigs."
That's a sore spot with the Gaucho coach. He's assembled one of the deepest and most talented backcourts in school history. But when asked to name UCSB's true centers during his five years at the school, he could think of only Adama N'diaye and Mike Vukovich.
"I remember one year sitting in a staff meeting, talking about seven guys for the 5 spot, and we honestly felt we had a chance at all seven," said Williams. "We were even arguing about it: 'If we get him, what do we do with this guy? Well, maybe we'd take two of these guys.'
"But within a two-week period, we went from thinking we'd get two or three of them, to getting zip. None. Nada. And then we we're left scrambling to get involved with some other kids."
The board does offer some hope.
"There are a few guys here that we feel are good enough to step in as freshmen and play right away at the 5-spot," he said. "We also have a whole list of JC big men that we're recruiting, and those names aren't even on the board."
The rigors of the July observation period were lessened somewhat when the NCAA began allowing all three assistant coaches to recruit off campus. Williams and his staff of Wilson, David Campbell and Mark Amaral traveled this summer to watch AAU games in Indianapolis, Newark, Texas, Kansas City, Tulsa, Orlando, Seattle, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Jose.
"It helps keep the sanity having Mark out there, too," said Wilson. "Before, we had to work 24 straight days. Now there are 20 days, and I think Mark was out during 10 of those, which gave all of us time to break away and get back home."
That hasn't kept Wilson from forgetting the number of his hotel room, or even which gym he's sitting in.
"In Vegas, all the gyms look alike," he explained.
"A bigger problem than that," offered Campbell, "is trying to find your rental car. The coaches all seem to get the same kind: A white, Mitsubishi Galant. You come out of the gym looking for your car, and they're all the same."
Amaral's biggest transportation problem came when he recruited an African player while coaching at Peninsula Junior College in Port Angeles, Wash.
"His whole team was coming over, too, and we were putting them up in dorms and all that," he said. "But I thought they were going to take care of their own transportation from the airport -- Seattle to Port Angeles is about a two-hour drive."
Amaral had rented a passenger van only to help take their luggage, but all 15 African players and coaches also piled in.
"So now I've got 15 African kids, players and coaches, myself, and all their luggage for 12 days," he said. "But their coach told me, 'That's OK, this is very African.' "
Since tuition costs twice as much for out-of-state students, UCSB limits the number of players it recruits from outside California. But 27 of the 30 centers on the Gaucho board, plus 19 of the 28 power forwards, are from outside the state.
"It shows you that we have to branch out further to get 5's," said Williams.
Two of Williams' best recruits never even played AAU basketball. Mark Hull, UCSB's all-time leading 3-point shooter, played baseball during the summer. Cecil Brown, a Big West Conference All-Freshman selection last year, also passed on the summer hoops circuit.
Wilson saw Brown play at Canoga Park High after getting tipped off by his coach.
"The Cal State Dominguez Hills coach was there," said Wilson, "and he was thinking, 'Oh man, I'm going to steal this guy because nobody knows about him.'
"But when I watched Cecil, the Dominguez guy asked me, 'What do you think?' I told him, 'You're wasting your time.You're not getting this guy.' "
The same thing happened to the Gauchos, however, when Utah's Rick Majerus snatched 6-foot-8 Cameron Goettsche away from them two years ago.
"Cam commits to me in the car, when he's here on his visit," said Williams. "Then he returns home and his AAU coach goes, 'Oh, you can get bigger and better than that.' And as it ends up, his recruiting does blow up."
But Goettsche left Utah after a year, spent last season at Salt Lake City College and then finally accepted Williams' scholarship offer for real.
"I told you I was coming," Goettsche told his new coach last week. "I didn't say when."
Sept. 9: Home visits can start
Oct. 18: First day of practice
Nov. 12: Fall signing period begins; exhibition, Basketball Travelers at UCSB
Nov. 21: First regular-season game, at Hawaii
Dec. 3: First home game, Pepperdine