SoCalHoops Recruiting News
Recruiting: The 2nd Time Around--
Two Lessons Learned--(Dec. 20, 2001)
Players getting recruited out of high school who sign Division I NLI's often think they've got it made. They have visions of playing four years at a single college, under the guidance and instruction of the same coach that recruited them. Even if some of these guys know they're not really ready, they know that with good coaching and time to acclimate to the D-I world, things will be ok, and all will be right with the world.
Except that's not the way it always works out. Coaches get fired. Kids don't get to play. They get "recruited over" by someone better at their position. They wind up unhappy at a campus far away from home, with no friends, and some feel they have no choice but to transfer. After a year, maybe less, some players learn the lesson too late: They made a mistake, picked the school or the coach for the wrong reasons. It would have been better to sign in the spring, rather than the fall.
Unfortunately, this isn't an uncommon experience for players who sign to play D-I right out of high school. Which is why we can all learn from others' mistakes. And coincidentally, two separate newspapers, with absolutely no connection, at different ends of Southern California (Los Angeles and San Diego) both published stories about two different players who chose to go D-I out of high school, regretted their initial decisions, and have returned to the JUCO level where they are now going through the recruiting game once again, but this time with the knowledge of what not to do the second time around.
If you've been following high school hoops and college recruiting, then you'll undoubtedly remember Marquis Poole and Aaron Abrams, both players who were highly recruited a few years ago. Both of them made decisions about their recruiting that they lived to regret, and they've learned a lot from their experiences. They are both playing for JUCO programs now, and their recruiting is again opening up.
Yesterday's Inland Valley edition of the LA Times carried a story about Marquis Poole, and the San Diego North County Times carried the story of Aaron Abrams. Both stories are instructive, must-read pieces for players thinking about playing in college.
Inland Valley Edition
North County Times
Marquis Poole didn't enjoy his first experience as an NCAA Division I player, but his success at Mount SAC has ensured he'll be back.
Mistakes are a fact of life in basketball. There's no sense in dwelling on an error when a chance for redemption is only a few seconds away.
Marquis Poole knows he's made a few missteps in his basketball career. But those errors are now little more than passing thoughts to the sophomore guard.
Once a top point guard among Southern California high school players, Poole is out to reclaim his previous promise. After moving from the Pacific 10 Conference to the Big Sky Conference to the junior college ranks, he's settled in at Mount SAC and intends to prove he's made the right choice this time.
"He made a few bad decisions coming out of high school, in terms of the colleges that he chose," Mounties Coach Mike Swanegan said. "Now that he's in a position where he's playing and doing a lot of things he wants to do, I think it's really benefiting him.
"It's almost like a new beginning, a new start for him and I think he's going to take full advantage."
Through 14 games with the Mounties, Poole is flourishing. He's leading the team in scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (5.2 per game) while averaging 4.2 rebounds and 2.7 steals. And that comes after helping lead his team to the Say No Classic title during the summer, playing second fiddle to San Diego State's Tony Bland and drawing a crowd of junior college coaches to his door.
In the end, however, Poole stuck with the commitment he made to Swanegan before the summer began. That act of loyalty was has appeared quite wise for Poole, who has questioned his own decision making since signing with Washington State in 1998.
The all-state player at Compton Centennial High was ticketed for the Pac-10 before discovering he hadn't qualified academically. When Cougars coach Kevin Eastman was fired, Poole opted to follow Lorenzo Hall, the assistant coach who recruited him, to Eastern Washington.
"I kind of wish I had just stuck it out [at Washington State]," Poole said. "They were willing to help me, but I was a senior in high school and I kind of fell in love with the [Hall]."
Poole sat out the 1999-2000 season as a nonqualifier. Then Eastern Washington Coach Steve Aggers bolted for Loyola Marymount and Hall followed him out the door.
Poole was suddenly stuck playing for a coach, Ray Giacoletti, he didn't know in a town, Cheney, Wash., best described as diametrically opposite to his Southern California home.
Hungry to play, Poole remained on Eastern Washington's 2000-01 roster for nine games before deciding he had enough. Poole, who averaged 4.9 points, was unhappy about being designated a reserve, quitting the team before finishing the academic year.
Hall, a one-time assistant coach at Chaffey College who's now at Portland State, contacted Poole and suggested a move to junior college. That's when Swanegan, a fraternity brother of Hall, entered the picture. Poole was sold on Mount SAC's proximity to home and the opportunity to start anew. Swanegan was sold by his new guard's talent and willingness to shepherd a Mounties team loaded with 10 freshmen.
"When a kid comes back from a Division I school, there's a respect factor that's already developed," Swanegan said. "When you want to get to that level and you have somebody who's been there and comes back, they want to listen to what he says about what it takes to get to that next level."
The arrangement appears to be working for both sides. The Mounties have a gifted scorer who shifts effortlessly between point guard and shooting guard. Poole also continues to attract recruiters from four-year colleges, which heightens the exposure of his Mount SAC teammates.
Poole embraces the opportunity to retrace his steps. Universities such as Connecticut and Tulsa that pursued him the first time around are following him once again. Even Washington State is back in the mix.
But the 6-foot-3 Poole isn't content to prove that he's the same guy who lit up opposing defenses at Centennial. He wants to show them he's a better player and a better man.
"I'm out to prove that I'm a leader," Poole said. "I'm not a quitter. Once I quit, everybody was like, 'Marquis, bad kid, bad guy.' I'm just looking to change all that and get my name back.
"Sometimes it's kind of hard, but it'll all pay off, I think."
Career revival -
Palomar's Abrams shooting for another Div. I opportunity
He also loves the fact that he's able to be near his girlfriend, Brandi Sparks, and their 20-month-old son, Aaron Jr.
But Abrams still misses a lot of things about the next level. He misses the treatment, the crowds, the facilities, flying in planes and the $50 per diem.
To Abrams, a sophomore swingman out of Rancho Buena Vista High, the next level is Division I. He played for Wyoming as a freshman during the 1999-2000 season.
"It feels really good being back home with my family," the 6-foot-4 Abrams said. "But I'm anxious to get back to the next level. You get really spoiled there."
Coming out of RBV, Abrams seemed to be holding all the cards. During his tenure, the Longhorns won four Palomar League titles. As a sophomore, Abrams scored 13 points a game. As a junior, he was up to 23 a game. As a senior, he averaged 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists en route to being crowned the North County Times and CIF Player of the Year.
All of that was great but secondary to what he was doing at some national all-star camps. Abrams went to camps such as the Magic Johnson, the Adidas ABCD and the Five Star. His fondest moment came when he was named MVP of one Five Star game after scoring 27 points.
Looking back on those days, Abrams can name-drop McDonald's All-America and NBA types as though he was Dick Vitale.
"Jason Williams, Jason Gardner, Casey Jacobsen, Jason Richardson, Marcus Taylor, Carlos Boozer, Lavell Blanchard: I ran with all of those guys," Abrams said. "I played in the same AAU backcourt as (Duke's) Mike Dunleavy. Gilbert Arenas (Golden State Warriors) became my best friend. Yeah, seeing all those guys on TV now only makes me hungrier."
Palomar teammate Phil Sutton, who played at Vista, remembers how good Abrams was at RBV.
"In high school, Aaron was the most athletic guy I ever played against,'' Sutton said. ``His first step was phenomenal and he could jump out of the gym."
Wyoming was one of many schools itching to get Abrams after high school. Some of the others included San Jose State, Fresno State, Duquesne, Cal, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Miami, Rhode Island, Clemson and Villanova.
"He got mail constantly and our phone wouldn't stop ringing," said Abrams' mother, Rochelle.
Rochelle should have been prepared. Since he was 6, Aaron was constantly playing basketball. Shooting free throws in the driveway, shooting jumpers at a playground. He'd play with his dad, Robert, and Trevor, his older brother by three years.
"When we first moved to Vista, Aaron started going over to Washington Middle School to play,'' his mother said. ``He went there every day. When he got a little older and was learning to dunk, he had big calluses on his hands and I had to put Band-Aids on them."
Abrams' first flush came in the eighth grade on those courts at Washington Middle School. In high school, he became a gym rat. He didn't have the keys to RBV's gym, but he'd often borrow them from Coach John O'Neill, who is now an assistant at Palomar. By the time he was a sophomore, the janitors at the school would work around his shooting schedule.
As his senior season wore on, things became more complicated for Abrams. Overwhelmed by the attention from colleges, he didn't sign until the spring before he graduated. He originally verbally committed to San Jose State and later changed his mind and signed a letter of intent with Wyoming.
"Somebody needs to write a book on college recruiting," Rochelle said. "It's crazy. If we had to do it over again, I'd tell Aaron not to listen to what everyone was telling him and just pick the school he liked. I think he waited too long."
Abrams thought Wyoming was the school for him. After he signed, he was quoted as saying, "It's the perfect program for me."
When he first joined the Cowboys, everything was fine. But things unraveled after he hurt his left hamstring and he played just 157 minutes in 22 games, averaging 2.1 points.
"I don't have any regrets, because I learned from everything that happened," Abrams said. "But I think I should have been playing over other guys. I don't feel as though I was given another opportunity."
He didn't play basketball anywhere last season. Searching for another opportunity, Abrams enrolled at Palomar. So far, he and the Comets have been a good fit.
Through 13 games, he's averaged 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. This past weekend at L.A. Southwest College, he was named to the Intensity Classic all-tournament team after leading the Comets to an 82-71 win in the championship game.
Not bad, considering he hasn't played competitively for about a year and a half.
"He's doing a good job for us," Palomar coach Virgil Watson said. "He's only just starting to get back into basketball playing shape. He'll soon be able to do some of the things he used to do."
Since he left Wyoming, Abrams said he's generated interest from Division I schools like Delaware and Memphis.
"Hopefully, as this season goes on, interest will pick up," he said. "Now that I have more knowledge of the recruiting process, I think things will go a lot better this time around."