“If success were judged by wins and losses, I would probably say that recruiting is close to 80 percent of the battle,” said Lynn Plett, recently named assistant coach of the Northern Kentucky University women’s basketball team, which is playing at the NCAA Division I level for the first time this coming season.
Plett’s roots are in Hillsboro, having graduated from Hillsboro High School and Tabor College.
He was an assistant men’s basketball coach at Tabor and head men’s basketball coach at Marymount College, before becoming a head coach in the college women’s game for the past 18 seasons. In other words, Plett knows a thing or two about college basketball.
When I ran into him during the KSHSAA State Basketball Tournament in 2011, Plett was still the head coach at Missouri Western, an NCAA Division II school.
Earlier this year, he answered some of my questions about recruiting high school student-athletes. Coaching is important, but it’s harder to win if you don’t have the horses.
“At the college level, having bigger, stronger and quicker players than your opponents will greatly increase a team’s ability to win more games,” said Plett. “I believe the game has changed over the years to more of a freelance style of basketball, utilizing the one-on-one skills of the individual players, rather than running more of a pattern offense where all five players are involved. This enables the teams with more talent to win more games.”
Plett enjoys much of the recruiting process and identifying players who have the potential to develop into good college players.
But he also acknowledged, “Honestly, I don’t enjoy it as much as I use to. It’s become more of a dirty business than when I started coaching.”
He also knows the disappointment when a prospect he really likes as a player and as a person goes elsewhere.
Plett compares recruiting to politics. “More time and energy is spent cutting down the opponent and offering extra benefits to entice prospects to come to your institution, rather than honestly presenting your program and institution on its own merit and allowing the prospect to decide where to go. Today’s prospects are bombarded by phone calls, Facebook contacts and whatever type of persuasive acts coaches can think of.
“The worst change, I believe, is that coaches are putting so much pressure on underclass prospects to commit before they even start their junior year (in high school) and oftentimes freshman or sophomore years.
“Knowing now how much of an impact my college experience had on me, I’m not sure I was mature enough to make a decision on college even during my senior year of high school. Is it any wonder how many student-athletes transfer today due to the fact that their college experience isn’t what they thought it would be? ‘The coach was so nice during the recruiting process. What happened?’”
Plett says some talented high school athletes are still overlooked.
“It seems to me that for all the camps, etc., some players still fall through the cracks, or they develop later than other athletes,” said Plett. “How willing are you to recruit someone who has some talent, but hasn’t garnered a lot of attention from other coaches?”
Coaching at the NCAA Division II level, Plett said he gravitated toward players who participated in multiple sports in high school but didn’t always get as much exposure.
“A concern I have with high school players playing 60 or more games in the summer is with injuries, potential burnout and losing the focus and importance of the game itself.”
Recognizing physical talent is one thing, but gauging someone’s heart and desire is quite another.
“If I had a formula on how to judge heart and dedication, I could become a wealthy man,” said Plett. “It is sometimes the most difficult aspect to assess. If I know the high school coach, and trust him or her, that is probably the best way to judge the true character of a prospect.
“I believe heart, dedication and work ethic are the key ingredients to success, and although talent is necessary to win championships, a team of hard working, determined and team-oriented players can do great things, and they are a lot of fun to coach.”