Idaho State will turn over more than half its men's basketball roster next year, and the grunt work for finding new players kicked into high gear this week, with the beginning of the first July "evaluation period. " That's NCAA speak for the period of July 6-15, when coaches can watch potential recruits at the various AAU tournaments scattered across the country.
Idaho State head coach Joe O'Brien (above) and his two assistants, Tim Walsh and Geoff Alexander, are heading off to places like Tulsa and Memphis to watch loose-knit collections of high school kids playing for AAU clubs under volunteer coaches with teammates they may have just met. It's a very difficult environment in which to evaluate how a 17-year-old's talents and temperment will translate to a much more structured and competitive team environment at the collegiate level. Nonetheless, the summer AAU tournaments have become much more important in the recruiting process over the years, and college coaches have no choice but to dive in and take part.
ISU coaches will also evalute players at events set up to showcase junior college players. Then, after a "dead period" from July 16-21, the three Bengal coaches will gather in Las Vegas and Southern California for more AAU action. Throughout the period, they will be comparing notes on players each has seen at their various stops, and making decisions about which potential recruits to focus on.
The Bengals have to be particularly precise in their evaluations this year, because they are looking to bring in as many as eight players and they are limited by NCAA regulations to just 13 on-campus visits. That means the coaches have to really hone in early on players they believe will fit ISU's needs -- and who are really serious about possibly committing to the Idaho State program. The critical on-campus visits can begin Sept. 5, with the early signing period running from Nov. 11 to Nov. 18.
O'Brien has said he hopes to fill about half of those open scholarships during the early signing period, and the other half in the spring. There also remains the possibility he will add another player for the upcoming season. He's still evaluating a couple of potential late recruits, but says he won't take another player just to add a body.
Rolando Little Update
Little, an athletic 6-9 forward who sat out last season as a walk-on at Idaho State, is still progressing toward getting eligible for next season. The Memphis native needs to complete two correspondence courses this summer in order to be eligible for next season, after passing an incredible academic load this past year. Because he walked on without scholarship aid, his family has had to pay a lot of money in out-of-state tuition during that time period.
Little, who has just one year of eligibility left, offers a skill set somewhat reminiscient of former Bengal Slim Millien: he is a big time leaper who can rebound and block shots. He probably doesn't offer the same offensive capabilities as Slim, who was a consistent double-figure scorer. In his last year in junior college, Little averaged about 18 minutes a game, made 65 percent of his field goals, 48 percent of his free throws and attempted only one three-pointer, which he missed. He grabbed five rebounds a game, blocked 36 shots and averaged 7.3 points per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio was a none-too-shiny 12 to 36.
So Little would be a decidely mixed bag if he succeeds in getting eligible, but he definitely offers an athleticism that will be exciting for Bengal fans. What remains to be seen is if he's more disciplined defensively than Slim was. ISU fans will recall the pained look on former Bengal coach Doug Oliver's face brought about by Millien's occasional "matador" approach on the defensive end of the floor.
Speaking of Recruiting
Eastern Washington recently announced the addition of five new men's basketball recruits -- which is noteworthy only because they had already announced the signing of four new players earlier -- but only one of those four managed to get academically eligible. Most Big Sky programs have to take occasional chances on players with risky academic profiles, but losing three-fourths of your commitments indicates EWU's Kirk Earlywine may be in desperation mode.
Congrats to Former Bengal Wrestler
Four-time Big Sky champion John Berry recently earned a spot in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame after receiving the Lifetime Service Award from the Idaho Chapter. Berry coached Idaho high school wrestling for 33 years, including 30 at Sugar-Salem, where he won 10 state championships. Berry, who grew up in Driggs, wrestled at Idaho State from 1969 to 1973, and was elected to the Idaho State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1984.
If I ever win the Powerball drawing, I'm going to give Idaho State a million bucks to restart its wrestling program. You could easily fill a roster with outstanding Idaho high school wrestlers and be immediately competitive with the few western schools that are still sponsoring the sport. I understand and appreciate what Title IX has done for the growth of women's athletics at Idaho State and around the country, but one of the true tragedies has been its impact on collegiate wrestling programs.
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.