Hall, Mensah-Bonsu, Williams, Kireev. Pinnock, Lucas, Greene, Elliott. A year or two ago, these were just a handful of names amidst a stack of papers in the GW men’s basketball office. Today, they represent the future of the program.
After about a year of the letters, phone calls, visits and schmoozing that is the college recruiting process, these players were offered and accepted scholarships from GW. Together, they comprise two of the University’s best recruiting classes in men’s basketball history. But the task of attracting the talent to win games begins well before head coach Karl Hobbs even picks up the phone.
“Recruiting is a funny thing,” Hobbs said. “Usually what happens is, you find out about guys who can really play when they’re in 10th grade. Some are that good by ninth grade, but those guys usually end up being too good for us to recruit them.
“Then,” he continued, “you go to a camp, you see a guy you like, and let’s say you really like this player. It’s easy to get his phone numbers, so then you investigate the kid. You find out about his character and what kind of student he is and then you proceed from there.”
And at that point, the real work begins. Hobbs said he and his staff start off with a list of about 50 players they are interested in for a given recruiting year, a list that soon gets cut down to about 20 once he “investigates” every player. Some are elimated because of academic concerns, others just aren’t the right personality fit for the Colonials.
“But then,” Hobbs said, “we’ll lose another five to seven kids because we find out the kid has UCLA, UConn and Notre Dame calling him, too. And so you end up with about 12 you go out and really recruit.”
What starts with letters and phone calls eventually leads to coaches visiting players and their families. And while Hobbs is widely regarded as a strong recruiter, it is his assistants that allow GW to reach out to many prospective players at the same time.
Freshman center Jaaron Greene, a native of the D.C. area, said he was first contacted by assistant coach Kevin Broadus.
“I always had a relationship with coach Broadus,” Greene said. “He was always telling me, ‘You know Jaaron, we want you to come.’ So I always knew I had a place at home with some great coaches.”
Fellow rookie Carl Elliott said he had a similar experience with assistant coach Steve Pikiell.
“My senior year at Trinity Pawling High School, Coach Pikiell came down to see me play,” he said. “I didn’t even know that much about GW, but Coach Pikiell sent me a lot of information.”
And once those relationships are made, GW is able to utilize what Hobbs called his best recruiting tool: the player’s visit to GW. Since high school seniors usually only visit the schools they are seriously considering, the visit can be the deciding factor in whether a player commits to a school.
“When a kid comes to visit, we have them talk to students, and the students do our recruiting for us,” Hobbs said. “You’d be amazed at how enthusiastic students are and how they brag. So at the end of the day, it’s really our players and the kids around campus that have to close the deal. We just set it up.”
Once a prospective player arrives, Hobbs is also able to use a recruiting tool far more convincing than any selling point he can devise: junior T.J. Thompson.
“T.J. is by far our best recruiter,” Hobbs said. “If T.J. isn’t hosting a kid, we make sure he spends a lot of time with him. He has such a tremendous personality.”
He added, “What we tell our players is, when hosting a recruit, never leave a kid alone. And the second thing is, be ready to tell the kid about all the good things about GW but be ready to defend what a kid may perceive as being bad about GW.”
The strategy appears to have worked well in Hobbs’ first two seasons at GW. Freshman J.R. Pinnock’s visit made such an impression on him that he backed out of a verbal commitment he had made to Witchita State University and decided to spend the next four years in Foggy Bottom.
“What really changed my mind was when I visited and played with the team,” he said. “Playing with T.J. and Pops (Mensah-Bonsu) – that sold it.”
One would think selling all their recruits on GW would allow Hobbs and his staff to breathe a sigh of relief before the next recruiting season begins, but sometimes, Hobbs said a coach can oversell GW.
“We recently had a kid visit here, and I told him that I wanted him to come,” he said. “And at the time, there was a scholarship available for him.”
But all that changed when Hobbs filled his available scholarships with other players who had signed letters of intent, putting the coach in the position of having to turn away a player he had expressed significant interest in.
But the process still pays dividends when the recruits finally arrive on campus and begin practicing with the team each October. And that is when, according to Greene, “It goes from ‘Jaaron, we love you’ to when they push you.”
Elliott agreed, adding, “It’s a big change. You see (the coach) when he comes down to visit your family and everything is all nice and relaxed and jokes. And then when you get here, it’s about business. It’s all ‘You gotta do this’ and ‘You gotta do that.’ But it’s for the best.” o