Monday, July 20, 2009

Just a Minute with Rob Harrington of Prep Stars

Rob Harrington enters his tenth year of traveling the country for Prep Stars. He’s one of most respected voices in the high school recruiting world. Harrington can wax poetic better than anyone in the business. He is one of the most respected voices in the high school and grassroots arena. Harrington is also the finest judge of talent in the Las Vegas hotel arena. His ability to find a deal in Sin City is only rivaled by

What has been the biggest change you have seen since you started in this business to now as you head into your 10th year on the circuit?

“When I first started recruiting coverage was still somewhat of a novelty. You still had to hunt for recruiting information. The difference now is that you kind of have to fight it off. Newspapers now have full-time people that just cover recruiting now like Jody Demling. Now you have all of these blogs and everyone is writing about recruiting. Now the question is not where to find it but more so which people can you trust with that kind of information.”

Prep Stars is one of the few print publications still standing in the recruiting landscape. How hard is it for you guys to stay balanced with both your magazine and your .com ventures?

“We think of them as two totally different products, which they are. You have to. With print readers, they probably aren’t getting information on their Blackberrys or iPhones. The print readers are technology adverse, whether it’s by choice or they just never had access to it. It’s definitely a trust that our readers have with us because they’ve been with the print product for so long. Print and .com are two totally different audiences.”

This is your tenth year covering high school and AAU basketball. Can you talk about how the landscape of that industry has changed since the time you started in it? How big of a monster has it become?

“The question everyone asked when I first got started was ‘How can we the very best event? How can we have the very best publication?’ Money was not an object. It was during the Internet boom. People didn’t worry about how much it would cost to start and run or site. Or how much it would cost to run a tournament. Now the question is ‘How can we trim down our cost? What’s the most efficient way we can do this?’ I don’t want to say there has been a rise and fall in it because the game was expanding when I came into it. I mean, the April period was just then becoming a big deal. Now, and the NCAA has contributed to this, April is more of a money month. There is still a whole lot of basketball out there but I’ve noticed over the last two events that people are worrying less about what they get out of events then they had done before. Now it’s more about doing the job of running an event and maximizing your profits.”

Does it appear that the shoe companies are trying not to paint with such a broad stroke as they have done in the past? Have they narrowed their search to more of the elite top 25, top 35 kids in the country?

“Absolutely. I think part of it has to do with LeBron James and his shoe agreement. I think that had a profound impact on how this business works. He should of, by right, signed with adidas. All throughout his underclassmen days of high school, he wore adidas. They threw all kinds of money at him and none of that mattered. That is what caused a permanent rift between Sonny Vacarro and adidas. I think there is less of a belief that simply having a guy at your camp is going to guarantee that he will sign with you. You now have a smaller network of kids that are all at the same camps and they are comfortable with each other. It’s not really just a quest to get the player to sign with the shoe company anymore.”

What will you be looking at this summer? Any storylines that you are looking forward to watching play out and develop?

“I’m looking for a group of players that are somehow tied together, whether it’s geography or in the same class or something, to just take control of high school basketball again. I feel like the last two years has been like a rudder-less ship. There have been a lot players that have been content to float through only because it’s been easy to just float through. I want some guys or a couple of guys to raise the bar. I want to know if anyone can transcend a week or a tournament. Harrison Barnes is trying to do that. Michael Gilchrist is certainly trying, too. I think those guys can but there needs to be more of them. Especially now. Will there be a huge pop in July? In every other year, there have been those moments in April and July. July is a huge deal again because that’s the only time where college coaches can sit on the sidelines since last summer.”

There seems to be a great debate amongst AAU and college guys about young players playing up in an age group or two. Opinions for both sides are strong. What is yours?

“I like to see a guy playing with his age group. Now, I understand why guys like Michael Gilchrist isn’t playing in the 16 and under group. That would just be stupid. For all of the controversy around him now, look at Derrick Rose. He was very well managed. It drove me nuts because I always wanted to see him ply in the 17 and under division but they took a very introverted approach. They (being his brothers) sheltered him as much as possible and didn’t play against national competition, for the most part, until he was actually 17. It wasn’t until it was the summer before his senior season where the majority of the recruiting world got to see him. It was the first time the casual media saw him. The dedicated guys beat the bushes to find him. I typically do not like 15 and unders playing up. Typically, through the years on the circuit, too much of 17 and under level can make young guys grow lazy and they get cynical. It’s too much, too soon. You don’t worry about guys getting ruined, like what we may have seen (in 2009). There were a lot of headaches (in that class). Those guys were the ones that played up too much, too soon. The knock on them was that they don’t play hard, they don’t compete. They never really got better. Guys got bored. Jeremy Tyler was going down that route. Instead, he went pro. In other sports, we think that is okay. I don’t think it was a great idea but I understand why it happens.”

You mentioned Tyler and his disinterest in school and the process and how he left it all to go play pro. Do you expect us to see maybe two guys next year, four guys the year after that and so on follow suit?

“I think the one-year rule will keep guys stateside. Guys with qualifications issues, like Brandon Jennings, could go. If you are an elite guy where you had to pick between Europe and a junior college, I think you’ll see them go along the lines of playing professionally. I think there are a lot of kids that are intimidated about going abroad. Depending on the situation, it’s a tough move for any player or family to make. Jennings himself complained at length about the life over there. It worked out in the end for him but it very well could have not. If he turns out to be a bust, these kids will notice. The real question is if they changed the rule to two years. If they do that, then I think we’ll some more of an exodus. I don’t think kids want to have to wait that long. I don’ tthink the agents will be waiting to wait either. One year is kind of like ‘Thanks for your one semester and now go pro.’ That’s a joke. Two years, you make them wait a little longer but then you also probably see more pros go be pros. It really is a total mockery. College can change that though. But it’s an NBA rule and I don’t like it. It’s good for fans but I don’t think it’s good for the game. It doesn’t do anything to re-enforce the term student-athlete. Graduation rates are pathetic right now. I would hope this becomes more of a topic for serious discussion with the NBA and the NCAA. If both parties want to really help, they can take steps on improving those graduation rates.”

The NCAA always says they are present and visible during the recruiting periods. As someone that goes everywhere, how often do you see NCAA reps at games?

“I have seen them occasionally. I don’t always get the impression that they know what they are doing. Its kind of like most of them are taking the state trooper approach. They sort of park the car on the median on the interstate so people see you and slow down. I think that’s the effect that they are having. They aren’t stopping anything big. Hypothetically, if you are a college coach and if you wanted to talk to a player’s parent and you think you may have gotten away with it at an event but you see the NCAA guy is there, you just do it later at the hotel or the parking lot. The NCAA is just there but I don’t think them being at these events make anything different. There really is only so much on what they can do. I do think they should be more realistic on what they can and cannot do though. Instead of all of this pie in the sky rhetoric about changing the basketball culture, and a lot of it transcends what the NCAA does, but to be more rigid within their realm. I wish they would stop trying to control things that they can’t control. I think they can make a bigger impact by controlling more on what goes on within their own house. Going to these events is nice but it’s not going to change a thing.”

Do you enjoy rankings? Have they changed the way kids play and the way teams operate?

“I like the rankings. I don’t necessarily think that they are a positive all the time. From my standpoint, I like to compare what I’ve done in previous years. I can see why I got things right, things wrong. I do think looking back because it sharpens you up. I don’t like the fact that rankings control the lives of players and especially the parents.”

Looking back, who do you think you nailed it with and who did you totally miss on?

“One that I got right, I think, is Monta Ellis. I had him number one in 2005 and I don’t know anyone else who did. That was a weak class. Normally he wouldn’t be number one but in that class he was. The kind of career he has had so far has completely legitimized that. It’s funny because they last week I saw him play at the practices at the McDonald’s game, he played pretty poorly. But just thought, based on what I’d seen before, he was the best one. Everyone was excited about Louis Williams and but I thought Monta had a little more variety to his game, more skill, more feel for the game. I was happy about that. As far as getting it wrong, I’m sure I could give you a lot of examples. I’m trying to think of a good one. I totally missed on little Isaiah Thomas at Washington. I had grave concerns about his shot selection and his approach to playing. To his credit, he really played well. I just didn’t know how he’d translate. I saw him dozens of times and I just got it wrong.”

Favorite event in July?: Peach Jam. It’s the best combination of fan support, basketball and venue.
Favorite event during the high school season?: The Beach Ball Classic is funky. It’s conservative South Carolina but it’s Myrtle Beach so it’s an interesting convergence of beach attitude and basketball.
Favorite hotel on the circuit to stay at?: Anything in Vegas. It’s Las Vegas. You go from the over stimulated world of AAU basketball to the much more over stimulated world of casino culture. It gives you something else to think about.
Favorite restaurant?: I’m going to be a total dork here but I always go to the Whole Foods in Henderson, Nevada. It’s the best Whole Foods I’ve ever seen.
Twitter follower?: I have an account but I haven’t posted anything on it. I see it’s value and I watched it’s role in the upheaval in Iran recently. I think it’s useful for basketball but I can’t say I’m into it. I’m always late to these types of things.

One on One with:
Jeff Goodman
Jerry Meyer
Dave Telep

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