Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Matt Abdelmassih on Pandemic Recruiting, Live Periods and More

July 17, 2020

The spring and summer may be the basketball offseason for college programs, but that just means it’s prime recruiting season for the coaches. Typically, they’d spend a lot of time on the road in April, June and July scouting talent.

The 2020 offseason has been anything but typical, however. The COVID-19 pandemic has torn apart the summer basketball calendar and thrown the feature into question for prospective college athletes across the country.

Live periods are the biggest events on the recruiting calendar. During those windows, coaches are permitted to hit the road to watch prospects compete in tournaments packed with talented teams from all over. Summer basketball has started up again in certain parts of the country, but coaches won’t be attending tournaments any time soon.

What is the value of live period events for college coaches? Hail Varsity spoke to Nebraska assistant coach and ace recruiter Matt Abdelmassih to gain a coach’s perspective on the impact of COVID-19 on recruiting.

“For Power Five schools, the live periods are used to really determine whether the kid’s going to be good enough to play for you, but going into it you already have your group of names that you feel confident can play for you,” Abdelmassih said. “We don’t have a long list of high school kids that we’re recruiting in each class just because in order to do your job, I think, effectively, you can’t recruit an enormous amount of kids like you possibly would if you were at a lower level. We’re locked in a group of kids that we are recruiting and really, to be quite honest, we already know that they can play at Nebraska.”

Coaches and recruiting services identify the elite prospects early on. For the most part, the 5- and 4-star recruits will be just fine without getting the chance to play in front of coaches. The ones who are hurt most by this are the fringe prospects and the late bloomers.

The pride of Kimball, Mike Daum, is an extreme example of a player who took advantage of the opportunity a live period provided. With a collection of college coaches on the sideline to watch someone on the other team (7-foot-6 Tacko Fall), Daum went off and knocked down 12 3-pointers. A scholarship offer from South Dakota State followed and he went on to score more than 3,000 career points in a Jackrabbit uniform.

Locally, Hunter Sallis (Millard North) would have had every high-major program in the country following him this summer and he’ll be able to choose wherever he wants go go. A lot of his OSA teammates, however, were hoping to either earn their first Division I offers or expand their recruitment playing alongside Sallis. Lucas Vogt (BRLD), Denim Johnson (Omaha Central) and Kwat Abdelkarim (Lincoln North Star) were all counting on big summers to draw attention while Jadin Johnson (Millard North), Tucker DeVries (Waukee, Iowa) and Saint Thomas (Millard North) were hoping to build on the offers they’ve already received.

The same is true for the likes of Frankie Fidler (Bellevue West), Greg Brown (Bellevue West), Ajanae Hogan (Lincoln Southeast) and Tyler Sandoval (Millard North) playing with Wisconsin commit Chucky Hepburn for Team Factory.

“I think every year you certainly add a few names of kids that intrigue you and names that you follow up on to see if you can get involved with and sometimes those become a reality,” Abdelmassih said. “I would say it’s a regular occurrence. The live period gives you the potential to see somebody that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”

Like every program in the country, the Huskers are missing out in a lot of evaluation time. But Abdelmassih said it hasn’t hurt Nebraska too much because of how active the staff is on the transfer market, and they’ve also found ways to take advantage of the altered recruiting landscape.

“The spring is always a very active time because it’s transfer season, which regardless of a pandemic or not, that’s not going to change our process with that,” Abdelmassih said. “When it comes to the high school recruiting, the only thing that’s changed is we’re not physically going out and seeing these kids. One thing that I think has been a positive is we’re getting to learn more about these kids now than we ever have in the past because that’s all we have to do is Zoom calls and FaceTime and just regular phone calls with them just to build that relationship.

“I think that is going to pay off tremendously in being able to have a strong relationship and building their trust and building their confidence that this is the right place for them. If anything, it’s turned into a benefit. Ultimately, do we want to be out on the road and see these kids play? Sure. But this isn’t [normally] a period anyway where we can have contact with the kids. It’s only evaluation. So to be able to build that relationship with them is only going to be beneficial when we actually are allowed to go see them play.”

Though tournaments have started again, the NCAA extended the recruiting dead period all the way through the end of August, which means coaches won’t be able to attend any of the tournaments hosted over the next two months. It’s very possible the Division I Council will vote to extend the dead period again through September, wiping out any chance coaches might have of attending AAU Tournaments. In the mean time, coaches will rely on tournaments live streaming their events.

“If things are in a position where there can be events like that, I think it would be huge to have a live-streamed event where college coaches have the ability to log in and watch those kids compete,” Abdelmassih said. “Live basketball, to me, is always more beneficial than video. We’re probably spoiled as college basketball coaches because we get to see so much live action whereas in other sports they don’t. There’s a benefit to it, especially for the kids out there that want to increase their recruitment. I’m not sure how much it will pay off when it comes to gathering more offers and interest from places. For us, our focus is that, until they tell us otherwise, things are shut down and we’re just continuing to communicate with our top targets.”

Like everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered the college basketball recruiting landscape. However, players and coaches alike, including those at Nebraska, are doing their best to navigate this unique summer and come out the other side of the pandemic in a good place.

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