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How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted college recruiting for high school athletes?

Despite missing 11 games with a concussion her sophomore year, Gill averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds over nine games to be named Tri-Valley League MVP.
Despite missing 11 games with a concussion her sophomore year, Gill averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds over nine games to be named Tri-Valley League MVP.Michael Mao (custom credit)/Michael Mao

After nine months of grueling rehab following ACL surgery, Westwood basketball star Elizabeth Gill was eager to get back on the court in March.

The 6-foot forward was denied that opportunity when sports were shut down indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic, but social-distancing restrictions aren’t preventing her from staying in touch with college recruiters.

Gill took her eighth-grade sister, Regan, a promising young guard, to the local park for some one-on-one to demonstrate her lateral quickness on video. Then, she went through individual workouts at home to show interested colleges that the player who averaged 17 points over just nine games to earn Tri-Valley League MVP honors as a sophomore is back, and better than ever.

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“I definitely know how to push myself and get better on my own, because throughout my recovery the majority of my work was non-contact,” said Gill. “I’ve had nothing but time to focus on my game, and although this is another setback, I’m determined to show coaches that I’m ready to go.”

April is usually the hottest month for men’s and women’s basketball recruitment, but this year the “live period” where coaches can watch players and meet them in person won’t occur until at least June. That puts far more onus on student-athletes to market themselves and reach out to their preferred programs through different mediums.

“We're encouraging all our kids to be even more proactive now,” said Dan Norton, the girls' basketball coach at Abington and director of Gill's MT Elite Ducks AAU program.

“We want them to own their process, to create highlights, and stay on their [preferred college's] radar. Because whenever we get back to normalcy, it's going to be a smaller window and you want to make sure you have the best chance to get recruited.”

Norton encourages his players to create highlight segments and a player profile on Hudl, a provider of video analysis at the high school and college level.

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Meanwhile, he’s on the phone with several college coaches each day, a significant increase that both allows him to lobby for his players and affords recruiters more opportunities to shop for the right fit to add to their program.

“I think every [college basketball] staff in the country is doing the same thing,” said Northeastern men's basketball coach Bill Coen.

“We do have some times blocked out for work commitments, but with no travel, it’s pretty much 24/7 working the phones. This is very much a relationship-driven business and you have to rely on your trusted recruiting network.”

The spring season is typically more important for juniors looking to boost their stock. AAU coaches are using their networks to recommend certain 2021 recruits to college coaches.

Mike Crotty, the director of Middlesex Magic, has also been asking his players to mix their own highlights on Hudl, which he sends directly to college coaches before following up with a conversation.

Since Crotty has coached NBA players Pat Connaughton and Duncan Robinson, among other stars, his opinion is respected.

“Coaches are going to try to do their best to make their best judgments on film, versus seeing their body language in person from 10 feet away,” said Crotty. “When you have a track record of guys that pan out at every level, that definitely helps.”

Recently, Crotty sent a highlight film of Catholic Memorial star guard Kurtis Henderson to coaches at the University of Hartford, and watched 10 days later when Henderson received his first Division 1 offer from the school.

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Henderson’s impressive tape led to another offer from Bucknell, and more high-end offers could follow.

“It took a little bit of time to get used to it,” Henderson said about curating his own highlight clips. “But you have to stay self-motivated and anything that opens up more doors is good.”

With approximately 29,000 of the nation’s 37,000 high school programs on Hudl, the Nebraska-based company has become the standard for scouts and recruits. It’s also a way for coaches to provide instruction and stay connected to their players during this period of social distancing.

Some recruits who might otherwise have to prove their potential this spring are throwing their efforts into the realm of online marketing.

The New England Recruiting Report is offering virtual showcases on its site with one potential Division 1 prospect highlighted each day. When players such as Falmouth’s unsigned 6-foot-10-inch center Cam Dunbury register, they can provide their own compilations or hire NERR to create a highlight reel, which is then supplemented with their background, including statistics, academic achievements, and recommendations from coaches.

“We're trying to be very open to telling these kids' stories,” said NERR founder and ESPN recruiting analyst Adam Finkelstein.

“[The players'] highlight films are out there and are being seen more and more and some kids have heard from schools right away. For the kids who don't have any tangible [scholarship] options, the virtual showcase is the best design we could come up with to highlight them.”

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