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Original Issue

The Wooing Game

Lusting after recruits, college basketball coaches resort to epistles, poetry and pestering

As a public service, we herewith provide answers to some commonly asked questions about the men's college basketball recruiting process. Our research will greatly benefit your son, who, unless he's recruited, will never know the self-discipline, the self-esteem, the self-restraint that only a college basketball coach can instill in him.

QUESTION: Who turns out more letters, Vanna White or George Raveling?

ANSWER: Raveling. In two weeks last spring, the USC basketball coach sent 900 letters to the home of a single recruit. Raveling wrote as many as 50 letters a day to Avondre Jones, a 6'11" center from La Puente, Calif., 20 more each day to Jones's mother and another 20 to Jones's stepfather. Every day for a fortnight. Following the letter-writing campaign, Jones verbally committed to USC, while Raveling was verbally committed to Bellevue. The parents have signed with Duke.

Q.: Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

A.: Not if you're a recruiter, you shouldn't. At least one coach wrote poems to Chris Herren by way of recruiting the senior guard from Fall River, Mass. "One guy wrote, 'Roses are red, violets are blue, blah blah blah blah, and this school's for you,' " Herren told The Boston Globe. He declined to identify this bard of the hardwood, but he did say he wasn't going to attend that coach's school. Instead, Herren has signed with Boston College. At one point Herren received a recruiting letter from Wisconsin—while on his official visit to Syracuse. And the post office can't find you without a nine-digit zip code.

Q.: What is full of pages and embarrassingly ineffectual (besides Congress, that is)?

A.: The NCAA rule book. Under NCAA guidelines, Raveling may mail you 90 letters a day and Wisconsin may send a heat-seeking missive to find you, but until the rule was scrapped this year, no recruiting letter could be written on stationery printed in more than two colors of ink. Also, coaches are still forbidden to send the recruit "greeting cards." If the NCAA were an airport security guard, it would order you to remove the handgun from your suitcase. Then it would confiscate the suitcase.

Q.: Speaking of air travel, why is the main cabin of a plane called coach?

A.: Because most of the passengers in the main cabin of a plane are called Coach. You see, at many Division I schools, it takes three round-trip tickets to fly one recruit to a campus for his official visit. That's one ticket for the recruit, one ticket for a coach to fly to the recruit's hometown and pick him up, and a third ticket for a coach to accompany the recruit back home after the visit.

Q.: How many coaches does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A.: Two. As one coach creates a diversion by complaining that NCAA budget restrictions make it impossible to afford a new light bulb, the other coach buys a chandelier.

Q.: Now that you mention it, I do frequently hear basketball coaches beef about NCAA cutbacks (which now limit teams to 13 scholarships and forbid third assistant coaches from making more than $16,000). Isn't it hypocritical for these coaches to complain while at the same time they're purchasing three plane tickets to fly in one kid?

A.: Not at all. Nowadays, it's the only way to make an impression. Let's face it, few coaches are willing to write 900 letters to a kid in this era of jet travel. Which is too bad, because all you need is a pen, some paper and $261 in stamps.

Q.: Who said, "Drug dealers have better access to our kids than we do," and what was he talking about?

A.: Georgetown coach John Thompson, and he was complaining about the myriad restrictions placed on college basketball recruiters by the NCAA.

Q.: What is the most formidable restriction placed on college basketball recruiters?

A.: Single-occupancy restrooms. During the summer "evaluation" period, the only contact that coaches can have with recruits is that which is "unavoidable" and "incidental." Thus, should a coach happen to run into a recruit during that period, the two may exchange "only normal civility," according to Rule (e) [1-4] of the NCAA manual. Thus, every time a player goes to the men's room at an all-star camp, recruiters invariably follow him in and exchange normal civility—while standing at adjacent urinals.

Q.: You're joking, right?

A.: "Coaches weren't allowed to talk to me," says Dan Fortson, a star at Pittsburgh's Shaler High who has signed with Cincinnati, recalling his experiences at an AAU tournament this autumn. "Whenever I'd go to the bathroom, a couple of coaches would follow me in there."

Q.: Is there any place that coaches won't go—so to speak—to gain the attention of a blue-chipper?

A.: "Some guys will do whatever is not explicitly banned in the rule book," says one coach. "The rules do not explicitly say that you can't parachute from the top of the arena while pulling a banner with the kid's name on it, so...." So, like presidential candidates, college basketball coaches will do just about anything to get you to give them the next four years.

Q.: That reminds me—What's the difference between the Clinton White House and the USC basketball program?

A.: One has George Stephanopoulos. The other has George Stuffing Envelopes.