A “Rational” Approach to College Basketball Recruiting in Philly

Everyday… there’s another one. Today it was UCLA… The storied Bruin program… The most venerated college basketball program in American history put it out there. UCLA wants Archbishop Wood’s Jalil Bethea, thus they offered him a basketball scholarship. Bethea has yet to see the inside of an 11th grade classroom and if he wants, he knows he can attend the same program that gave us Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Walt Hazzard, Andre McCarter, Bill Walton, Marques Johnson, Reggie Miller and Pooh Richardson.

Bethea is a smooth shooting guard who can flat out shoot the long ball. In one recent game at the Peach Jam, he dropped 33 points on only 13 shot attempts. While he shows some combo ability, he is already adept at spotting up or shooting off the dribble. He scores in bunches… He’s a decent ball handler who can create for himself and teammates. Bethea’s a BAD boy…

Jalil Bethea, Archbishop Wood/Team Final

Coaches across the nation have taken notice. In addition to UCLA, VCU and Mississippi State have made their intentions know… They all want Bethea…

He’s not alone ANC’s Elmarko Jackson ’23 holds offers from Louisville, Ohio State, UCLA, Michigan, Indiana, Texas and Kansas. Neumann-Goretti’s Robert Wright III has been targeted by Georgetown, Louisville, Mississippi State and Penn St. Isaiah Wong and Wooga Poplar are at Miami. Taquan Woodley and Rahsool Diggins are at UMass. Jalen Warley, Naheem McCleod and Jeremiah Bembry are Florida State Seminoles. Jalen Duren spent a year at Memphis where he collected his first million or so in exchange for rebounding, blocking shots and dunking on every living soul in the American Athletic Conference. Imhotep’s Justin Edwards committed to, his dream school, Kentucky today.

Elmarko Jackson, ANC/WER1

These young men have made or will have to make a decision whether or not to leave the region and play at a program in a high major conference with all the bells, whistles and muthafuckin’ money.

How do we best understand the predicament these young men face and the ensuing decisions they make? Well… I submit that rational choice theory provides a set of tools that are useful in attempting to answer this question. From a rational choice perspective, we assume that the young men use rational calculations to make rational choices and achieve outcomes that are aligned with their own personal objectives. These results are also associated with maximizing an individual’s self-interest. Perceived playing time and NLI compensation are two areas of interest for most players. More playing time and money is understood to be better than less playing time and money. The college decision is understood as an outcome that provides the young men with the greatest benefit and satisfaction, given the limited options they had available.

Today, in 2022, it seems fairly obvious that these young men should fully weigh all their options prior to making a college destination decision. Many in the Philadelphia community routinely celebrate offers from colleges and universities hundreds and even thousands of miles away. Today, the young men are allowed and encouraged to take up to 10 official visits to see, touch, smell and hear what each program has to offer.

Really solid, sound and practical advice… Gather as much information as possible and weigh your options.

Things were very different just 3 short years ago. Back then, there were many in the Philadelphia community attempting to fight market forces. However, market forces are always a tough opponent and suffer very few defeats. The strategy these guys adopted in their fight was to artificially impose a bounded rationality on the players. At the core of their approach was the idea that players should make decisions that are rational, but within the artificially imposed limits of the information available to them and their mental capabilities.

They would determine what information was made available to the players. They wanted to establish informational boundaries. According to them, the players did not need to know Power 5 schools flew private planes exclusively. The young men did not need to know how much money players received at each school. They did not need to see the practice facilities, training rooms and weight rooms at these programs. No need to visit the apartments.

As one coach explained to me, the player should make a rational decision in his best interest, but “he don’t need to see all that shit… it will only confuse him.”

These men wanted to treat players like mushrooms… “Keep ’em in the dark and feed ’em shit.”

They don’t see the players as ‘rational self-interested agents’ seeking to optimize the happiness created by college selection decision. Instead, they see players as satisficers — as people who choose the option that will satisfy their needs and wants without exerting a lot of effort into making sure they’ve considering every single possibility.

I disagreed. I felt very strongly that adults should help youth gather as much information as possible and help them process the information. Players and parents I have encountered all want as much information as possible. Players and families routinely process information and make informed decisions.

Looking back, this disagreement resulted in some rigid lines being drawn in the sand. Black Cager Sports was ostracized in some local circles.

Another coach put it in the starkest possible terms, “If you don’t tell (Player 1) that coach A and Coach B are bad men, then you need to stay away from my program.”

I respected his directness. I have stayed away. I couldn’t say things I did not believe.

I took the kids on those visits… Perhaps a little before my time, I have always felt strongly that the young men absolutely need to see all that shit. So much so, that I often drove them there to take a close look. Coaches calling/texting kids everyday for months and sometimes even years deserve an opportunity to live or die based on their work.

I believe in markets… I’m an American… Let ’em sell their program…

Young basketball prospects and their parents should gather and process as much information as possible. They should know the full range of their options. They should lean on their knowledgeable advisors. They should compare academic programs, living arrangements, travel accommodations and of course financial compensation.

I think every program that wants the kids should have an opportunity to shoot their shot… Every coach should get a chance to make a pitch… Zooms make things a lot easier… I look around today and I see the young men weighing their options and making informed decisions.

I’m impressed.

The recruitment process is about what’s best for the player. They should gather as much information as possible and make informed decisions.

That was also the case in 2019, some of the locals just got off track for brief moment.

They are back on the right side… I think…

One response

  1. We should get together and run a seminar on College Recruiting.

    For many years I ran an online recruiting tool for high school athletes . These kids and their families need to hear some truth about the process.

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