Sketchy Recruiting Techniques: Rollie Massimino

One of my favourite parts of reading through Darcy Frey’s book “The Last Shot” was getting a glimpse into some of the recruiting techniques that prominent Division 1 coaches used while recruiting Tchaka Shipp or Russel Thomas. During the next few weeks I’m going to provide readers a glimpse into what “gimmicks” Jim Boeheim, Rollie Massimino and Rich Barnes used while recruiting high school seniors.

Today I’m continuing my “Sketchy Recruiting Techniques” by including a snippet from the speech that Massimino gave while trying to recruit Tchaka Shipp to play at Villanova.

Frey documented Massimino’s “sales pitch” as being the following:

In person, the Villanova, coach is less imposing than he appears on TV; he is short and a bit round, with an ample jowl and thinning gray hair combed over a well tanned scalp. He wears a dark pinstriped suit and huge gold wristwatch with a large V on the dial, and he carries a monogrammed briefcase. Immediately, Massimino notices a small cut over Tchaka’s right eye, suffered in a recent game, and he reaches up to inspect it kindly, with country-doctor hands. “You need to get that looked at,” he says.

As he lays his case on the table, Massimino catches sight of a lush, four-color brochure from Seton Hall. As of last month, the NCAA banned colored recruiting brochures (along with, for some certain arcane reason, stationary printed in more than two colours and recruiting tapes longer than three minutes), and Massimino wonders aloud whether Seton Hall is distributing an old brochure to get around the rule. “That would be a good trick,” he marvels, mostly to himself. Competition among college coaches may be fierce, but a shared contempt for the niggling NCAA rulebook always builds solidarity.

Massimino has arrived today with his son Tom, who is a Villanova assistant coach. As Tchaka, Coach Harstein and I take seats across from them, father and son open their briefcases and remove six three-ring binders, each with a color-tabbed section: why the Big East, Media and TV, NCAA Tourney and so on. Massimino arranges his fingers in a steeple, draws his breath, and begins the presentation in a rich, grandfatherly style.

“In life, there’s perception and there’s reality, Tchaka. And believe it or not, life is more about perception. As a coach, I’ve been through it all – high school, small college, major college. So you can believe me when I say that the reality of Villanova is this: we’re a family – very close, very selective. And I’m talking to you as a friend, telling you like it is, because I’m not a recruiter.”

Massimino removes his reading glasses and, holding them by the stem, tried to lock eyes with Tchaka. “A lot of players want to come to Villanova – I don’t need to tell you that. But we’re only interested very few. When you come visit our campus we ask kids on the team what they think of you; no one else does this. And if our players don’t like you, we won’t recruit you. That’s the truth. Why? Because we’re a family, a family that wants happy people. That’s one of my mottoes.” Massimino returns his glasses to the bridge of his nose and les hi motto linger in the air.

Over the past few days, Tchaka has begun to notice a striking similarity among the coaches maxims. “This is the second biggest decision you’ll ever make – after you pick your wife finds expression with some frequency, as does “your next four years will dictate your next forty.” but each coach sounds a slightly different theme, usually inspired by some bit of intelligence they have gathered around Tchaka – his home life, his buddies, who he goes to for advice – anything to help coaches make what they call “that essential emotional connection.” One of the first details Massimino learned about Tchaka was how close the player had grown to his mother and sister in the years following the death of his father. Perhaps that is one reason the coach has arrived today with his own son.

“You want to go to a place that will give you the help, the guidance, the love,” Massimino continues, with more vigour now, sculpting the air with his hands. “At Villanova, you’ll come over to my house to eat. I’ll even cook for you. Because at Villanova, we play together, we eat together, we win together, we lose together, we cry together….”

On cue, Tom slides over to his father a three-ring notebook. “Here’s something to show you the family component,” Massimino offers. He turns to a page with mug shots of all the players he has coached since he arrived at Villanova in 1974, with a one-line description of each one’s present occupation. The page heading reads: Searching for your pot of gold. Massimino draws Tchaka’s attention to a set of photos. “We have six brother combinations and one three-brother combo. No one in the country ever had three brothers on the same team!”

“True, true,” Tchaka concurs. When Massimino first began talking, Tchaka was smiling and sitting, literally at the edge of his seat, tipping it forward and balancing himself with both elbows on the table. Now he settles back and moves warily in his chair.

“What are the three things you look for in a college?” Massimino asks.

“Academics, athletics and social life,” Tchaka answers swiftly, having been asked this exact question twice by other coaches.

Massimino shoots his son a look. “Pretty perceptive kid, huh?”

He turns back to Tchaka, places his hand over his hearth, and declares, “I have never – not on my five children – asked that question that way and heard such a perceptive answer.” He shuts the binder in front of him. “Tchaka, you are the perfect and ideal candidate for our program. I could have put away my books twenty minutes ago and said, ‘that’s it. There’s no doubt.’ And I don’t say that a lot. Why do I say it now? It’s the way you project yourself and exude your personality. It’s because of what you can do – somebody a little bigger, a little bit better than the rest.”

Tchaka is now in full retreat – back tensed against his chair, arms crossed, chin tucked in.

Massimino leans toward the receding Tchaka and says, “Now we’ve got to talk about when you’re going to sign. You’re our number one guy, of course, but you should know that we’re recruiting three or four other players at your position. As I say, if you sign with us early, it’s all over. But I gotta’ tell you, the rest are ready to sign right now.”

“What if I’m not?” Tchaka asks from his hideaway. Although the NCAA allows players to sign beginning on November 15, they can also wait for the so-called late signing period the following April if they want time to consider more schools.

“Look, ninety-five percent of the top players will sign early. That’s just a fact.”

“And if I want to wait?” Tchaka responds with unexpected firmness.

Massimino seams taken aback by Tchaka’s resolve. “So you’ll sign next June, eh? With Hofstra? Or Queen’s?” His tone suggests that Tchaka might also take up girl’s volleyball. “As I said, the other guys want in right now. So that’s the chance you take. But” – Massimino draws his gold pen from his breast pocket and levels it at Tchaka – “if you want to pick your school instead of having the school pick you….”

“But all you coaches are looking to move,” Harstein suddenly interjects, with a small laugh. This is a daring remark, which suddenly explains the silence that follows it.

When a player signs a letter of intent to attend a certain school, the college’s conference requires him to honor that commitment, whether or not the coach who recruited him stays around to honor his commitments. Now that many top coaches are compensated in the high six-figures (not to mention their multi-million dollar stipends from the sneaker companies), they regularly migrate from school to school, shopping for the best deal, unrestricted by the same rules that bind the players.

Massimino laughs lightly and says, “twenty years ago, Tchaka, I could have promised you that if you came to Villanova, you and I would have a forty-year relationship. I’m older now, so I’ve got to say it’ll be a twenty-year relationship. But ten years from now, you’ll call me just to talk things over. Because if you don’t” – Massimino points his pent at Tchaka with a severe expression, then let’s his face break into a folksy grin – “I’ll kick your ass!”

Tchaka’s own smile arrives a second late, out of synch with the coach’s quip, as he takes in Massimino’s words. Among Tchaka’s many talents, I have never observed one for clairvoyance. Hoever, it is also a fact that were Tchaka to join the Villanova family next year, Massimino would be dispensing his help, guidance, and love three thousand miles away, to the players at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

The first thing that stuck out from this expert is how Massimino got busted for trying to make Villanova appear to be a family. Tchaka breaks down this sales pitch perfectly when he questions whether Coach Massimino would be loyal and wait for him to be patient to make a decision over what school he will choose. What seems like a harmless question instead of shows the lack of patience that Coach Massimino has for welcoming Tchaka into the Villanova “family” and proves Tchaka’s worst fear – that’s he’s just another player in the recruiting game. In essense, Coach Massimino goes from telling Tchaka that this is the biggest decision of his life one moment and then begins pouting like a two-year old when he can’t get the young player to commit on the spot. I couldn’t help but chuckle at this turn of events because it reminded me of a high school kid who spurns his current girlfriend for the next hottie at the first sign of trouble. Why would any player want to join that kind of family?

The other time I chuckled at the concept of Villanova being a family came when Frey informed readers that less than six months later Massimino would bolt ‘Nova for more money at UNLV. How can a grown man look a teen into the eyes and make his these kinds of promises while he know’s he has one foot out the door? It’s like a married man promising his wife that he’ll be faithfull and try to make things work, meanwhile he’s out with his latest mistress.

Something else that stuck out from this expert is the disparity between the rules that govern players and coaches. Why should a coach be able to recruit players in the winter and by the spring be able to get out of his current contract to coach another school? When players switch schools they have to sit out a year and I think that a similar rule should be attached to coaches currently under contract. While a coach should be allowed to sing with whoever they want once their deal runs out I think they should be penalized in some way for backing out of their commitment with a college and their players.

While some fans will chalk Massimino’s tactics up to him playing the recruiting game, it’s led me to believe that he’s just another corrupt college coach.

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