Sketchy Recruiting Techniques: Rick Barnes

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

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

Rick Barnes does not have a monogrammed briefcase like the other college coaches. He does, however, have a deck of cards. Standing in front of Tchaka, the Providence coach riffles the deck one way – looks like the usual fifty-two. Then he riffles is another way – hey, they’re all the two of spades! With a flourish, Barnes places a ball of paper under one of three cups, mixes up the cups, then asks Tchaka to guess which one covers the ball. There it is – gone! And what is this? A quarter hiding behind Tchaka’s ear!

If Massimino & Sun presented themselves like real estate lawyers promising a share in the family fortune, Barnes, standing in the coaches’ locker room at Lincoln High, looks like some sort of graduate-student magic act. He is a good-looking man in his late thirties, with a soft Southern accent and sparkling blue eyes. From head to toe he is freshly pressed, nott a wrinkle in sight, except maybe near the eyes, which turn down at the corners and give him an expression of perpetual merriment. Apparently card tricks are not the only thing he has up his sleeve. As all of us – Barnes, his assistant Fran Fraschilla, Tchaka, Coach Hartstein, and I – take seats around the table, Barnes looks at me and says, “So. You’ve been sitting in on all these recruiting meetings, haven’t you? What have you learned so far?”


“Go on. Why don’t you show us what you’ve learned! You play the college recruiter. I’ll watch. What are you going to say to Tchaka?”

Well, this is a novel strategy. Quite the way to charm Tchaka. And, given how many coaches have preceeded Barnes, a shrewd way indeed for the Providence coach to separate himself from the pack, to show Tchaka how absurd he considers all this recruiting, even as he goes ahead and recruits the player. However, there must be some way for me to avoid this. I look at Tchaka. Will he toss me a life preserver? No, he’s already turned his chair in my direction, grinning expectantly. The NCAA, perhaps? They’ve got rules for everything; surely one exists to prohibit role-playing during the recruiting process. But the time for stalling is up. I must begin.

I tell Tchaka that he’s a young man with great prospects. I predict that with him – and I don’t say this to everyone – the sky will truly be the limit. But he needs to go to a place that will help him actualize his potential, because the next four years of his life may dictate his next forty. “Now, I’m not going to promise you a starting position, Tchaka, but I am going to promise you the chance to earn it. Because that’s what this game is about – working hard, achieving results, making yourself the best basketball player you can be. Because a person can overcome obstacles if they want it enough…”

I’ve got the music going nicely- Tchaka and I are beginning to waltz to the melody of my sweet, empty promises – when Barnes casually elbows me aside and starts dancing with Tchaka himself. “He’s kidding about it, but whatt he says is absolutely true,” the coach begins. “This game is about hard word. And if you don’t want to work hard, don’t come to Providence, Tchaka. I’m serious. If it means me being tough, I’ll be tough. Hard work is the only way to win.” Barnes is stepping lively now; Tchaka has awarded him his complete attention and I’m back where I belong, watching the couple from the edge of the dance floor. “For instance, we make our players get up for breakfast at eight o’clock,” Barnes continues, “even if thteir first class isn’t until ten-thirty. Why? Because I don’t like guys running out the door at ten-twenty with their shirts unbuttoned and looking like a mess. Impressions are important. That’s why I want you. You work hard. You play hard.”

With that, Barnes twirls Tchaka into the arms of his assistant coach. “You know, Tchaka, in Rick’s first year as head coach of the Friars, Providence was picked to finish ninth in the Big East,” says Fraschilla. “Well, the Friars went out and won their first thirteen straight, and they went into the NCAA tourney. We fear nobody. Rick’s attitude is: we’ll play anybody, anytime.”

So this is Providence’s theme: The Little Engine That Could. Tcheka wasn’t born a star, but he made himself into an All-American; Providence may be a Big East underdog, but they’ll fight to the bitter end. “That’s right. I don’t care if I sign Shaquille O’Neal,” declares Barnes. Hearing this, Tchaka allows his right eyebrow a slight elevation. He knows that Barnes would drop to his knees for O’Neal, the LSU star and future NBA sensation. “I’m serious. I’d rather have Marquee Bragg,” Barnes says of the journeyman Providence player. “Maybe I’d find a spot for Shaquille, but he’s not gonna take Marque’s position. Our hard workers, they’re the heart and soul of the team.” Barnes makes a pistol with each hand. “There’s a player who plays with Michael Jordan by the name of Scottie Pippen. He didn’t have exposure in college, he didn’t play on TV. But” – Barnes aims both barrels at Tchaka – “he’s great because his heart is bigger than his chest. And you’re that kind of player too.”

“It’s true,” adds Fraschilla. “If one guys we saw last summer epitomizes what Coach Barnes stands for – you know, blue collar, work ethic – it’s you.”

This is not precisely the music to which Tchaka’s heart quickens. Praising him for his proletarian play – by which the coach usually means hustling for rebounds and diving for loose balls – it like commending an aspiring slugger for his peerless sacrifice bunts.

“I don’t know if you’ll be a shooter, Tchaka,” Barnes says, losing the rhythmn now. “I can’t promise you that. But I like you because you play hard. That’s your best talent. And I won’t promise you you’ll start either, but I give you my word: I’ll give you the chance, and if you get it, it’ll be because you earned it.”

This seems only to confirm Tchaka’s darkest suspicions – that Barnes was planning on using him as a role player, the one who would come off the bench when the stars needed a rest.

“Are you recruiting anyone else at Tchaka’s position?” Coach Hartstein asks, on behalf of his player.

“Just him,” says Barnes.

“Just him?” Hartstein repeats.

“And John Wallace, but he’s a perimeter player.”

“That’s it?”

“Well, we’re looking at Robert Blackwell, too.”

“Anyone else?”

“No, that’s it.”

Fraschilla leans forward with one final thought. “We might not be ready to contend for a national championship this year or next,” he says, “but by your junior and senior years, Tchaka, we’ll have it all in place. And I know I sound like a preacher, but I get fired up because I believe in what Coach Barnes is doing. You see, we’re in this for thte long haul.”

Long haul, short haul – everything is relative. By next season Fraschilla will abandon his Providence post for the head coaching job at Manhattan College.

Finished with their presentation, Barnes and Fraschilla rise to their feet. Then Barnes pulls from his bag a custom designed recruiting booklet and presents it to Tchaka. Looking down at the cover, Tchakasees his own picture under the title: An All-American Boy. Inside it reads, “Ray Flynn… Lenny Wilkins…. Marques Bragg… John Thompson… Tchaka Shipp… The tradition continues!” Tchaka grins but inspects thte booklet like a store clerk examining a questionable fifty dollar bill; he holds it up to the light.

Pleased with how his pitch seems to have gone, Barnes smiles and runs two fingers down the front of his burgundy silk tie. He gathers up his recruiting materials and shakes hands all around. Almost as an afterthought, he reaches into his breast pocket for his deck of cards – there’s still time for one more trick. When Barnes pulls out the deck, though, he loses his grip, and all fifty-two cards scatter across the floor. Tchaka peers over the table before Barnes can scoop them up, and sees that each trick card has been stamped with a two of spades. He starts laughing, quietly at first, then with mounting giddiness – happy to have made it through yet another presentation, delighted as well to have caught Barnes at his own game. Tchaka winks at me so that I can enjoy the moment too. But my mind is focused on the events of a half-hour ago, trying to determine how I got pulled so easily into Barnes’ little game, and wondering why I have this peculiar aftertaste from having been cast as a college recruiter for the day.”

If your looking for a book to read this fall I highly recommend picking up Darcy Frey’s book The Last Shot for more recruiting stories and a great look at high school basketball in New York.


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