Andrew Morgan didn’t even know if he would get to play AAU basketball this summer when he received a scholarship offer from the University of Iowa in late June.
It was the Waseca senior’s first Power Five offer. But when the summer was over, the 6-9 bruiser still only had that one high-major conference opportunity.
In any other recruiting season, he would have been playing in front of college coaches, getting noticed and trying to prove he belongs at a higher level. But since basketball resumed in July, Morgan and hundreds of other prospects played in front of empty stands instead.
“Lot of kids lost out on getting life-changing offers,” he said.
While the pandemic didn’t affect offers for top-end recruits such as Minnehaha Academy’s Chet Holmgren, Morgan represents most high school basketball prospects who are now heading into the November signing period frustrated after missing out on a normal recruiting experience.
“There was a lot of downsides for college recruiting this summer, but you still had to make it work with what you had,” said Morgan, who committed to North Dakota State last week over Iowa and St. Thomas.
NCAA recruiting rules changed quickly and dramatically to protect prospects and college coaches in all sports from COVID-19. The Division I Council voted March 18 to ban all in-person recruiting, and it’s been extended every month and now the ban goes at least until Jan. 1.
Coaches aren’t allowed to attend recruits’ games or practices. Prospects can’t take official visits. Those safety measures meant less exposure and minimal relationship building. Recruitment turned into a guessing game, with offers and commitments based on livestreamed games, virtual tours and video calls.
“It was tough on all of us,” 247Sports.com recruiting analyst Eric Bossi said. “It’s tough on coaches to decide who to get scholarships to. It’s tough on evaluators trying to figure out rankings and who to recommend to coaches. And hard on the players themselves trying to get their education taken care of.”
The critical summer recruiting “live period” instead became a prolonged “dead period.”
“I’m an eye test guy,” Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino said. “I like to see how tall they really are, see what their body language is. But recruiting now is like going on Zillow [a real estate database] and looking at houses. You didn’t buy a house before without going to the street and going inside. But unfortunately recruiting is getting like that now.”
Pitino will sign La Lumiere (Ind.) forward Treyton Thompson from Alexandria and Sunrise Christian Academy (Kan.) center Kenny Pohto from Sweden in November. Gophers women’s coach Lindsay Whalen credits an impressive Zoom sales approach for signing a three-player 2021 class and keeping tabs on the 2022 class. Whalen will sign Katie Borowicz from Roseau, Maggie Czinano from Watertown-Mayer and Alanna Micheaux from Detroit in November.
“Our assistant coaches have done a great job putting together presentations,” Whalen said. “We have some real cool videos of Athletes Village and the campus tour we can play during the [Zoom] call. Just trying to stay creative and find different ways to tell these young women and their parents what about our program is all about.”
When coaches across America were scrambling to figure out how to see recruits this summer, St. Thomas coach Johnny Tauer had the best seat in the house: on the bench.
Tauer was permitted by the NCAA to coach his son’s Minnesota Heat 17U team, which featured several D-I and D-II prospects. The D-III Tommies move to Division I next fall.
“There are different rules in Division I than Division III,” Tauer said. “There aren’t dead periods in Division III, generally speaking.”
Tauer couldn’t actively recruit at games while he was coaching AAU. But the Tommies were involved with some Minnesota prospects they normally wouldn’t recruit who were overlooked during the pandemic.
Morgan would’ve been the biggest steal. He said he loved Tauer, but the Bison offered a better fit.
“North Dakota State was one of my first offers I got,” Morgan said. “Ever since I talked to them, it’s been like family to me.”
Eden Valley-Watkins big man Joshua Streit played against the Heat with Adidas-sponsored D1 Minnesota this summer. Streit, who has offers from D-I and D-II programs, is being recruited by St. Thomas but still undecided.
Trey Longstreet, a 6-7 senior at Delano, is wondering if he should wait to see if a D-I opportunity develops or go the D-II route. He’d love to have an option to play for Tauer at St. Thomas or at NDSU with Morgan, his Heat teammate.
“I didn’t get the exposure I wanted,” Longstreet said. “I wanted to see maybe if I could get a bigger school interested in me.”
Unlike D-I, Division II coaches have been allowed to have contact with prospects on campus since Sept. 1. This has boosted recruiting in Minnesota for programs in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) before the beginning of the early signing period Nov. 11.
“It’s super important,” Longstreet said. “[Official visits] are the biggest factor to see if I like the coaching staff, the players there and the campus.”
Champlin Park’s Joshua Strong (Minnesota Duluth) and Waseca’s Kyreese Willingham (Minnesota State Mankato), who are Heat teammates, chose D-II schools. Waseca’s Ryan Dufault, Tauer’s point guard in AAU, has interest from St. Thomas and took an official visit to Bemidji State.
Minnesota Heat founder Wille Vang said those most hurt by pandemic-restricted recruiting are “fringe kids’’ who need the AAU season to prove their value.
In the next month, Davon Townley of Minneapolis North hopes to announce his college plans for next year. He would love to play both football and basketball.
The 6-7, 245-pound senior defensive end received football scholarship offers from schools in every Power Five conference, including Minnesota. Tennessee recently made a basketball offer, becoming the only major school pursuing him for both sports.
Not having better basketball offers was upsetting for Townley, considering that was his only high school sport up until last year. He still considers himself a hooper, but realizes his football potential after becoming a more polished pass rusher this season.
“If it came to a situation where basketball didn’t work out,” Townley said, “I could see myself going to the NFL.”
Townley’s Grassroots Sizzle team was one of the first to play AAU basketball this summer when coronavirus restrictions eased up in July.
But Sizzle’s early success in tournaments (even without Holmgren) didn’t help much with no coaches there. Andre Gray, who transferred from Hopkins to play with Townley at North, still has mid-major offers at best despite being one of the top senior guards in the state.
Minnehaha Academy and Sizzle guard Hercy Miller lists Arizona, LSU, Missouri and UCLA among his finalists. But he wasn’t able to showcase himself enough in AAU to be ranked among the top 100 seniors.
The same goes for Stewartville’s Will Tschetter, a Michigan recruit who isn’t ranked in the top 150 by 247Sports.com. The high-scoring 6-8 Heat forward received three Big Ten offers in one day in June, including from the Gophers.
That Tschetter and Miller attracted multiple Power Five offers with no coaches at their AAU games makes them outliers among Minnesotans looking to sign in the 2021 class.
Eight of the top 15 basketball seniors in the state as ranked by PrepHoops.com are undecided on college, but Holmgren, Miller and Townley are the only ones currently with high major offers.
His football recruitment is skyrocketing, but Townley still wonders what his basketball ceiling is despite the lack of big school interest in him this summer. So he’s now left to trust coaches on video calls on his laptop instead of in person on visits to pursue his bid to play two sports in college.
“The recruiting process is really hard trying to build relationship with coaches now,” Townley said. “You’re not really getting the real deal.”