Sunday, November 11, 2012

Noah Vonleh Commits to Indiana. Next Guy.

At Jim Calhoun's retirement/Kevin Ollie's introductory press conference two months ago, Calhoun had this to say about Ollie's resiliency:

"Kevin Ollie has been rejected a time or two. So, recruiting violations? Next guy ..."

UConn has had a lot of "next guys" lately, and you can now add Noah Vonleh to the list. The coveted 6-9 center out of New Hampton (N.H.) prep committed to Indiana last night. The Huskies thought they had an outside shot at Vonleh if the Massachusetts native wanted to stay close to home, but it didn't work out.

UConn fans are likely to blame the seven-month contract Kevin Ollie is currently on for the team's recent recruiting misses (Vonleh, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Ron Patterson, etc.). It certainly doesn't help. And while UConn's impressive, season-opening win over Michigan State on Friday night certainly could hasten Warde Manuel to offer Ollie a long-term deal, it's going to take more for Ollie to prove himself to the A.D.

Talking to others around college basketball, another factor that's hurting UConn on the recruiting trail is simply the coaching staff's lack of contacts in the AAU world. Ollie is seen as a great recruiter, and anyone who meets him loves him. But sometimes that's not enough. He's spent almost his entire professional life in the NBA and hasn't yet made the important contacts in the recruiting world that coaches need.

Associate head coach Glen Miller spent most of his coaching life in the Ivy League, which is an entirely different recruiting world than the cut-throat, big-time D-1 landscape. Assistant Karl Hobbs was a demon on the recruiting trail in his eight prior years at UConn, but that ended in 2001. As head coach at George Washington, Hobbs delegated much of the recruiting to assistants (as most head coaches do). And George Blaney doesn't handle any recruiting at all.

And, of course, there's all the speculation and questions surrounding the future of UConn in general and the Big East in particular.

This is not to say that these guys can't go out and light it up on the recruiting trail. The results haven't been there yet, but they've had their hands tied to a degree, be it Ollie's contract or, prior to that, Calhoun's health and impending retirement questions. This is a bright and talented staff that can accomplish a lot of things. But right now, it simply lacks the "bulldog" lead recruiter with the ties to the AAU/preps world that can give a call to the AAU hot-shots and make sure they put in the good word for the Huskies with their kids.

Ollie, an L.A. native, is currently trying to cultivate his West Coast connections on the recruiting trail (he is absolutely loved in L.A.). Jordan Bell, a 6-7 Class of 2013 forward out of Long Beach, will be making his decision on Monday and is said to be down to UConn, Oregon and Auburn (though the Huskies appear to be a long-shot after Bell recently cancelled a visit to Storrs). Ollie also recently had Class of 2015 forward Bennie Boatwright out of the L.A. area on campus for an unofficial visit.

Meanwhile, Class of 2013 Brandon Austin, a highly-touted 6-5 guard out of Philly, is said to be down to UConn, Providence and Texas for his final decision, which could come this week, according to SNY's Adam Zagoria. He'd be a very nice get for the Huskies.

I'd never bet against Kevin Ollie in anything, and certainly not on the recruiting trail, even with the recent rejections. It's just worth pointing out that it's not just his seven-month contract that's hurting UConn in recruiting.

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