The importance of the July window and other summer recruiting storylines

During the July live recruiting period and in the weeks since it ended, much of the discussion among college basketball coaches and other industry sources centered less around the prospects (besides Cooper Flagg and A.J. Dybantsa, at least) and more on the recruiting calendar.

A decade ago, July was the most important month on the recruiting calendar. By the end of those 31 days, if programs didn’t have their recruiting boards set and their scholarship offers out, they were behind the curve. If players didn’t have offers or were in the process of setting visits, they were falling behind.

Now, it’s just another month during which to recruit players.

“I’ve never seen less urgency from coaches,” one head coach told ESPN in July.

Because there are now two live periods in April, two live periods in June plus the NBPA Top 100 Camp at the end of June, college coaches have had a dozen chances to see prospects since the end of the high school basketball season. July no longer features two 10-day periods or three five-day periods, where coaches need to bounce around the country following targets. In fact, many high-level prospects played with their grassroots teams at shoe company events during the first live period, and then shut it down the rest of the month.

The other factor in the lack of urgency from coaches is the transfer portal. Coaches simply don’t know how many scholarships they’re going to have available or how many players they will need or what positions will be a priority a year from now. And on the flip side, missing on a target or two from the 2024 high school class just puts a greater emphasis on grabbing players from the portal in the spring.

More than anything, coaches are worn down from the nonstop recruiting once the season ends. With the transfer portal opening the day after Selection Sunday, teams now spend the next two months chasing transfers — while also going on the road watching high schoolers and trying to work with their teams for next season.

“If you asked me a year ago how long I’d coach, I’d have said [one thing],” one coach said. “If you ask me today, I’m saying [something else].”

“I don’t know many coaches that are happy right now,” another one added.

“I’m burnt out,” a third one said.

CBS Sports reported last month there could be changes coming to the calendar. There are options to move — and shorten — the portal window, while the proposed recruiting calendar the outlet obtained includes zero live periods in April, one in May, one in June and just eight evaluation days in July (as opposed to the 10 this year).

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president for basketball, told ESPN the organization is seeking feedback to ease the strain on coaches.

“We’re monitoring and aware of all the challenges of coaching staffs, from the very day the season ends to the day school starts in August,” he said. “It’s a grind right now. It’s literally every single day. I’m sure there was some head coach that didn’t attend the Academy because they haven’t had a day off in three months.”

Other recruiting storylines coming out of July

Favorites emerging for elite prospects?

Two of the top five prospects in the ESPN 100 are already committed: No. 2 Airious “Ace” Bailey picked Rutgers back in January, with No. 5 Ian Jackson committing to North Carolina a day later.

The remaining players in the top five — Dylan Harper (No. 1), Tre Johnson (No. 3) and Flory Bidunga (No. 4) — are advanced in their recruitments as well.

Harper cut his list to five in January, with Duke, Rutgers, Indiana, Auburn and Kansas still standing. But over the last couple months, two clear leaders have emerged: Duke and Rutgers. The Blue Devils hosted him on an official visit and have made him a priority, while Harper’s brother, Ron Jr., played his college ball for the Scarlet Knights. Steve Pikiell and his staff have made their presence felt all spring and summer at his games.

Johnson was one of the most sought-after prospects during the July period. He cut his list to six schools in May — Kentucky, Baylor, Kansas, Alabama, Texas and Arkansas — and all six head coaches were consistently on the sidelines during his games. He’s already been to Baylor, Kansas, Kentucky and Texas for official visits, and is planning to visit Alabama. Johnson’s father, Richard, played at Baylor, but Texas coach Rodney Terry was on Baylor’s staff during Richard’s playing days.

We should find out where Bidunga is going very soon, as he announced Monday night he plans to commit this week. Four schools remain for the top-ranked big man in the class, as he cut his list to Auburn, Duke, Kansas and Michigan last month. Duke has had most of the momentum recently. Kansas had some buzz in July, but the Jayhawks have also continued recruiting other big men in 2024. Can Auburn make a late push?

Cooper Flagg cements himself at No. 1. What’s next?

Entering July, there was a debate about who was the best prospect in all of high school basketball. Cameron Boozer had the edge after dominating all spring and then leading USA Basketball to the gold medal at the FIBA U16 Americas. Cooper Flagg was behind him, while A.J. Dybantsa was at the top of the class of 2026, and Dylan Harper led the way in 2024. Coming out of July, there was a fairly clear answer: Flagg.

The 6-foot-9 Maine native won MVP honors at the NBPA Top 100 Camp in late June and then dominated at the Nike Peach Jam in July, averaging 25.4 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 6.9 blocks — including three triple-doubles. He also had two of the best all-time performances we’ve seen at Peach Jam: 38 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists and 12 blocks against Pro Skills; and 37 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 10 blocks against New Heights Lightning.

So, he’s No. 1 regardless of class. But which class will he end up in? He’s currently in the 2025 class, but rumors have long persisted that he will likely reclassify into 2024 and enter the 2025 NBA draft. He doesn’t turn 17 until December, so he doesn’t need to move up from an age perspective, but he’s obviously too good for the 16U level at this point.

If he does reclassify, who’s the favorite to land him? Duke has been perceived as the favorite and hosted Flagg for an unofficial visit earlier this month, but it still might be a more competitive recruitment than anticipated. UConn was a staple at his games during July, while Kansas and Kentucky have also made inroads.

All eyes on Rutgers?

Pikiell’s Scarlet Knights could end up as the biggest storyline when it comes to the 2024 class. They currently have a commitment from the highest-ranked senior off the board, Airious “Ace” Bailey. And, as mentioned earlier, Rutgers is still neck-and-neck with Duke for Dylan Harper, the No. 1 player of that class.

There’s a very legitimate chance Rutgers ends up with a commitment from the top-two players in the 2024 class. Even if Flagg reclassifies, the Scarlet Knights (or anyone besides Duke and Kentucky, really) getting two top-three commitments in the same class is stunning.

For context, the ESPN men’s basketball recruiting database goes back to 2007. In the 17 recruiting classes since it started, Rutgers has six total ESPN 100 commitments. Only one player was ranked in the top 50: Mike Rosario, who was the No. 16 prospect back in 2008.

And now Pikiell has the Scarlet Knights positioned to possibly land No. 1 and No. 2.

The Academy returns

Back in 2019, the NCAA introduced the College Basketball Academy, hosted at four college campuses and featuring hundreds of high school prospects. It was a way for the NCAA to have some sort of presence in the July recruiting period. However, there simply wasn’t enough talent in attendance — and because it was spread across four different locations, it felt even more watered-down from a high-end perspective.

After a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Academy returned last month, to surprisingly rave reviews, for a few reasons. The NCAA teamed up with USA Basketball to feature the U.S. Open Basketball Championships alongside the individual camp, which meant 24 of the best 16U and 15U grassroots teams played in a tournament setting. The entire academy was also under one roof, in Memphis.

Gavitt told ESPN that the NCAA, which also funded and ran a College Basketball Academy on the girls’ side for the first time this summer, realized it needed to upgrade the talent level if it wanted high-level coaches to make the trip to watch players.

“We got a lot of really constructive feedback from 2019. One of the recommendations was to try and engage more with the shoe companies and other event operators and interested parties in the summer to get a better level of talent. And we did that,” he said. “We started with USA Basketball … We went to the shoe companies back in the fall and asked for their partnership and support and in exchange gave them access to qualification for the U.S. Open Championships. And they were great, frankly. We had high-level programs from UA, Adidas and Nike and a number of other independent programs.”

Coaches at every level of college basketball found it to be a productive trip.

“It was really good. Eight courts on each side, one half was the basketball Academy and the other half was 16U and 15U AAU,” one high-major coach said. “All the top players from both classes were playing. It wasn’t the top 2024 guys, but it was a lot of the 2025s you neglected in July.”

“I really liked it,” another high-major assistant added. “The 15 and 16 AAU team thing was good.”

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