By Andrew ElKadi ‘23 (he/him), Staff Writer
Virtually nothing in the world today is the same as it was pre-COVID, including perhaps the most essential aspect of collegiate athletics: recruiting. “Due to COVID, the NCAA has put us in a dead period, which means we are not allowed to have face-to-face contact [with] or evaluate [athletes in person],” said Susanne Depka, Head Coach of Women’s Tennis at Davidson.
“I’m convinced that anyone can make judgements about players’ physical talents […] purely from video,” Head Men’s Basketball Coach Bob McKillop said. “What is very difficult to judge,” McKillop continued, “is how do they handle adverse situations.”
Depka agreed with this sentiment, adding that only watching tape on a tennis player leaves a lot of unanswered questions. “What are they doing in between points?” she asked. “What are their routines? What’s their mentality? How are they handling match after match in [a] tournament?”
McKillop, who has been at the helm of Davidson Men’s Basketball for over three decades, stressed the importance of bringing in individuals that live up to Davidson’s standards of holistic recruiting. “I don’t have the opportunity now to look somebody in the eye and shake his hand,” McKillop said. “[Another] piece of it is our own players and their response to the potential new teammate. We make it a point that anyone who comes here as a recruit has to pass muster with our team. We want our players to feel like [they could be] one of their brothers.”
Davidson Men’s Basketball is no stranger to international players, with nearly half of their current roster hailing from overseas. “That’s been probably the greatest handicap, the international marketplace, and that’s not just for Davidson College and other Division I institutions; it’s for the kids themselves,” McKillop said. “There are highlight videos that can sell an [international] prospect, but there are also highlight videos that can sell a school,” adding, “Advertising, marketing, and promotion are becoming a much bigger part of the recruiting process than ever before.”
Head Baseball Coach Rucker Taylor has embraced the transition from in-person recruitment to recruitment over the phone and over Zoom. “[We’ve been] walking around campus with our cell phone and literally showing the family on the phone what’s going on; I think there’s a lot of good in that,” Taylor said. “We want families making really informed decisions, so we do everything we can to present [Davidson], it’s just a little different.”
While he and his staff have been making the best of it, Taylor conceded that there are still major drawbacks of the current recruiting climate. “If [there’s] a guy who’s maybe really talented, but there are questions about the work ethic, the mental toughness, the desire to compete, that really gives you pause,” he said. “For me, I really like having the [recruits] on campus.”
Baseball is in a unique place because of the rise of advanced stats and analytics that have taken over recruiting recently. “[Advanced stats and analytics have] become something that we’ve relied on more as [they’ve] become more readily available,” Taylor said. Without the ability to watch high school prospects in person, these advanced stats and analytics have “definitely helped a ton [during COVID-19].”
Taylor added that he doesn’t think that the recent backlash from some parts of the larger Davidson community against the baseball team has affected recruiting efforts at all.
Student-athletes have also expressed their frustrations with new recruiting guidelines. “It’s all about instincts, and Zoom recruiting adds a level of uncertainty,” said swimmer Thomas Broderick ‘23, who has participated in the recruiting efforts of Davidson Swim and Dive.
“It’s so hard to get a prospect’s vibe over zoom,” added Drew Sheldon ‘23, a diver. This sentiment goes both ways. “The trip to Davidson is what sold it for me,” recalled swimmer Ian Brann ‘24, one of Davidson’s newest student-athletes.
With the NCAA’s imposed dead period in place until at least January 1st, official campus visits will have to wait.