Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Distance makes the heart grow fonder.
But for a University of New Mexico college basketball program so reliant on the mystique of its iconic arena and the facilities around it, the NCAA’s decision, albeit it an obvious one during the coronavirus pandemic, to ban all on-campus recruiting visits until at least May 31 could have been a major hurdle.
Instead, the Lobos have just rolled with the punches and started using Facetime to conduct virtual recruiting tours of Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit.
The NCAA allows 24 on-campus recruiting visits over any rotating two-year period. With none allowed now during one of the sport’s most critical recruiting period before next week’s first day of the national signing period on April 15, it is important to a Mountain West level program like UNM to continue to show off the best way it can one of the feathers in its recruiting cap – its famous arena.
In fact, with the success the Lobos have had with “about 10 to 12” such recruiting tours over the past two weeks, Paul Weir said, the Lobos coach plans to incorporate the tours on some level on a regular basis down the road, potentially opening the door to even more recruits who might not have been able to tour the UNM facilities.
“I think it really depends on whether you’re a glass half full or glass half empty kind of guy,” Weir said when asked if the restrictions on on-campus recruiting visits put his program at any disadvantage compared to other NCAA Division I basketball teams.
“On the one hand, it’s no secret we’ve been a finalist on some really good players to guys who ended up picking a Power 5 program, and the feedback we got sometimes with them is that the facilities and some of the things they have just based on their revenue and the money they have in those programs won them over.
“On the other hand, we’ve always done pretty good once we get guys on campus and we get that time together with them, and they get to see what we have to offer them as well.”
And, of course, there’s no real replicating the uniqueness for a basketball player making the walk down the Pit ramp for the first time with Bob King Court waiting at the bottom, 37 feet below ground level where the recruiting tour begins.
So, while it’s not ideal, the Lobos found a way to continue recruiting tours showing off all aspects of the Pit facility. Now, however, in Facetime’s group call setting, a recruit, his parents or guardians or whoever, can join Weir or any of the assistant coaches on a walk through the facility. Weir and his staff answer questions along the way about the history of the program, the building, past Lobos in the NBA, the film room, weight room, locker room and Rudy Davalos practice facility.
Weir agreed to take the Journal on a recruiting tour earlier this week – a 22-minute video posted online on ABQJournal.com/Sports with the coach, one photographer and one reporter in an otherwise empty Pit.
As he walked through the entrance to the team locker room, Weir explained Danny Granger’s connection to the program and the financial help the former NBA All-Star made to help complete renovations; he showed the few dozen items of Nike “swag” laid out in the locker room that players wear throughout the season; showed and explained the five jersey combinations the team has (white, cherry, silver, turquoise and the alternate yellow state flag replica jersey worn for the January 2019 win over No. 6 Nevada).
Weir also stopped to explain the huge Nelson Mandela picture in the hallway of the coaches offices and the text of Mandela’s 1964 speech from the dock in the Rivonia Trial. He also:
- Showed the “library” of mostly donated books in the player’s lounge;
Showed photo collage of past Journal articles detailing some of the first African American players in the program’s history;
- Showed picture displays of past New Mexico-born players to score 1,000 points for the Lobos;
- Shared stories about seeing opposing players before games Facetiming their friends and families from the Pit’s mid-ramp area showing the long ramp walk down to the court.
“A lot of the bigger programs have Zoom presentations and other things they’re showing the guys, but we’ve heard from a lot of these guys that they really like that we’re still taking the time to walk through the whole tour with them and their parents or whoever,” said Lobos assistant Brandon Mason, who heads up the Lobos recruiting efforts. “The feedback they’re giving is a lot of them like this better than what other programs are doing.”
Added Weir, “We’re still trying to be as personable with all this as possible.”
The Facetime “tours” don’t count as recruiting visits, and the NCAA does allow video calls at this time with all prospective recruits and their families.