A new study on college athletics was published last week. Referencing the hierarchy of needs popularized by Maslow, it is focused on the recruitment of student-athletes and suggests coaches who focus their recruiting pitches on program history or facilities may be doing a real disservice to their efforts. "Coaches should focus more on building strong relationships with prospective student-athletes and being honest/transparent, and less on "showing off" the program," says the author. The most important factors that influence a recruit's decision to play for a program are almost always focused on the character and philosophies of the coaches. "Honesty and trust between coaches and players can lead to positive relationships that are long-lasting. Student-athletes are taken on elaborate official visits, with day-long itineraries filled with meetings, photo shoots, fancy dinners, and facility tours, but at the end of the day, the most important thing they are looking for is an honest and genuine relationship with their coaching staff."
The author of this study knows what he's talking about. Recruited as an athlete by dozens of programs out of high school, he committed to a university that saw its head coach take an opportunity elsewhere after his sophomore year. He then entered the transfer portal and faced another round of recruitment- would he stay under the new head coach or transfer? It was up to the new hire to assure him he could coach and he could be trusted; in short, that he was for real. The result: Wabissa Bede withdrew from the transfer portal to join Mike Young in his first season at Virginia Tech. Two years and a lot of wins later, Bede has earned his master's degree, successfully defending his thesis entitled "The Recruitment of Student-Athletes: Building Trust Between Coaches and Players."
We often say Mike Young and his staff "get it", but what does that mean? It means a lot of things, but the common denominator in all of them is relationships. College basketball is a relationships business. The way Mike Young built a consistently successful program at Wofford is the way he's doing it at Virginia Tech- by creating and nurturing relationships based on honesty and authenticity, and by filling his staff with people who share that philosophy. This approach has already paid dividends on and off the court and is a driving factor in the recruitment of my #1 "big" recruit on the board, Noah Clowney out of Dorman High School in Roebuck, South Carolina.
If you even know what a basketball looks like in South Carolina, you know Dorman High School. Winners of four straight state titles from to 2017 to 2020, Dorman has recently produced NCAA starters like PJ Hall (Clemson) and Myles Tate (Butler). Noah Clowney will absolutely join those ranks and I believe will easily be the best of the bunch when all is said and done.
Clowney is a joy to watch. With long arms and wide shoulders, the 6-10, 210 PF passes the eye test with flying colors. A four-star recruit with a 247 composite rating of 0.9692, Clowney is blessed with a frame that can put on an additional 25-30 pounds of good muscle weight, making his potential very exciting. Branded "the cleanest, meanest kid", Clowney's athleticism, intensity, and versatility stand out on tape. After transferring from Spartansburg High before his sophomore year, he frequently played at Dorman with his back to the basket and showed off his impressive two-way skills as a post player. Clowney has quick feet and exceptional length, making him an excellent defender on the perimeter and in the paint, as well as a great rebounder and shot blocker. He has a soft touch on the baby hook. He can bang inside with some nifty moves and finish off the glass.
As good as he is in the post, I see Clowney's true calling as a stretch 4 who Mike Young might occasionally move to the 5 depending on personnel matchups. Playing for Team Dickerson (an independent Georgia program on the AAU circuit), Clowney has shown he is born to play the stretch 4. Tasked with facing up, his range extends to the 3-point line, and you just feel bad for defenders who have to stop him on the drive. "I always look to drive first, but if they don't step out, I like to hit a shot or two and make them step out. Then I can get a quick step on them and use my length to try to finish," said Clowney. He's sneaky quick on the baseline and watching him finish above the rim is like watching a fish swim- just completely natural, effortless, and comfortable.
Clowney earned his offer from the Hokies in October of his junior season – stop me if you've heard this one before – well before any other high-major programs took notice. The relationship by that point had already been well developed. Mike Young and Kevin Giltner have been in touch with Noah since their days coaching at Wofford. "They were also in there from beginning [along with Xavier]," said Clowney of Virginia Tech. "I like that they believed in me early. I watched them a lot this year. I like the coaches there. I talk to coach [Kevin] Giltner a lot."
According to reports, Clowney is set to make an official visit to Blacksburg from September 10-12 following visits to Indiana at the end of August and Florida the week before his VT visit. He has previously visited Clemson and Georgia and discussed visiting Xavier and Tennessee.
While Clowney's game is enough to make your mouth water, one must think Noah has liked what he's seen from all those VT games he's watched. Mike Young developed Keve Aluma from an unranked 6-8 kid with a Wofford offer, into a second-team All-ACC star after playing just one season in Blacksburg. With he and Justyn Mutts set to exit in 2022, the Hokies will have big spots to fill, and they will need skilled size to fill them. Noah Clowney would be an easy bet to make an instant impact on the program, playing a role very similar to Aluma. From a fit and development perspective, Clowney saw a no-brainer recruiting pitch for him to join the Virginia Tech family every time he watched Aluma notch 15 points and 8 boards per.
Noah and his family are going to have a lot to consider on his official visits. Everything on the hierarchy of needs from food and housing to belongingness and achieving Noah's highest potential will be on their minds. Fortunately for Virginia Tech, we have a guy who can speak to all of that (shout out again to Wabissa Bede)! But at the end of the day, relationships make the difference. Any program will get you fed. Any program will get you housed. The real next question is which staff has proven they will be there tomorrow? To coach you up? To push you harder? To make you better? It's always the people who believed in you from the jump.
So, as Noah gets into the meat of his visit schedule, Hokie Nation wishes him luck and looks forward to welcoming him and his family to Blacksburg in September. When all is said and done, we all hope he'll take the opportunity not to be Virginia Tech's next Keve Aluma, but its first Noah Clowney.