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Jul. 27, 2010
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
RON KANTOWSKI: Adras' recruiting strategy tailored to reality
Mike Adras was in town over the weekend for the AAU Summertime Basketball Tournaments for High School Kids Sponsored by Major Sneaker Companies.
When I saw him, he wasn't wearing a polo shirt with the letters "N," "A" or "U" stitched over the pocket. This is usually a good idea when Coach K and Roy Williams are in town for the same purpose. It's usually not a good idea to tell a skinny kid with a featherlight shooting touch beyond the arc that one represents a mid-major university until it's absolutely necessary.
Adras won two state championships at Bishop Gorman as a player and two more as the Gaels' coach before becoming an assistant to Ben Howland and then head coach at Northern Arizona, which is nestled in the cool, tall pines of Flagstaff, Ariz. Emphasis on cool, at least at this time of year. Emphasis on tall during the basketball season, when one tries to apply full-court pressure at an elevation of 6,910 feet.
Adras, 49, has been the Lumberjacks' coach since 1999. Under his watch, NAU has won back-to-back regular-season Big Sky championships, played in the NCAA Tournament as well as the National Invitation Tournament and beaten UNLV at the Thomas & Mack Center. He has a 172-150 record, including 14-14 this past season when three 'Jacks made the National Association of Basketball Coaches Honor Court for academic prowess.
"And they were all starters," Adras says proudly.
Up in the cool, tall pines of Flagstaff, getting good grades still counts for something.
But it's still difficult to recruit skinny kids with featherlight shooting touches beyond the arc to Flagstaff, if for no other reason than those pines that are cool during summertime have about six inches of snow and icicles hanging from them during most of basketball season. Plus, at Northern Arizona, the road to the NCAA Tournament goes through places such as Missoula and Pocatello, which is fine if you like to hunt and fish but isn't all that attractive to skinny kids with featherlight shooting touches beyond the arc. This would explain why Kendall Wallace was coming off the bench for UNLV last year when he could have been setting scoring records at Northern Arizona.
At a mid-major school, there is no such thing as an oral commitment. Not as long as Coach K and Roy Williams are hanging around and there's still enough time for a skinny kid to get hot.
Adras and his staff usually target about 15 players to watch in Las Vegas. There was a time when he sort of hoped their shots from beyond the arc would clang off the rim, because then the bigger schools wouldn't want them too. "But if a kid does that, then I'm questioning whether I want to pursue him," Adras says.
The thing is there are a lot of Northern Arizona-type players out there, guys who perhaps started off being Gonzaga-type players or Butler-type players before Gonzaga started receiving No. 3 seeds and Butler started doing what Butler did this past season. Guys who can shoot the 3 and play a little defense and don't mind going to class when it's snowing outside.
This is what keeps Adras coming back to Las Vegas every summer. That, and the chance to visit his mother, who still lives here.
It's just a matter of finding those guys and then buying up all the postcards with pictures of snow on the pine trees so they can't be held against you. Or recruiting places such as Washington state, where they also like to hunt and fish and where Adras has had success finding players who can help him win when it's snowing outside.
It's the diamonds in the rough, not the rough diamonds, he seeks.
Adras tends to ignore players who are marginal students or give second chances to those who have been introduced to the legal system at a young age. Yes, there's a chance those kids can straighten out and make a huge impact in a mid-major conference such as the Big Sky, perhaps even turning a No. 15 seed into a 14, and those are great stories.
"(But) you know what happens to me when they don't," Adras says.
Kids who take stereos out of other kids' dorm rooms usually don't last very long in the Big Sky.
And neither do their coaches.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at [email protected] or 702-383-0352.
NAU Athletics on BigSkyFans.com
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