Hawaii Isn't a Paradise for Basketball Coaches : Trying to Recruit Players From Mainland Is Reported to Be a Real Problem

United Press International

The rough-and-tumble world of recruiting is one of the dreaded chores a college basketball coach must confront every year, and being located in the middle of the Pacific--even with a world-famous tropical setting as a backdrop--doesn't make it any easier.

In fact, the isolation of Hawaii can compound the problem.

The setting and the challenge to a student-athlete of maturing away from home in a different environment did not help Larry Little, who recently announced his resignation as coach of the University of Hawaii basketball team.

In his nine seasons at the helm of the Rainbows, Little was not able to recruit the one player he needed--a tall, talented big man, "the program-maker."

Because of Hawaii's location, Little, without slighting the players he did recruit, said the program faced recruiting problems that other athletic teams at the university did not.

Hawaii's football and baseball programs have had great competitive success in the Western Athletic Conference by blending players recruited from both the Mainland and locally.

Both sports require skilled athletes, but nothing like those needed for basketball, according to Little.

Hawaii, with a total population base of less than one million, has active lower-level and high school programs in all three sports. But the key ingredient necessary to make any basketball program competitive--a top-flight big man--has yet to be found.

"We were able to recruit some local players and they made positive contributions over the years, but in terms of having a base from which to recruit big men we didn't feel we had the numbers at the high school level in Hawaii," Little said.

As a result, Hawaii had to draw most of its basketball talent from the Mainland.

Therein lay the problem.

It's difficult enough to recruit a 17-year-old to spend four years on an island-state, but the NCAA also has enforced its limit of permitting only 18 prospective players to visit Hawaii per year.

Not only that, other persuasive influences worked on the youngsters, quite often not of his own choosing.

"One of our major problems was getting players, especially high school players, to travel across the Pacific for a four-year commitment," Little said. "Many times, we found the players willing to make the big decision, but there were others who prevented them from doing so."

Parental and family considerations were acceptable, he said, but the ever-lurking opposing recruiters created an unnecessary annoyance for the Hawaii contingent.

"Recruiters kept the pressure on the young players in that regard and a lot of things they told the players were not totally true," Little said.

"For instance, we had players tell us that such-and-such a recruiter said no one will ever hear of him again if he played in Hawaii. Another said he was led to believe volcanoes erupted in peoples' backyards."

Little said it also was annoying that some recruiters told horror stories of a player getting into a society or situation "he's not used to--the life style."

If anything, Little said, it's the ethnic blend of the islands that makes it an ideal place to learn a valuable lesson in race relations.

"We felt just the opposite," he said in his recruiting approach. "The society here in Hawaii is very conducive to a person being able to get along because of the diversity of all the people."

He continued, "We have something in Hawaii nobody else in the entire country can offer and that's an experience in living in this environment, this situation, which I think gives a player a real chance to mature and grow up.

"I think a lot of young players need to get away from home when they come out of high school. I'm not talking about players in trouble. I'm talking about players who need to mature."

Little, who coached at Centenary for five years before taking the Hawaii assignment, said his experience in Hawaii has led him to believe that transplanted players become independent quickly.

"Players here have to stick it out. They can't get on a bus or catch a ride home when they get homesick," he said.

"We often offered that challenge to a young player. We'd tell him it appeared that maybe he should consider getting away from home and get a chance to grow up and mature. Not surprisingly, we've had a number of players who've stayed in the islands after finishing their college careers."

Persuasion notwithstanding, Little also said working against Hawaii was the 18-visit rule imposed by college sports' governing body, the NCAA.

"It's a distinct disadvantage for Hawaii from a recruiting standpoint," he said. "We have the same number of visits that Kentucky or DePaul or Georgetown has--18.

"My point is if they have 18 players on paid visits, they might have another 10 players visit on their own. Some of the 18 also might go back on their own for another look. Those things are a tremendous advantage because in my years at Hawaii, I did not have one prospect pay his own way over for a visit."

And from the 18 permitted visits, Little said, Hawaii, because of its glamour location, always has had to be wary of a player pulling a "trip."

"We had to be very careful of players working us for a 'trip' visit," he said. "It counted against our 18 and they were tough to overcome."

Little said there were other factors that have changed the recruiting picture on the national level.

Among them, he said, were the emergence of strong sectional conferences and teams, which has kept players closer to home.

As an example, he said, the South was once a fertile area from which to recruit. But the success of the Atlantic Coast Conference has resulted in high school players staying in the area.

"In the Midwest, it's the Big Ten or the Big Eight or even schools in the Missouri Valley Conference. In the West, the Pac-10 has been long-established, but now the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference and West Coast Athletic Conference have made great strides in their programs," Little said.

"We can go to nearly every part of the country and talk up our tremendous climate, the idea of being in the sunshine year-round, and in a healthy environment all year, but they don't have much appeal to young players anymore."

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