Malcolm Gilbert kept his eyes locked on his AAU Team Final teammates at the Quaker City Shootout at Temple this weekend. Of course, out of the corner of his eye, he was very aware of who was watching him.
It was tough for the 6-foot-9 freshman and the other players not to notice. Coaches from NCAA Division I, II and III squads wore their team colors and logos as if they were jerseys.
"I see some coaches here and it means a lot," said Gilbert, who plays for Wilmington's St. Elizabeth High. "I'm loyal to guys who are with me from the beginning."
His teammate echoed that sentiment.
Tony Chennault, a 6-1 freshman guard at Neumann-Goretti, is ranked by Hoop Scoop in the top 10 in his class nationally.
"Loyalty is one of the biggest things," Chennault said. "Someone who watches you and sees your good games and your bad games, those are the programs you want to go to."
Players from more than 30 teams competed before the coaches.
La Salle coach John Giannini wore a royal blue warm-up suit with the team's insignia on his chest. Temple coach Fran Dunphy wore a black Temple polo shirt. Hartford assistant John Gallagher wore a red shirt with his team's name on it.
"For me to familiarize myself with them and for them to see me, it's always good," said Columbia coach Joe Jones, a former assistant at Villanova. "The more you get to see parents, kids, coaches, the better off you are. That's why guys are wearing their school colors."
The tournament at Temple, which benefited Coaches Vs. Cancer, was open to teams made up of underclassmen and players who have not committed to colleges.
Recruiting has become even more rigorous for coaches, who often must court a player from his freshman season until the day he signs a letter of intent.
"It's great as a kid to get that recognition," Jones said. "A girl remembers her first boyfriend, but probably not the ones after that."
Dozens of coaches watched the elimination rounds at the Student Pavilion at Temple on Friday.
Yesterday, the Huntington Park Warriors, featuring several players from Prep Charter, beat the Philadelphia-based Raiders, 54-53, in the 16-and-under bracket. Philly Three on Three defeated New York City's Team Odom, 60-57, in the 17-and-under bracket.
This weekend's tournament was the last opportunity for coaches to evaluate players in person during the "live" recruiting period. Until July, coaches cannot have contact with recruits.
For juniors and seniors, it was a good time to make a big impression.
"I'd like to finish off the live period with a bang," said Steve Egee, a junior at Ridley who played for the Jersey Shore Warriors. "This is probably one of the best tournaments I've been to. There are a lot of coaches here and lot of local coaches, which is good to see."
More and more players commit before their senior season begins, college coaches agreed. Starting the recruiting process earlier has become a necessity.
"If you're not recruiting kids in the spring and just start in the summer, a lot of kids think that's late," Giannini said. "They wonder why you weren't recruiting them earlier."
While it is hard to tell if a player is going to turn into a phenom or a flop, watching their development from a young age also helps coaches evaluate their growth and potential.
"It shows that if you keep working hard and progressing, we'll recruit these kids," said Villanova assistant Pat Chambers.
Of course, investing the most time with a player is not a guarantee.
"I've lost kids I've watched religiously on the circuit and we've gotten kids because we've shown a lot of interest," Giannini said. "It's not the cure-all."