One recent weekend, Delaware Valley University men’s basketball coach Mark Seidenburg was one of 1,214 college coaches -- all levels, men and women -- who logged on to a portal of BallerTV.com, to watch one of the roughly 20,000 youth basketball games being shown around the country last month on the website.
Seidenburg happened to do it while taking his son to hit golf balls at a driving range, then get a water ice.
“I just watched like 10 minutes,” Seidenburg said of the hoops/water ice combo platter. “And my son loves basketball. We were watching together.”
A prospective recruit had emailed Seidenburg, interested in the school and a possible biology major, and since this ballplayer was 6-foot-5, Seidenburg found him.
“To have that availability at your fingertips … I have the iPad going, the laptop going. At the driving range, I had a game up on my phone.”
That’s the 2020 reality, as the NCAA shut down live recruiting. Being a Division III coach traditionally means being everywhere, Seidenburg said. If a hoops recruit is a kicker on the football team and you can get to a Thanksgiving game, you do it. He’s adapted that ethos to the online hoops world.
“Listen, anytime you can see something in person, it’s always better,” Seidenburg said, expanding that to the wider world. “Watch a Flyers playoff game, great. But have you gone to one? Watching it live is great. The subway to the game is great.”
What he misses seeing potential recruits live, “the focus [online] is on the game,” Seidenburg said. “When it comes to a mistake, what does he take away from that? How is he with teammates?”
As a young assistant, the Cardinal Dougherty High graduate would hear head coaches talk about that stuff, the intangibles, and wonder if they really mattered.
“It matters a ton,” Seidenburg now believes. “When you’re there, you’re watching Court 6, but also the next court. Your peripheral view off the court, too. You’re able to see through the forest and see the trees.”
That said, doing two things at once, watching your son hit golf balls while you’re paying attention to a prospective recruit -- also means you get to be with your son as he hits golf balls. Seidenburg joked on Twitter about “no lines, no parking, no $9.35 coffee,” no getting the team polo on -- virtual recruiting wasn’t so bad.
The relationships built up over the years, they really matter now, Seidenburg said. Usually, he’d be working on the high school class of 2021, but this summer, he kept looking at 2020 players, too. Roster sizes may be a little different, since you can’t guarantee who is coming and who is going. He’s looking at carrying 19 players when he’d normally carry 15.
Seidenburg also prepared a bit extra for this pandemic.
“I had this idea in March, this could go longer and longer,” Seidenburg said.
His idea was to put together an Excel spreadsheet, starting with every junior last season who made all-league in the Philadelphia Catholic League, the Philadelphia Public League, and the three PIAA suburban districts that could feed Delaware Valley.
“Solid evidence that this kid got it done in his league,” Seidenburg said of starting with the all-league players.
Then he goes to the film. It’s not like watching film is new to coaches.
“We record half our practices,” Seidenburg said, pointing out scouting always has included film work. So you watch specific actions, such as how a player guards ball screens. You get a feel for his game. You listen to recommendations, but you don’t take them too far.
“This is the year when you can kind of get the wool pulled over your eyes,” Seidenburg said. “Because everybody is open to anything, because nobody knows anything.”
On the other hand, don’t assume a player isn’t coming.
“I think what you do is swing big,” Seidenburg said. “Maybe there’s been a change of income in the family. Maybe your financial aid package is attractive.”
That BallerTV.com figure of men and women coaches who logged in comes from their own internal data, said Sandeep Hingorani, an executive vice president of the company based in Pasadena, Calif.
“The calendar, as you can imagine, has been extremely touch and go as the realities of COVID-19 hit youth sports,’' Hingorani said, noting that events slowly began ramping up this summer, still not hitting the numbers of recent years.
But the games reach their true target audience, such as a coach at Rita’s getting water ice with his son, watching a big kid from New Jersey.
How did the ballplayer look?
“Honestly, he didn’t play much,” Seidenburg said.
But the kid is on Delaware Valley’s radar now. Add him to that spreadsheet.
“He scored on a put-back. … When he was in there, he played hard,” Seidenburg said.
“You’re trying to figure out what someone will be like in a few years. If they play again and his coach says he played a strong game against D1 guys, we’ll remember that. That’s how a snowflake turns into an avalanche.”