Recruiting should be top priority for Tech basketball

It’s a good sign for Georgia Tech basketball that Athletic Director Mike Bobinski covets Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel, according to a report by Zach Klein of Channel 2 Action News. It tells me that Bobinski recognizes that the No. 1 consideration for the new Yellow Jackets head coach is an ability to recruit.

Capel is an ace recruiter for Mike Krzyzewski: A recent ESPN poll of 60 coaches placed him No. 1 among assistants. Even if Bobinski strikes out on Capel, pursuing him suggests that recruiting is at the forefront of Bobinski’s thinking. That’s the right approach because more than anything else the Jackets need a coach who can lure better players than outgoing coach Brian Gregory, who flopped on the recruiting trail.

Using the composite rankings compiled by, I went through the rankings for the recruiting classes signed by ACC schools from 2011-15. Tech ranks 11th during that time, ahead of only Wake Forest, Miami, Clemson and Boston College.

The top four recruiting programs during that period are no surprise: Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Syracuse. The Jackets realistically can’t consistently recruit on the same level as those programs, which can go get players everywhere. Even when the Hall of Fame coaches at those programs leave, their successors will benefit from financial resources, tradition and basketball-crazy cultures that dwarf Tech.

But the right Tech coach should be able to win some recruits over N.C. State, Virginia and Notre Dame. And the Jackets should be able to recruit at a higher level than the rest of the ACC, even accounting for the academic challenges at Tech.

Tech has some strong geographical advantages. According to a study by Mode Analytics, Georgia turns out more Division I basketball players per capita than every state except four (and one of those, Tennessee, is a border state). The state’s 2017 class has 10 prospects ranked among the top 100 players nationally, according to 247Sports, and the 2018 class has four.

Tech’s basketball coach can find good players in this state. He can sell them on the city. The coach can point to the many Tech players in recent years who went on to proposer in the NBA. Apathy has set in among Jackets basketball supporters, but the next coach can rightly tell big-time recruits that it would change quickly with their help because, as Bobinski put it, fans are “thirsty and dying for success.”

Obviously it takes more than talent to win in the ACC. Player development and retention are important (the latter was a problem for Gregory). The ACC can and has exposed coaches with talented players but lacking in tactics. NCAA compliance is essential: failures in that area are dogging Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim into retirement in 2018, and pending issues also could sink Louisville’s Rick Pitino and UNC’s Roy Williams.

But talent is the main source from which winning flows. That gets lost in the mythical narratives built around college coaches, but it’s true. Good coaching matters and teams can overachieve in any given year, but it’s hard to sustain success in a tough league without accumulating talent.

Look at the trajectory of Miami’s basketball program. Jim Larranaga, who is a good coach, guided the Hurricanes to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2013. But the Hurricanes didn’t make it back to the tournament until this year. And that didn’t happen until Larranaga signed standout recruits Davon Reed and Ja’Quan Newton.

Now Larranaga has his highest-ranked recruiting class on the way for next season. The same is true for Tony Bennett at Virginia. Florida State has another good class. The Big Four will be good again, of course.

The Jackets have a good class for next season, too. That’s why the first order of business for the new Jackets coach will be to visit Wheeler star Romello White, the best player signed by Gregory since Robert Carter and Solomon Poole in 2012. Gregory managed to fight off Kansas to get a pledge from White.

For the Jackets to be a factor in the ACC, the next coach has to keep White in the fold and recruit more players like him. There’s no way around that, and it’s good that Bobinski seems to know it.