Georgia Tech assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie (seated across the court, in black) attended an AAU game in Las Vegas on Friday that the player he is recruiting, Nassir Little, did not play in. Little is with his team, standing in a navy hoodie.
Photo: Ken Sugiura/AJC
Photo: Ken Sugiura/AJC

What this photo says about Tech’s interest in 4-star forward Nassir Little

In town to evaluate players at three different AAU tournaments, LaBarrie allocated about 90 minutes of his recruiting day to watch Little, a highly rated small forward from Orange Park, Fla., sit on a padded folding chair.

Rated the No. 5 small forward in the 2018 class by ESPN, Little traveled to Las Vegas to play in the Adidas summer championships, but twisted his left ankle Wednesday, leaving him unable to play for the 1 Family team. College coaches come to tournaments like these ostensibly to scout players, but the games often become the setting for a peculiar part of the recruiting mating dance.

Georgia Tech target Nassir Little of Orange Park, Fla., is rated the No. 5 small forward prospect in the 2018 class by ESPN. He was unable to participate in a Las Vegas AAU tournament because of a twisted ankle.
Photo: Ken Sugiura/AJC

Rather than using the games for evaluation purposes, coaches often watch players to whom they’ve already offered scholarships as a demonstration of continued interest. Often, they aren’t even watching closely; they chat with colleagues or check their phones. But prospects, their AAU coaches and their families will take note of which coaches attend their games, and for how long, and whether it’s the head coach or an assistant, or even both.

But it was an unusual step that LaBarrie – and coach Josh Pastner the previous day, Little said – took to watch Little sit on the bench. Further, Little’s team was playing at a remote high school, making the trip even more meaningful.

On a day when coaches were trying to be seen at as many games as possible in the roughly 14-hour window when games were going on, LaBarrie drove about 20 minutes to Sunrise Mountain High, on the eastern outskirts of Las Vegas, from his previous stop. The next gym was another 50 minutes back across the city, LaBarrie said later by text.

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Further, LaBarrie had woken up at 4 a.m. ET Friday in Orlando, Fla., where he was watching prospects, to fly cross country to Las Vegas. It was a long way to come to watch someone sit on a bench.

“It just shows a lot because they could be out recruiting other kids,” Little said of LaBarrie and Pastner. “It means a lot. (LaBarrie) hasn’t missed a game, whether I’ve played or not, so that shows a lot, says a lot.”

LaBarrie left nothing to chance. Arriving in the second half, he took a seat on the first row of the retractable bleachers directly across the court from Little, seated on the 1 Family bench. Coincidentally, Georgia assistant coach Jonas Hayes sat a few yards away, there for a teammate of Little’s. Miami was the only other school to dispatch a coach to “watch” Little, according to his AAU coach Darryl Hardin.

During the game, Little goofed on LaBarrie, making eye contact and peering at him through hand binoculars.

“We’re close,” Little said. “We’re cool.”

LaBarrie was one of the first coaches outside of the state to start recruiting Little, starting almost as soon as he was hired in May 2016, the end of Little’s sophomore year.

“I like them a lot,” Little said. “I like the coaches. I’m close with them. They’ve been the most consistent school to my recruiting. I never felt like they let up at all.”

Georgia Tech assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie
Photo: Danny Karnik/GTAA

Interest in Little has picked up – Hardin said that North Carolina coach Roy Williams calls him once a week and Arizona coach Sean Miller calls daily. However, Little has decided on just one of his five official visits – Tech. He’ll visit Aug. 26.

Little, who has only one B on his transcript (and the rest A’s) at Orlando Christian Prep, said he’ll wait until the April signing period to sign, wanting to see how teams’ seasons unfold and where other recruits sign. Tech figures to remain in the picture.

“I think (Pastner’s) first season, it opened a lot of eyes for people, where they won 20 or so games and Pastner was (ACC) coach of the year,” Hardin said. “So it showed what he could do with a team, and now he’s trying to add talent. Who knows what he can do when he has talent?”

As the sun began to set on a scorching day, LaBarrie likely drove out of the Sunrise Mountain High parking lot a little more hopeful that a young man with a twisted left ankle will one day be able to help answer the question.