By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — A 10-day vacation, it’s not. It’s more like a whirlwind. If all goes as scheduled, Tony Bennett will check out prospects at tournaments and showcases in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Maryland, South Carolina and one of these states — Missouri, Kentucky or Wisconsin — before the next dead period for basketball recruiting starts July 16.
When the next evaluation period begins, on July 22, Bennett will be in Las Vegas, and from there UVa’s third-year coach will head to Phoenix.
Or maybe not.
“During the dead period, all of this could change,” Ronnie Wideman said Friday at John Paul Jones Arena.
Wideman, assistant director of operations for UVa men’s hoops, has the office closest to Bennett’s at JPJ, and the Washington State alumnus carries more responsibility than usual this time of year.
Bennett and his assistants — associate head coach Ritchie McKay, Ron Sanchez and Jason Williford — are on the road recruiting for most of July. Wideman handles Bennett’s travel and helps as needed with the assistants’ arrangements. That can mean booking flights, reserving hotel rooms, renting cars and locating gyms, and “you gotta do it in multiple places,” Wideman said. “It’s like juggling.”
The first of the two July evaluation periods began Wednesday. No more than three of a Division I team’s four coaches may be in gyms scouting players at any one time. For UVa, Day One found Bennett and Williford in Indianapolis and Sanchez in Hampton. McKay was preparing for a trip to Charlotte, N.C.
Wideman enlists the help of a travel agent during business hours, but he’s on call virtually around the clock. It’s not uncommon to find him on his phone or his laptop late at night, researching and booking flights and hotel rooms for the coaches. As new targets emerge and teams are eliminated from summer events, plans change.
“We’re constantly watching the brackets to see who wins and who loses,” Wideman said.
He generally starts working in earnest on these travel schedules in early June. “It’s kind of a work in progress,” Wideman said. “The problem is, you have to wait for the AAU events to release their schedules. We know which players we want to target, and we know where they’re playing, but we don’t know the times of their games.”
Occasionally, more than one UVa coach will be at the same event in July, but Bennett and his assistants often are scattered around the country. Bennett has the final say on which players receive scholarship offers from Virginia, so his itinerary rarely unfolds as scheduled.
“Ritchie could see someone he loves in Myrtle Beach, and he’ll call Tony and say, ‘We have to get you down here as soon as possible,’ ” Wideman said. “So that could change everything.”
When the dead period arrives, the coaches will reconvene at JPJ. They’ll discuss prospects they’ve seen and ask each other, ‘Who do you like, and who do you not like?” Wideman said.
The second evaluation period is July 22-31. UVa’s coaches already have tentative schedules for those days, but they may undergo major changes during the dead period.
Wideman, who was on Bennett’s staff at Washington State, followed his boss to UVa in 2009. This is Wideman’s sixth year coordinating July recruiting schedules for coaches. As far as his duties go, “I think for July it ranks up there with taking care of the student-athletes here on Grounds,” he said.
“In order for them to be the most efficient and most effective on the road, it’s got to be organized. The rental car’s got to be ready as soon as they land.”
When a coach who was planning to spend, say, a Tuesday recruiting in Wisconsin decides he needs to be in Georgia instead that day, Wideman tries to make the switch go as smoothly as possible. It’s not always easy, especially when it comes to locating a suitable hotel room.
“You want to find one close to the gym, and you want to find a good one,” Wideman said, “and typically those are booked up.”
He smiled. “Hotels.com is my best friend.”