For rising seniors Dion Brown and Emmanuel Nda, getting seen in a pandemic summer is not easy
The summer of 2020 was going to be a big one for high school athletes who just wrapped up their junior seasons. In basketball and football, the spring and summer camp and AAU tournament seasons might have had a positive impact on several of those athletes earning scholarships.
But the coronavirus pandemic shut those camps and tournaments down tighter than a drum. It has kept athletes from competing and college coaches from hitting the road looking for those hidden gems that could transform their programs from just OK to really good.
"It's obviously a lot more difficult [to be seen] than if there had there not been a pandemic," Monument Mountain basketball player Dion Brown said. "You really just have to try your best with your AAU coaches to get your name out there, try to have them reach out and tell [college] coaches what you did last season, because there's not much you can show them from this season."
Brown has had his fair share of interest from several mid-major Division I programs, and he received his first offer back in mid-June.
"Blessed to receive my first division 1 offer from Bryant University! Thank you to the Bryant staff for believing in me and my abilities!" he wrote on Twitter.
Williams College graduate and two-time Division III All-American Mike Crotty runs the Eastern Massachusetts-based Middlesex Magic AAU program. That's the program that former Eph and current Miami Heat forward Duncan Robinson and current Milwaukee Bucks forward Pat Connaughton played for. Current Williams player Cole Prowett-Smith also played for the Magic.
"We've got four junior boys teams that are full of college players," Crotty said. "We had 30 kids go last year [to college] off the four teams. It's going to vary. My top team has nine players with Division I offers right now, so it hasn't really hurt them in terms of being recognized at the Division I level. The abundance of offers some of them may have garnered if they had already played in April, I'm sure, would have varied."
Where Crotty thinks the lack of spring and summer tournament basketball hurts are for the kids in his, and other programs, who might be thinking of playing at Division II or Division III.
"The kids that are probably more Division II or III kids, it's not like Division II's offer early anyway," Crotty said. "They're waiting on the whole thing to play out and see if kids are getting Division I looks. Division III's, they don't necessarily offer. They're going to recruit you and try to visit early to try and make a decision.
"It's impacted it."
Brown helped lead Monument to an 18-6 record in 2019-20, as the Spartans made it to the Western Massachusetts Division III semifinals. He averaged 25 points per game for Randy Koldys' team.
"My AAU coach has done a really nice job of getting my name out there last season. I had a pretty good season last season, which helped out a lot," Brown said in an interview with The Eagle. "It's not as easy as it would have been, had there not been a pandemic going on."
While basketball has its spring and summer AAU schedules, football has a summer camp schedule. Colleges as diverse as UMass, Williams, UAlbany and Boston College, either host camps for prospective student-athletes or send their staffs to visit camps throughout the region, and the nation.
Pittsfield High School running back Emmanuel Nda picked up a couple of offers in the spring, one Division I-FBS and one Division I-FCS, but admitted the coronavirus did have an impact on his getting out to those camps.
"Due to having a great season and and having a great coaching staff" at Pittsfield, he said, "the highlight film I have on Twitter is honestly, my only exposure, since there are no camps going to be open. Reaching out to coaches with my highlight film is my only exposure for the summer."
Nda, who will be a senior in the fall, announced his two offers on Twitter during the spring.
He wrote: "After great conversations with @CoachJeffMonken and @CoachJohnLoose I am honored and blessed to announce that I received an offer from the Army West Point to play Division 1 football. Thank you @CoachJezewski for all your love and support @ArmyWP_Football"
A second offer came in, from an FCS school, and Nda also posted this on Twitter: "After great conversations with @CMerrittMT and @CoachSielawa I am honored and blessed to announce that I received an offer from Bryant University to play Division 1 football. Thank you @CoachJezewski for all your love and support. @BryantUFootball."
The Generals' running back, who was the Berkshire Eagle's football offensive player of the year, said he's heard from eight or nine Division I colleges about playing football.
"Other than complimenting me on my film, they're just trying to keep up with me," Nda said, "making sure my grades are good. They're very sympathetic toward what's going on."
Nda said that his calendar was pretty busy this spring and summer, and he had planned to go to a lot of camps.
"They're very, very helpful and they're very understanding considering the pandemic. But other than being understanding and knowing that we can't go to camps," the PHS athlete said, "they're trying to do their best for us to get on campus as soon as possible."
Both Brown and Nda are becoming experts in this remote recruitment.
"I think I have a great attitude. I like people. I like talking to people," Brown said. "Just getting the one-on-one, in-person connection is huge. Just knowing you have a connection with a coach and hoping they like you. I really missed out on that due to the pandemic.
"I just have to hope that they like what they saw of my basketball."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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