As soon as one basketball season ends, the next begins.
Now comes recruiting season and college basketball coaches scour the planet for talent, searching for a program-changer, an overlooked prospect, especially a big man.
So Northwest College men’s basketball coach Brian Erickson is on the case.
Coaches visit tournaments, are solicited by email and personal highlight tapes, and are open to suggestions about mystery players.
Aware the Trappers are graduating centers Levi Londale and Damon Leach, I became a talent whisperer.
Psst, I said to Erickson, I’ve got a player for you.
Naturally, since I do not frequent gyms except to watch genuine games with scoreboards and clocks, Erickson queried where I had come across such a player.
Minnesota, I said, Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, gophers and hockey players. Hiding in plain sight.
Londale, from Montreal, is 6-foot-8. Leach, from Pocatello, Idaho, is 6-10. I told Erickson to think big. Really big.
The Holy Grail of basketball recruiting for schools unable to reload with the year’s best high school talent is to identify a rare, raw prospect and make him their own.
“You can’t coach height,” offered Erickson in uttering one of the sport’s great cliches.
Seven-footers do not come in clusters. They appear randomly.
In the endearing 1994 movie “The Air Up There,” starring Kevin Bacon as a college coach, he undertakes an amusing quest to find a big man in Africa.
The fictional coach was ahead of the pack, plowing new territory, going where no scout had gone before. The premise was that African countries did not embrace basketball and this was a pricey and iffy fishing expedition on a limited recruiting budget. Naturally, Bacon finds the right guy.
The movie seems quaint now. Each year more and more tall Africans come to the United States and populate the rosters of basketball teams. They come from all over the place.
Based on places of birth, one internet site ranks the best NBA player born in Africa, including well-known retired guys like Hakeem Olajuwon of Nigeria and Dikembe Mutombo of the Congo.
Current players include Serge Ibaka from the Congo, Luol Deng, South Sudan and Luc Mbah a Moute, Cameron.
Forget sequels to “The Air Up There.”
I urged Erickson to think outside the box.
Driving along I-90 in Minnesota I felt like one of those old-time baseball scouts who roamed back roads to unearth such talent as Oklahoma’s Mickey Mantle. A mile off the road in Blue Earth, population 3,269, I found “my guy.”
Standing 55 1/2 feet tall, weighing 8,000 pounds, with a measured size 78 shoe, the Jolly Green Giant makes a strong first impression. In a community which embraces a special relationship with vegetables he is a star. Sometimes when the air gets chilly fans drape a scarf over his shoulders.
“We need a big man,” Erickson said. “In one step he’s down the court. We’ll just sign him. We don’t need to see him play.”
Pretty bold gesture without knowing if the Giant can dribble left.
Coaches often worry about personalities clashing when they bring in new guys, but this fellow has a 48-inch wide smile, so odds favor him fitting in.
Being a homebody may be the key issue in persuading the Jolly Green Giant to relocate from Blue Earth, where he has been rooted since 1979.
Perhaps the Giant is sensitive to being a minority of one. After all, Kermit The Frog once sang “it’s not easy being green.”
Many coaches, to indicate their color blindness, say they don’t care if a player is orange, purple or green. If he can help them win, he will play.
The Jolly Green Giant would give Erickson a pioneering chance to prove that tenet.