By Chris Goldberg
LILacrosseNews.com, Posted 12/6/12
ROSEMONT, Pa. – Several hundred players, parents and coaches listened intently Tuesday night as Maryland men’s lacrosse coach John Tillman served as the guest speaker at the annual Duke’s Lacrosse Club Recruiting Seminar at Harriton High in suburban Philadelphia.
Tillman, whose Terrapins have been Division I runners-up each of the past two years, gave his recommendations on how student-athletes and families can best navigate the pressure-filled task of picking the right college.
In an exclusive interview with LILacrosseNews.com, Tillman addressed the hotly-debated issue of early recruiting. Last month Haverford School (PA) attackman Forry Smith became the first freshman to make a verbal commitment (to Johns Hopkins) public and it’s been reported through Twitter that another Philly freshman has committed to a major Division I college.
Just three years ago the earliest Division I commits were players about to enter their junior season, and then last year sophomores began committing in the fall.
Tillman said there is no right or wrong in the approach to recruiting – and that everyone has to adjust to the changing landscape.
“I think that’s up to the coaches and the parents,” he said. “It’s their prerogative. If the families feel comfortable to make those decisions, they can decide.
“It’s getting earlier and earlier. A lot of coaches feel pretty strongly that they need to be out in front of it or feel they will potentially be left behind. Philosophically, it’s what feels best for your program.”
Tillman, who formerly coached as an assistant at the Division III level (Ithaca), and at Navy (12 years) as well as serving as head coach in the non-scholarship Ivy League (three years at Harvard), admitted that coaches have a tougher job when recruiting freshmen and sophomores.
“The younger it gets, the more potential for change in many ways,” he said. “None of us have a crystal ball in trying to forecast. It’s hard to do with young people.
“Yet some people feel like it’s worth making that decision and saying, ‘Alright, let’s go ahead and see what happens.’ Everybody knows their program best and every coach will make a decision based on what they know and what they think.”
Is it wrong to ask a freshman to commit when the player has not stepped on a high school playing field?
“I don’t think it’s for any of us to be critical or to second guess,” Tillman said. “Some guys wait a lot longer. There is no right or wrong. It’s what you feel and what’s best for your program.
“You won’t really know until they get into your program. Many coaches feel uncomfortable with the way it (early recruiting) is, but feel inclined to make decisions because that’s the way the climate is.”
Key Questions to Answer
During the interview, Tillman answered several questions that has created more anxiousness among players.
The first question: Can players that bloom late, mature late or decide to enter the recruiting scene late still have a chance to get picked up by a Division I program as a junior or senior?
“I think there’s always going to be homes for really good players,” Tillman said. “If you are out and you see a junior or senior and they are really terrific and feel they would help your program, you will reach out and open a dialogue.”
Tillman noted the example of Colgate’s Peter Baum, the 2012 Tewaaraton Trophy winner – a player who blossomed somewhat late.
“You may say, ‘Hey I missed this guy.’ There will always be homes for guys like that,” Tillman said. “That’s the message tonight. Sometimes it doesn’t come together as early as you like, but there will still be homes.
“We all realize if there is a guy we missed we would be crazy not to find a spot for a guy like that.”
Tillman also answered this question: Will more early commits end up changing schools before they reach the college or end up transferring?
“I think what you will eventually see is more transfers and more changes,” he said. “In college football they have what I am told are ‘soft verbals’ where kids keep looking around.
“My assumption is it becomes more like football and basketball you will see more of that happening. And I think if a guy commits to a program and in the meantime the coach leaves, that’s fair if they decide to make a move.
“Conversely, if a new coach is coming in he has the right to choose his players. It’s tough on both sides. That’s the danger of the early commits. But if you are a really good player you will find a home.”
Tillman felt strongly that coaches are continuing to search for new players in new areas of the lacrosse map.
“When you look at the kids from the non-traditional areas, they might not be ranked. But you see the kids from new blossoming programs and some people may overlook them,” he said. “You are going to try to find some of those guys that somebody else didn’t see.
“Even with (recruiting) tournaments, they are pretty big so you can’t go to every game. You may see a guy from Arizona and say, ‘Where did this guy come from?’ Or you see a kid from Indiana who picked up a stick late and say, ‘Hey this guy can do something for us.’
“We have to decide if you want to save scholarship money for guys we haven’t seen yet.”
Tillman said that “Because of the nature of what we do there is a lot of anxiety and a lot to understand. Then he used an analogy to describe the recruiting process.
“Buying a car is a big investment and it’s expensive so you do your homework,” he said. “You test drive it and try to find the right car for you.
“Going to college is more important; can always buy another car. So you take the time; it could happen as a freshman or it could happen as a senior. It is not a race; whenever you find that right place, that’s what it’s all about.”