INTERVIEW: St. Mary’s Coach Randy Bennett On International Recruiting In College Basketball

RB: With the Australians, they play with a 24 second clock, so possessions are shorter.  They’re used to playing faster, so you have to understand that with the guards. They are more careless with the ball and they’ll take higher risks cause they are trying to score.  With a 24 second clock you have like two ball reversals and then it has to go up.  In college you have more time, so you can be more careful and selective.  You don’t have to be so high risk.  After 11 years with these guys, that’s the biggest difference.

I think rebounding too; they usually aren’t as conditions to block out.  They aren’t as good of rebounders and it might be related to the clock.  But the turnovers and making high-risk plays is directly related to the pace they play and the shot clock.  All the way up in their leagues from 12 and under on up, they are playing with that clock.  Playing at somewhat of frenetic pace, playing up-tempo, and they press.  It just makes for a little bit of a crazier game.

So when you get those guards like Mills and Dellevadova you have to get them to value taking care of the ball, making good decisions, not needing to make high risk plays, and taking better shots.  So that’s the thing I’ll say.  Also they’re selfless.  They are all into the team and it’s refreshing to see.  They are less likely to beat their chest and draw attention to themselves.  It helps your team and program culture.  We’ve become more selfless and I think it’s pretty important.  So I love what the Australia kids have given us.

SM: Do you have an assistant who overseas all of the international recruiting or do you all kind of dip your toes into it?

RB: Two guys.  Adam Caporn, being from Australia and also Eran Ganot.  Eran does dabble in other countries outside of Australia too.  He has a pulse on that.  I’m way more in tune with Australia.  But they keep me up to speed.  We don’t recruit that many guys.  When we see that someone will be a difference maker, they bring him to me.

I need to go over there more, with commitments to the job, I don’t like leaving our team that much.  I used to go over to Australia once a year and now I go about once every three years.  But Adam goes all the time.

SM: With the AIS changing their rules and recruiting in general somewhat difficult what country do you go to next if Australia gets a lot harder to recruit?  Is there another certain country where the players would fit in well at St. Mary’s?  And in general what countries around the world do you see developing good basketball talent and are on the rise?

RB: All of Europe.  Just look at the NBA, there are players from a lot of countries now.  Spain, Italy, and Lithuania all have great basketball.  Croatia, Poland, France, and Russia all produce a lot of talent.  The deal is that you have to figure out where you can get kids.  With a lot of the countries I named, the chance to get kids out, as a high school age guy is not good.  And because the pro teams can pay him early, then we can’t take him.  That combined with some of them not wanting to leave their country it’s hard.  They have to want to come to the United States.

If they can play basketball and get paid at a high level in Europe, then they don’t need to come.  That’s the biggest change over the last 25 years is that there are so many good pro leagues in Europe they feel they don’t need to leave.  They make it to the NBA from just staying their country.  There’s Ricky Rubio and tons of other examples.  But if they want to get an education and want to play college basketball, a great level of basketball, then they can come over.

So you have to figure out who’s good enough and interested and open to coming to college.  Then those are your guys to target.

SM: You talk about how there’s a lot of talent in Europe but it’s hard to get guys out.  You have a player in Lithuania playing for Lietuvous Rytas from maybe 14 or 15 years old going up the club circuit.  Hopefully they stay on they move up and play for the big club.  But then you have new academies forming like the Canaries Basketball Academy run by Rob Orellana in Gran Canaria.  This is a place where his whole purpose is to get guys to play in the NCAA.  He gets guys from all over Europe and gets them to the NCAA.  Do you think this is a unique situation or something that around the world we might find more?

RB: Good question.  I’d say it’s the equivalent of a prep school.  Usually an international kid you get over here is out of a junior college or a prep school.  A lot of the ones you get to play in college have gone to JC or prep school.  You know they have to come here to get their language skills up to speed.

I have some grasp of Rob’s situation in the Canary Islands but I think that’s like a prep school located over there.  I don’t think there will be a bunch of those set up.  He’s cornered the market over there in Europe for that type of situation, at least as far as I’m aware of.  Now I do think it’s very similar to a prep school with a lot of foreign kids in the United States.

SM: I find it really interesting as the days and years pass; the basketball world becomes increasingly closer.  From Synergy and others, there are more European guys coming to the United States and more Americans going over there.  So this makes the Canaries Basketball Academy a really interesting place.  And it shows us that there are Europeans who want to come to US colleges.  They get the chance to have an education and play basketball.  But if you’re in say Croatia and you can just start playing for a contract immediately or you are already in this system, it’s a lot tougher for you or your family to make this monumental decision.  You have to make a decision to go so far away, to not make money.  But in Europe, basketball is already cultivated so well, it’d be interesting to me if more academies like the Canaries popped up in Latin America or Asia or somewhere else.  Somewhere basketball might not be at the forefront and might not be developed as well as it can be.  This makes the academy to get kids to college very interesting.

RB: I would agree.  The biggest problem is the academic piece.  If you didn’t have that hurdle, you’d have a lot more international kids coming over.  Just the way the NCAA interrupts it from a lot of different countries, it’s hard.  That’s why a lot of Europeans end up going to prep school or junior college.  It’s because they can’t come in right away and be eligible.  Then by the time you figure it all out, it’s probably too late in the game to get the kid to take the proper core courses that are required.  It’s trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

Our compliance procedures for academics for US guys are pretty clear-cut.  Kids know them early on.  I think they’re good and kids know how many cores they are supposed to be taking.

Well our education system isn’t the same as Europe’s.  And even within Europe, France is different than Italy, Italy then Bulgaria.  Each one has a different set of rules.  By the time you figure if a guy is good enough, interested in playing, then he’s probably 18 or 19.  So if he didn’t somehow get the right coursework, he can’t come, has to go to JC or prep.  So if wasn’t so tough for the international kids to get in over here, you’d see a lot more coming over.  There are a lot of good players over there.

SM: Lastly do we have any new Australian or international guys who have committed or are coming in as freshmen?  And do you or your assistants have any trips planned outside the country for this year for recruiting?

RB: Yes, one of my assistants was just over there.  Then in the spring we will try and go to Europe or see what our needs are.  I can’t say any names but if you look online you can figure out the Australian deal.

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