Jeremy Shulman is starting his fifth season as the head basketball coach at Eastern Florida.
He has a very good idea what the major college level looks like. He’s sent his JUCO stars there in bunches. He knows what it takes.
Shulman, in fact, said he won’t recruit a player who he doesn’t think is a Division I talent. But life is different on this level, shall we say.
So often players who were lacking in a certain area wind up on Shulman’s roster instead of in the big-time – if only for a while. He currently has about five or six Division I players who after this season should be playing on the major college level next year. They came here from Iowa to Kentucky for various reasons, several after being major college recruits who want to go back. Some had academic shortcomings to work, others had person issues.
Some like to label junior college the land of misfit toys for hoops. Not coaches trying to get to the Final Four, however.
Junior college recruits can make a huge impact right away. Which brings us back to Shulman. In his previous job as an assistant at East Mississippi Community College he was a superb recruiter and helped turn that program around as it made its first national JUCO tourney appearance in 2010.
And Shulman loves to beat the bushes to find talent. He’s been to places most of us don’t even know exist. He’s also been some places you’d know well, but probably fear. At one of those is where he calls perhaps the worst recruiting story of his career. While at East Mississippi, he went to see a high school game in a tougher part of Memphis. Right away he realized the potential player had an attitude issue. In the second half, the player ended up spitting on an opponent which resulted in . . . we’ll let him tell it.
“Both benches clear and I’m in the top of the stands and I’m ‘You know I should probably get out of here at this point,”’ he said. “The kids on the bench are grabbing metal chairs, which is not a good thing and there are like two police officers in this entire place.”
Shulman got out the best way he could.
Of course, you don’t usually have to fear for your life while checking out a hoops recruit. And there are always those moments when you’re pleasantly stunned. On the junior college level coaches have to figure out if a player fits where maybe someone else didn’t give them a chance, for various reasons. Or maybe everybody else just missed the guy.
Perhaps his favorite story happened at Eastern Florida, when a friend called and told Shulman he had some players for him to take a look at in Orlando. When he got there, one player caught his eye right away. His name was Gary Gaskins.
Former EFSC player Gary Gaskins (15) is the subject of one of coach Jeremy Shulman’s favorite recruiting stories.(Photo: Brian Curl/For FLORIDA TODAY)
“He’s an ex-military guy. This kid was about 6-foot-10 and very, very thin,” Shulman recalls. “I’ll be honest, he looks very goofy, he’s got a flat top and bright orange shoes. There aren’t a lot of 6-10 kids walking around who hadn’t played college basketball.”
Skeptical, but hopeful he’d found a jewel among marbles, Shulman watches as Gaskins, on the second trip down the floor caught the ball in traffic, dribbled twice, and dunked. Gaskins had grown 3 inches while in the military and had moved to Orlando to live with an aunt while going to auto technical school. At that point, he had no thought of going to college.
“Two years later he signs with Oklahoma State and is one of the top-rated JUCO players in the country,” chuckles Shulman.
While major colleges were able to sign recruits last Wednesday, the junior college level has just one signing period starting April 8. The approach is very different. Shulman doesn’t worry too much about high school juniors – the life blood of recruiting at the major conference level.
JUCO coaches have to wait to see which top flight players are lacking in test scores or grade point averages. That means Shulman sometimes has to wait until deep in the summer to finish getting the 7-8 players he needs every year, since the turnover is so fast on the two-year level. That means teams change drastically overnight.
Shulman has a list of 200-300 potential recruits, as opposed to just a handful by top programs on the Division I level.
Shulman has had players from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Africa to name a few other countries. He has driven 16 hours round-trip in a day to look at a potential recruit in the middle of the summer. It’s a tireless hunt, always trying to find that next Gary Gaskins, whose life he can change forever. And this year, once again, as the elite recruits are locked up and life moves on at Duke, Kansas or Kentucky, somewhere out there are some gems they all missed.
But bet when the summer approaches, Shulman will be out there somewhere looking for the ones that got away.
Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org