Sports illustrated and Roberto Nelson, a guard out of Santa Barbara who will be enrolling at Oregon State this season, ran a little experiment this past year. They collected every piece of recruiting mail sent to Nelson over three years, and wrote an article about the 2,161 pieces he received, only to find out that 200 went beyond the form-letter stage. The rest had all the persuasiveness of the pharmaceutical spam in your e-mail. Among the folks who went the extra mile, however, was UNC assistant Jerod Haase:
SI had to search long and hard to find nuggets of original work. North Carolina assistant Jerod Haase sent photocopies of the syndicated sports cartoon In the Bleachers. In one panel a coach explains the physics of a slam under the title "Introductory Dunk," to which Haase added his own punch line, written in Carolina-blue ink: "Roberto—Are you ready for 'Advanced Dunking?'" On another cartoon showing "a 7-footer" who actually had seven feet, Haase added, "Roberto—This guy can really tap dance!"
I'm not really sure you're going to land a player by sending roughly the same sort of mail I get from my Mom on a semi-regular basis, but maybe the Carolina coaching staff is on to something. It's a big contrast to the last time SI did this, 25 years earlier with the help of Chris Washburn, Danny Manning, and John Williams. Then the letters were personalized, and the difference in coaching styles was apparent. Dean Smith was all class:
It is highly unusual for me to write to someone who is only a ninth grader, but I did want to take this opportunity to let you know that we have heard many great things about you here at the University of North Carolina. I understand you are an outstanding young man and individual who has great potential in the game of basketball. Let me encourage you to work very hard during your high school career so you may have the opportunity to attend the college of your choice...
Of course we are hopeful you will follow the University of North Carolina basketball program during these years and perhaps one day would be interested in coming to Chapel Hill and become a part of our basketball program.... Keep up the great work!
DEAN E. SMITH
Washburn "was thrilled. To receive a personal letter from such a famous coach was sooooooo exciting." Mike Krzyzewski is just creepy:
"You looked in great shape, and the young lady with you did not hurt your appearance. She looked like a first class girl...." Girl friends run a close second to mothers in the influence department. Krzyzewski also sent a letter to the girl "telling her she was very nice," Washburn says. The Duke coach used a similar play on Manning. After watching Manning lead Page High to a victory over Chapel Hill, Krzyzewski wrote: "Danny, I spoke to a couple members of the Page girls' team. They had nothing but fantastic things to say about you. I stood next to them at the game and they cheered like crazy for you...."
As a fellow graduate of Greensboro Page, I can assure you that be cheered on by the girl's basketball team does not make you a player. Good folks, the Pirates. Manning, of course, ended up at Kansas in no small part because:
Manning's favorite is a 140-word fable from Kansas coach Larry Brown entitled The Bear and the Two Travelers, which teaches a lesson in trust. Manning says this is Brown's way of saying "that he'd stick by me through thick and thin." Which is one reason, Manning says, he signed with Kansas. Another reason: A year ago, Brown hired Danny's father, Ed Manning, as an assistant coach, and the Manning family moved from Greensboro to Lawrence, Kans.
Washburn also received Brown's Bear and Two Travelers letter, but it soon got buried in the avalanche of mail from N.C. State.
Manning and Brown would both leave Kansas in 1988, following their national championship. Washburn received a total of 278 pieces of mail from the Wolfpack, where he played for one season on his way to one hell of a Wikipedia page. Flipping through the quoted pages of letters from State assistant Tom Abatemarco, now with the WNBA Monarchs, is pretty much the height of hilarity; I won't spoil it by excerpting them here.
Oh, and Roberto Nelson? Hit the end of that story to see how OSU got him.