As basketball coach at Simi Valley High, Bob Hawking knows all about the guerrilla tactics favored by some college recruiters. Persistent fellows with the oily persuasiveness of a used-car salesman and the go-for-the-jugular mentality of Count Dracula, they have been known to attempt anything short of kidnaping to get their man.
Although the NCAA has tightened rules and increased penalties to deter the unscrupulous, the unethical and the underhanded, Hawking has gone even further to protect his star player, 6-foot, 10-inch Don MacLean, one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation. Establishing and strictly enforcing guidelines that have limited access to MacLean, Hawking has successfully shielded the 17-year-old center and his family from the potential horrors of recruiting.
"The worst thing that can happen is that things get out of control," Hawking said. "But if you establish a set of rules--if you tell recruiters that you're in control--you can maintain sanity."
With some 200 colleges expressing an interest in MacLean, Hawking envisioned his player spending most of his waking moments dealing with recruiters instead of homework. So last spring, with NCAA rules permitting colleges to make personal contact after a player's junior season, Hawking put MacLean off limits except for the hours between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Sunday nights.
"It wouldn't have been unusual for a school to call every night," Hawking said. Considering the large number of interested colleges, MacLean would have been forced to get an answering service. And even though recruiters faced the prospect of three hours of busy signals trying to get through on Sundays, "All the schools followed our requests. They were really above board," Hawking said.
MacLean's mother is especially pleased that reason rose above potential chaos. "The way it was handled was terrific," said Pat MacLean, a six-footer who met her 6-8 husband at a club for tall singles.
Fortunately, talking on the phone for three solid hours isn't beyond the capabilities of a normal teen-ager. So MacLean, since April, has spent his Sunday nights at home, yapping with recruiters and coaches instead of girls. He used his sister's telephone, which was a calculated move: It doesn't have call waiting, meaning that he could make small talk and ask questions without constant interruptions.
"He couldn't have finished a conversation if he used my phone, which has call waiting," Pat said.
MacLean's friend, Tim Laker, a former Simi Valley baseball player, spent numerous Sunday evenings at the MacLeans, discovering what it must be like to be Mr. Popularity. "He'd get call after call," said Laker, who attends Oxnard College. "It was pretty hectic. I don't know how he put up with it."
Enduring the frenzy of college recruiting has been made somewhat easier by the NCAA's early signing rule. This year, high school seniors can terminate their recruiting headaches by announcing the college of their choice during a one-week period beginning today. To condense the possibilities into a reasonable number, the NCAA set up additional guidelines: from Sept. 17 to Oct. 7, recruiters from 10 schools were allowed to come into a recruit's home a maximum of three times; then, within 20 days, the recruit had to select five of those schools to visit.
But Pat MacLean thinks that choosing the final five is a process that needs careful thought, and 20 days is not enough time. "The period was too condensed," she said. "I wish Don had had more time to absorb everything."
MacLean's final five: UCLA, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Nevada-Las Vegas. To help him narrow the field intelligently, Hawking put together a questionnaire so he would have significant information on which to base his decision. During those Sunday-night phone conversations, MacLean would ask: How many athletes graduate? What's the weather like? How's the social life? How many starters are returning? How many forwards are you recruiting, and who? Will I have a chance to play right away?
"The most important factors now are whether I'll play right away, what the head coach is like, what the degree means, what the city is like and what kind of support the team gets," said MacLean, who averaged 25.2 points a game last season in leading the Pioneers to a 26-2 record. Recruited for college as a small forward although he plays center for Simi Valley, MacLean says he was told: "I'm the best-shooting big man in the country," but beyond promising him an education, none of the five, he says, did anything illegal to score points with him.
"Me and the coach, especially the coach, have been on top of the situation," MacLean said.