Textbook Recruiting: Kerry Keating's Wooing Of Russell Westbrook To UCLA

When I heard that Phil Mathews was the replacement for Donny Daniels, I was pleased. But that pleasure was tempered by the accompanying news that Scott Garson and Scott Duncan were returning to Westwood. That feeling is rooted in the notion that this program is in desperate need of an ace recruiter and while I hear great things about Mathews, I was hoping that a "recruiting specialist" would be joining the staff along with him.

Check this recent story from the Orange County Register. This is how you recruit:

On Memorial Day weekend, before his junior year, Westbrook played in a tournament at Pauley Pavilion, which the UCLA coaches weren't allowed to watch. The word got to assistant coach Kerry Keating. One guy was playing at a different speed.

Westbook excitedly got an invitation to a tournament in Las Vegas. Such schools as Creighton, San Diego and Kent State were aware of Westbrook. Keating quietly hoped no one else was.

Keating sat next to Purdue coach Matt Painter in Vegas, and Painter was telling him how much he liked Darren Collison, who already had committed to the Bruins. "I was glad to hear him say that," Keating said, "because, on the next court, Russell was there going a million miles an hour.

"The kid had huge hands, huge feet. He had the grades. He had a great family background. Maybe if you saw him at the time you thought he had maturity issues, because he'd get knocked down, and the play would go the other way and he'd stand there like he was hurt. But it was a matter of him learning how to handle all that competitiveness."

As a senior Westbrook began to percolate, with a 25.7 points-per-game average.

"Pretty soon Arizona State and Wake Forest and Miami got interested," said Keating, now Santa Clara's coach. "Russell even took a visit to Miami. But by then we'd developed a trust."

More after the jump

That's how you recruit. It's not just about scouting (which is essential and also hard to do) and making the pitch (also essential and hard to do well), it's about building relationships, about building that trust. (And -- while I don't want to go off on a tangent here, those relationships and that trust are essential in keeping players with NBA potential on the roster an extra season or keeping players simply with potential from transferring to UNLV.)

The feeling here is that building those relationships is not necessarily Ben Howland's forte. That doesn't bother me so much, it's not essential that the head coach also be the warm and fuzzy father figure. In Howland's case, he eschews the warm and fuzzies, but excels at preparing his team to win through practice, scouting and in game decisions. But he needs an assistant with those qualities.

The feeling here is that the personable Mathews can play that father figure role. The question, however, is whether the 59-year-old assistant can related to the players in the same way as a young, recruiting firebrand. Obviously, we hope he can. If he can't then we'll resume the call for Howland to add an assistant wise to the ways young people communicate and who has the ability to create trust and build bonds and close relationships.

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