07/30/2009 4:28 PM ET
Roberts gets little sleep on recruiting trail
St. John's coach makes most of evaluation period
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
"You start it very early in the morning, and we do go very late at night," Norm Roberts said of recruiting. (AP)

Norm Roberts woke up in an Orlando hotel room at 4:15 a.m. on Thursday, skipped his daily shave and slept during his 7 a.m. flight to Kennedy Airport.

Over the past month, the St. John's coach has been out on a recruiting adventure that took him to Reading, Pa.; Cleveland; Philadelphia; Springfield, Mass.; Augusta, S.C.; Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla.

During the week-long break separating the two July recruiting periods, Roberts came home for only two days.

In between, he flew out to Hampton, Va., to meet his wife, Pascale, and watch his son, Justin, play with the Long Island Lightning in the 12-and-under AAU Nationals.

In total, Roberts traveled 9,557 miles in July.

On Friday, the last day of the NCAA evaluation period, Roberts will be back in his own gym at St. John's for the inaugural Summer in the City event.

"It's fun," Roberts said by phone on Thursday. "We're coaches. We could be out there really working. We're sitting in air-conditioned gyms. We're not going to the worst places in the world -- Las Vegas, Orlando. It's not like going to the ends of the earth."

Still, the days are long and grueling when you're trying to land players who can help your program and, ultimately, your career.

"You start it very early in the morning, and we do go very late at night," Roberts said. "We do evaluate players. By the end of the period, you just want to be seen. By the time you get to here, you know who you like, and you know what they can do and what they can't do."

College coaches are not allowed to comment on unsigned high school players, but among the players Roberts and his staff are scouting are 6-foot-6 senior forward Jayvaughn Pinkston of Bishop Loughlin; 6-4 senior guard and New York native Doron Lamb of Oak Hill (Va.) Academy; 6-8 senior forward Tobias Harris of Dix Hills (N.Y.) Half Hollow Hills West; and 6-9 sophomore center Andre Drummond of St. Thomas More (Conn.).

All four players played exceptionally well at a number of events, making them more attractive to high-major coaches and thus increasing the competition for Roberts and his staff.

The 6-foot-8 Harris has offers from nearly every major Division I program in the nation, including Tennessee, UConn, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Maryland, Oklahoma, Georgia Tech, Rutgers, St.John's, Virginia, Kentucky, Louisville, West Virginia, Memphis, Florida and UCLA.

"He's the best offensive forward in the country," one Big East assistant coach said. "He can face up, he can post up, he can drive. He can do everything. If they took a picture of his body from last year and compared it to this year, he can make millions of dollars doing body sculpting or weight loss ads. He looks thin, quick and bouncy.

"He's really good. He's the story of the summer."

The 6-6 Pinkston, thought to be leaning toward St. John's at one point, now has Villanova's Jay Wright, Tennessee's Bruce Pearl and Arizona's Sean Miller tracking him after an impressive performance in Las Vegas.

"What you have are a lot of versatile players who can play multiple positions," Roberts said.

"Combo guards that can play one or two. A lot of threes and fours. A lot of versatile players."

Tracking these players day after day means enduring the extremes, eating plenty of mediocre food and spending long days on the road.

"You have to walk a quarter mile up to the Sports Center in Orlando," Roberts said. "You're walking that deal, and it's 98 degrees, and, as soon as you walk in that gym, that cold air hits you.

"If you stay in the Milkhouse in that air conditioning, you're gonna need either long pants or a vest or Windbreaker."

Roberts said he ate plenty of pretzels and popcorn "just to snack on," but he still managed to run 50 minutes or an hour in the hotel gym each morning.

The Peach Jam in Augusta and the Orlando events are the best, Roberts said, because they serve breakfast and lunch.

"The Peach Jam hospitality room just keeps going," he said.

Many nights Roberts didn't get to dinner until 10 p.m. and didn't return to his hotel room until around midnight. Then he had to wake up, work out and go to an 8 a.m. game.

Though the hospitality room food was free, these trips are far from it.

Coaches have to purchase packets with rosters and player information that are vital to the recruiting process. In Las Vegas, those packets ranged from $180-$275. Cash is the preferred payment option.

"It's extortion," Yale coach James Jones told The New York Times.

In Las Vegas, Roberts was one of a handful of coaches who attended a banquet sponsored by Grassroots Basketball of America honoring grassroots sneaker legend Sonny Vaccaro.

Many coaches stayed away from the event after the NCAA sent out an e-mail warning that attending could constitute an NCAA violation because college coaches cannot contribute financially to organizations or individuals with ties to prospective student-athletes.

The event cost $800 a table or $195 per person, according to ESPN.com, which first reported the story.

"We were told that, as long as we didn't pay anything, that we could go," Roberts said. "I've known Sonny for a long time and I knew that they were giving him a nice award. I went there to support him."

After landing at Kennedy Airport at 10 a.m. Thursday, Roberts went straight into his office at St. John's to fill out paperwork and hand in receipts.

He also wanted to check in on his current players, including redshirt senior forward Anthony Mason, who is recovering from a foot injury and was granted a fifth year of eligibility.

"It's a great opportunity for me to come in the office and see all my guys," Roberts said. "Mase is doing good. He's back working out full speed."

After a long day Thursday, Roberts said he would head home before one more day on the recruiting trail back in his own gym.

"I think I'm going to go home and kiss my wife," he said, "and I'll probably be asleep by 10 o'clock."

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com.
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