Basketball recruiting brings in future pros

By The Beacon | October 24, 2012 9:00pm

(Ann Truong | THE BEACON)

By PJ Marcello, Staff Writer

Assistant men's basketball coach Michael Wolf describes UP and head coach Eric Reveno's strategy to recruit athletes.

Every fall the campus experiences a giant change, literally. This change usually involves three to four new students who serve as significant outliers on the curve of campus height. These are the most recent basketball recruits.
How do we get these towering athletes to University of Portland instead of them choosing schools in southern California? This is the beauty of recruiting.
Assistant men's basketball coach Michael Wolf believes UP's advantages in recruiting stem from their approach, the allure of going to a good school with a nice campus and the achieved brand of Pilot basketball from the success of past players.
Unlike many schools, which designate specific people exclusively for recruiting, UP takes a more hands-on approach.
"We all take an active and equal role in the recruiting process. All three coaches have significant roles in recruiting," Wolf said. "We all cross-pollinate our evaluations on players and have an ongoing dialogue about them."
Players agree that getting to know the actual coaches in the recruiting process plays a big part in the draw of going to UP.
"Coaches at my junior college (Citrus Community College) told me I wouldn't have to deal with politics and that the coaches at UP were good people," senior guard Derrick Rodgers said. "It's not all about wins and losses; it's also about helping me become a better man which also goes with the school."
UP's scrappy style of play under head men's basketball coach Eric Reveno works best for and develops gritty players, the kind worth recruiting for the UP's men's basketball program.
"We evaluate skill, athletic ability, and toughness on the court and we also want to evaluate where they stand academically and then the analysis of a competitive landscape," Wolf said. "Who else is recruiting him, because, yes, I can walk in a gym and watch a kid who is obviously good enough to help us win a WCC championship. But if I'm standing next to Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of Duke University) I probably shouldn't waste a whole lot of time recruiting that kid."
Talent is not the only criteria for getting recruited into the Pilots program. For coaches, the attitude and team atmosphere at UP makes certain intangibles more important than simply how a player looks in the gym.
"We like to find out what kind of student he is, what his work ethic is like, his personality and how he is going to mesh with the culture of the program that we built here," Wolf said. "There are a lot of good basketball players out there that talent-wise could help us win. But if he's a bad teammate he's not going to work out on our roster."
With seven players on the current roster from California and three foreign born players, the coaches have found a way to pull from talent pools outside of the Northwest.
Many of the players from California are drawn to Portland because it will allow them to play in front of family and friends, yet also let them get away from home for college.
"Other than games here and the away games at Gonzaga and BYU, the rest of the away conference games are all in California," Wolf said. "A lot of parents can get to the games on weekends fairly hassle free."
The key to UP's success in recruiting abroad can be credited to Reveno's connections from when he played overseas and from the reputation of UP basketball from recent graduate's' success in other countries. Getting players from outside the U.S. presents both challenges and advantages for the coaching staff.
"There are a smaller number of players over a larger area. The basketball community is fractured over there and not as well-connected," Wolf said.
Since there is so many Division I schools recruiting talent in the U.S., many do not focus their sights on international players. UP takes advantage of this opportunity which does not exist for other schools.
Reveno's first two recruits as head coach were foreign players, Robin Smeulders (Germany), and Taishi Ito (Japan).
"That success created a strategy to fit into the idea that there are some really talented players internationally that are under-recruited because schools don't invest the time or have the network," Wolf said. "We have invested the time and resources to expand our network of contacts internationally and the school has given us a lot of support."
The University's support has been instrumental in allowing Reveno and his staff to target many of the well-known players in Europe that have been major contributors to the current team and years past.
"The first time I learned about the University of Portland was when Coach Reveno came out to one of my academy games and gave a presentation on the school. I learned about all the international players that went there like (Robin) Smeulders, and he's one of the better players in his league," center Thomas Van der Mars said.
These players also fit into the team-based chemistry Reveno and many other coaches in the WCC have developed rather than the now popular one-on-one individualistic style in the U.S. and the NBA.
"There is a unique blend here that is a highly competitive level of basketball, and it is a heavily skilled valued league and for coaches who have had success in our league that is more important for the roster than stud NBA- caliber athletes," Wolf said. "The international game is a highly skilled game that does not have the overall athletic ability that an American team would, so coaches target those skilled players."
Van der Mars agrees that the style of play and location were key factors in what made him ultimately decide to be a Pilot.
"I talked to other coaches and got a couple offers, but based on the coach and the story, coming here fit me as a player and a person," Van der Mars said. "It has been a nice transition, Portland is a very European city."
Reveno and his staff have shown they have an eye for talent. All of Reveno's recruits since he started in 2006 have gone on to play professionally. This year's team will test how fast these recruits can develop into a competitive team.
This year's roster has only one senior in Rodgers. The young team will showcase the talent that the coaching staff has brought in, including four recruits from this offseason.


Coach Reveno's recruits turned Pro
Ethan Niedermeyer ('06-'10)
Taishi Ito ('06-'10)
Robin Smeulders ('06-'10)
Luke Sikma ('07-'11)
Nik Raivio ('07-'11)
Jared Stohl ('07-'11)
Kramer Knutson ('07-'11)
Jasonn Hannibal ('07-'11)
T.J. Campbell ('08-'09)
Nemanja Mitrovic ('08-'12)
Eric Waterford ('08-'12)

The new recruits from the Class of 2016
Guard Bryce Pressley
Guard David Ahern
Guard Oskars Reinfeld
Forward Jake Ethlers

Sophomore center Thomas van der Mars, of the Netherlands is just one of dozens of recruits that head coach Eric Reveno and the UP men’s basketball program has been able to recruit to come stateside. (Photo courtesy of Talley Carlston)