“I remember one time at the National Tournament,” Oregon Tech head basketball coach Danny Miles said. “I had a German player and we changed our defense in the last ten seconds of the game, and I asked if everyone knew what they were doing, and he was smiling at me. I found out after that when they’re smiling at you, it means they have no clue what you’re saying. We lost the game because he was on the other side of the floor.”
That’s not the only problem coaches face when recruiting foreign players. Many times they have to decide if a player is the right fit based on a YouTube highlight reel and a few phone calls.
“Well number one, it’s all video,” Southern Oregon head basketball coach Brian McDermott said. “You’re having to make judgments based on that as opposed to seeing people live and seeing them quite a number of times. Usually most of the kids we see, we get to see quite a bit.’
“You know if I believe in somebody,” Miles said, “If I don’t see him, if I believe in the guy that’s telling me about him, we’ll take that chance.’
The process is tough for the athletes, too. Living half a world away, they get a lot less exposure to college coaches and have to work twice as hard to get noticed.
“A lot of the top kids in Australia only get looked at by the top colleges,” Oregon Tech guard Austen Flint said. “So you have to go out there and cut up game tape and send things out there to try to get interest.”
“Well it takes a lot of time and effort,” Southern Oregon guard Joel Spear said. “Countless nights spent online, on the computer, looking up schools, contact details, that sort of stuff.”
For all the hours players spend researching schools and contacting coaches, many still have to make a commitment to a college without the benefit of a campus visit or meeting the coaches in person.
“It was just kind of a guessing game,” Flint said, “just trusting your gut instinct to say, ‘yeah, this is what I want to do.'”
“The only person I talked to was Coach Mac,” Southern Oregon forward Jordan West said. “I didn’t meet the players until I got here. It was a bit of a leap of faith.”
“I was really lucky,” Oregon Tech forward Mihajlo Matic said. “I had no idea what I’m getting into. I didn’t know much about Oregon. You never know until you come, until you start practicing, until you meet the other teammates and coaching staff. You don’t know what’s going on.’
While getting the chance to play college ball in the US wasn’t easy, everyone I spoke with said the decision to come to Oregon was a good one.
“I’m just in a pretty fortunate situation where I’ve got great teammates, great coaching and it just kind of fell into place,” Flint said.
“I’m quite blessed to have come to a team with great players, great guys, great mates,” West said. “You’ve got to take the risks, take the chances and it worked out well.’
And Coach Miles makes extra sure that his players know which play is called.