Interview With Jay Bilas (Part 1 of 3)

Jay Bilas

Part 1 of 3

Interview Conducted 9/22/2008

IMG Speakers

IMG Speakers

This is the first of a three part interview:

Honestly, it would take ten paragraphs to compile even a concise biography for Jay Bilas.

He’s a former Duke basketball standout, turned Spanish & Italian International Basketball star, turned Duke Assistant Basketball coach, turned actor, turned lawyer, turned ESPN color commentator and analyst.

We’ll just let his IMG Speakers Bureau and ESPN official biography provide you with all the details.

In the first part of my three part interview with Bilas, we discussed how the basketball recruiting landscape has evolved in the last 30 years.

Bilas, a post player from Rolling Hills High School in Los Angeles, was himself a consensus Top 40 national player in 1981-82, his senior season.

Unlike the prospects of today, Bilas did not receive his first recruiting letter until his sophomore year in 1980.

BILAS: “I remember who I got my first recruiting letter from. It was the University of Oregon, but Oregon sent letters to every player on the West Coast who could walk and chew gum at the same time. It was just smart recruiting on their part because everybody remembered them.”

AAU basketball summer leagues, which are one of the staples for prep player development and prospect identification today, were almost non-existent during Bilas’ prep career. Select Leagues, which Bilas participated in were available in Southern California.

BILAS: “I played in summer leagues in Los Angeles. I played in the U.S. Olympic Development League which was probably the best league in Southern California at that time.”

“I played in what would now be called AAU events, but there wasn’t a lot of that. AAU wasn’t as prevalent as it was today.”

Still, summer basketball in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s was prep team-oriented.

BILAS: “Back then you played with your high school team. Every player on the basketball team took [Summer PE Courses] and we practiced every day. Then we played as a team in the Long Beach City College Summer League and one other league. We played a couple of games a week back then.”

By Bilas’ junior season, he started to receive piles of mail and offers from colleges throughout the country as well as non-stop telephone calls at his parents house.

BILAS: “That was back in the rotary phone days with no answering machines. If you picked up the phone, you talked to who was on the other end. From the time I was a junior on, I don’t think I ever answered my home telephone. My mom did it and she would either shuffle them off the phone, or if it was someone I wanted to talk to, she’d put me on the phone with them.”

“I came from a first-things-first family and if you had something else to do, you did it. If I had time to talk on the phone, I did. If I had to do homework, or if I had to get somewhere, I’d do that. My mom throughout the process was always very polite, but she had no problem saying, ‘I’m sorry he can’t do that, and that was the end of it.'”

“That phone rang a lot to the point where we took it off the hook if my parents wanted some peace and quiet.”

Bilas said that he did not find the calls intrusive.

Today, the NCAA regulates when and how college coaches can contact recruits, with one of the primary goals being to limit a barrage of messages, calls, and letters to players and their families. He disagrees with the NCAA’s restrictions.

BILAS: “The problem you get into is you are prohibiting a college coach, who I think is a good influence, from doing something the rest of the free world can do. Anybody can contact a kid, and there’s no restrictions, but a college coach can’t. I don’t believe smart college coaches are going to bombard kids to the point where they get turned off by them.”

“I think the NCAA, with very good intentions, goes overboard in trying to protect kids who don’t need to protected. They need to be protected from some of the influences that the NCAA doesn’t have any control over.”

“They hear an anecdote about a kid who gets 500 text messages a month and doesn’t have an unlimited text plan, so the NCAA says ‘Well, no text messaging, because kids may take text messages in class, and may do this, and may do that.’ I never understood why this needs to be regulated to that point. I feel most of these institutions are pretty smart. The high schools can help regulate their students, and the institutions can help regulate their coaches. I don’t think everybody needs to be prohibited from something because somebody did something too much.”

“What do you think people would say if because five per cent of the population speeds, someone [enacts a law] that to make sure nobody goes 85 miles an hour, we’re going to make everybody go 45 all the time. You’d go ‘that’s ridiculous.’ But that’s kind the way the NCAA does things. If they catch a few people speeding, they are going to make everybody goes 45 to make sure nobody exceeds the 65 mph limit. I never thought that was the right way to go.”

Top basketball players in the early 1980’s generally waited until after their senior season to verbally commit and sign with a university. Bilas committed to Duke in January of his senior year, which was considered early then. There was no early signing period and many players signed in April of their senior years.

Now many of the top players from the Classes of 2009 and 2010 have already verbally committed. Michael Avery, a 6’4″ combo guard, made national news in May 2008 when he verbally committed in 8th grade to the University of Kentucky.

Top players even from the Classes of 2011 and 2012 have multiple offers.

BILAS: “Coaches are doing it because they want to get the best talent, They’re not doing it because of [fan] pressure. It’s the way the system works now. Kids are signing earlier and earlier so the coaches have to get them earlier and earlier.

“If a player has his mind made up at an early stage, I don’t have a problem with him committing.”

Bilas had a limit of six official visits he could take during his senior year of high school, one more than the current rules.

The first time Bilas received interest from Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, he knew little about the program.

BILAS: “I didn’t know what a Duke was. I knew it was in the ACC and I knew it was on the East Coast. Growing up in Los Angeles, I never really left California. I’d never been east of Nevada until I got recruited, so I didn’t know the difference between Durham, Chapel Hill, or Wake Forest.”

After visiting five schools, Bilas signed with Duke University, part of a #1 nationally ranked signing class that included future NBA players Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, and David Henderson.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of my interview with Jay Bilas.

Are some scouting services detrimental to the growth of a prep player? How young is too young to start looking at basketball prodigies as potential prospects? Jay Bilas shares his opinions with me.

Jay Bilas Links:

Duke Blue Devils Statistical Database: Jay Bilas

Jay Bilas ESPN Blog (Insider Required)

Jay Bilas is digitized into EA Sports March Madness 2008
to the delight of Sean McDonough and Bill Raftery

© 2008

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