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From virtual tours to Instagram, Gonzaga adapts to unique recruiting circumstances during coronavirus pandemic

UPDATED: Tue., March 31, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has sidelined nearly every aspect of college basketball and created uncertainty about what’s going to happen next week, next month and next season.

One partial exception is recruiting, though it looks nothing like a normal offseason for coaches and prospects. The NCAA has prohibited coaches from in-person contact with recruits and prospects cannot visit campuses until April 15. April AAU tournaments have been shelved.

Meanwhile, the transfer portal keeps humming along. Gonzaga has always been active in the graduate and sit-out transfer markets, and the Zags have been linked on social media in recent weeks to several players looking for a new home.

“April has become maybe the biggest month of recruiting,” Zags assistant coach Brian Michaelson said. “Usually, there’s visits in April with transfers, 2021 kids are eligible to visit, two weekends of AAU (tournaments). This is totally different.”

Like many across the country using telecommuting to conduct business, Gonzaga coaches have gone to, uh, telerecruiting.

The Zags are working the phones, staying in touch with transfers and recruits. The NCAA is permitting calls, FaceTime, texts and social media communication during the dead period.

“All the different forms,” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “You just have to figure out what the kid you’re recruiting, what his preference is and communicate with them. Old-school guys like me don’t have some of that stuff, TikTok, but some of the younger guys communicate through Instagram or Twitter.”

Lloyd cracks that he prefers audio calls over FaceTime because “seeing my face doesn’t help anything.”

No matter the form of interaction, the Zags can send material quickly to recruits highlighting the program, tradition, locker room, McCarthey Athletic Center, Volkar Center, academics and campus life, meaning coaches probably aren’t leaning on FaceTime to show off the Volkar Center practice court to a recruit.

“We have virtual type tours we can give them, video clips that the marketing team has produced,” Lloyd said. “We’ve got a bunch of stuff dedicated to recruiting. The last couple years we’ve stepped up our game with recruiting material with a guy (Matt Villareal) dedicated to men’s and women’s basketball. He does a good job.”

Gonzaga appears to be in solid shape for next season, with 11 players on scholarship should everybody choose to return, and the three-player recruiting class arrives intact.

In that scenario, the Zags could be looking at adding a grad transfer or two or perhaps one grad and one sit-out transfer. The latter is subject to change as the NCAA considers allowing first-time transfers to become eligible immediately.

The Zags have a nice start on the 2021 class with an oral commitment from Battle Ground (Washington) High forward Kaden Perry. Six players inside 247sports.com’s top 30 have made official or unofficial campus visits.

Still, the absence of April AAU tournaments takes away an evaluation tool for coaches, who typically firm up recruiting targets prior to the second wave of events in July.

This is also the time of year when underclassmen such as Filip Petrusev, Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi consider the possibility of entering the NBA draft, but the predraft process could be vastly different from past years. Will the April 26 deadline to declare remain in place? Will there be a combine? Will players be able to work out for NBA teams? Will the June 25 draft date get pushed back?

It’s uncharted territory for current Zags, too. The six international players on Gonzaga’s 2020 roster are still in Spokane “because they can’t go anywhere,” Lloyd said. “Most of the U.S. guys have returned home.

“Everything has been put on hold with this shutdown. The players are doing their school work and hanging out for the time being.”

The Zags’ staff is trying to take care of what it can control. It’s checking on multiple sit-out and grad transfers, but scheduling visits is essentially impossible, with the ban on home and campus visits likely to be extended beyond April 15.

“With the influx of transfers, (spring) has become its own little recruiting season,” Lloyd said. “You’re able to do most of that work, basically with Synergy (video clips and advanced analytics) and things like that. The information is popping on Twitter about who is out there.

“The first thing is you have to do your background, and don’t let the lack of an official visit keep you from doing your research, and if they’re a fit and fit with what we need.”

The Zags continue to recruit globally, even with current restrictions on international travel.

“You send kids recruiting material, videos, jpegs. A lot of it you do on WhatsApp,” Lloyd said. “Same as it’s always been.”

Refreshing to hear, with so much being so different these days.

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