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(Photo - Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

California hasn't restarted its high school basketball season, leaving college recruiters scrambling to identify potential signees through old game footage and relationships they have with high school coaches.

With COVID-19 conditions improving in California and vaccines becoming more available, the California Department of Public Health has only recently updated guidance to allow some indoor sports to resume with enhanced testing procedures and county health department approval. County health departments must sign off on the state guidelines and schools need to create safety plans and implement testing procedures before indoor games resume.

In the meantime, the pandemic continues to disrupt the normal recruitment process.

Lou Richie, the boys’ basketball coach at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, helps college coaches identify his top players by forwarding highlight tapes.

"Of course, (players) have their game tape with us, they should be making a highlight tape or we can help them make a highlight tape from a year or two ago," he said. "They take that tape, cut it up, send it to me, and I send it to the colleges that they want me to."

While Richie reaches out to college recruiters he knows personally to alert them to players, the fact that games haven't been played in a year makes it difficult.

"(Recruiters) want to see them in their high school games," he said. "It's hard sending a college a video and the coach doesn't know anyone that kid you're telling them about is playing against."

For head basketball coach Joey Curtin from Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco, it wasn't unusual to have a dozen college coaches in the gym who had seen his seniors in the summer leagues and were following up in the fall to recruit in person before the pandemic.

"We didn't get that this year, and we would have had more college coaches this year than last year, which really hurt our seniors," Curtin said.

However, his players have used the time away from organized games to keep up their skills.

"They keep in contact with the trainers, working outdoors, finding a hoop somewhere and just finding a place to get better," he said.

The decision by the NCAA to extend the eligibility of current college players by one year due to the pandemic-shortened season has added additional pressure on high school seniors, since it likely leaves fewer scholarships available for incoming freshmen and decreased playing time for new players next year. The expanded eligibility rules have also led to an increase in the number of college players looking to transfer to another university team, further complicating the high school recruitment process.

The large number of transfers has made the recruitment process more difficult for Lee Hubbard III, a senior at Riordan. He has talked with coaches at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but he hasn't been in contact with other colleges because they haven't been able to see him play. Before the pandemic, his team was close to winning the state championship. Then COVID-19 ended their season.

Now, one of his goals is to get his team back to where it was. Hubbard wants his teammates to have that same mindset they had last year of not taking things for granted.

"Some people aren't available to go to the gym or aren't motivated as they once were because they don't think it's a possibility of the basketball season resuming," he said.

Despite the obstacles to recruitment, he remains optimistic about returning to the court for his final year of high school basketball.

"My school practices from time to time in order to keep the chemistry together," he said. "Everything has been slow as far as not getting that much exposure or opportunity to play, but with the potential of basketball starting up there is some hope.”