When Slippery Rock University men’s head basketball coach Kevin Reynolds was hired in 2008, he brought along with him a unique recruiting strategy that has persisted to this day: he primarily recruits Junior College (JuCo) players, instead of players straight out of high school.
JuCo colleges belong to the NCJAA, a subsidiary of the NCAA, specifically for junior colleges. The purpose of these colleges is for players to develop their talents out of high school, usually while attaining an associate’s degree, before transferring to a four-year school where they still have eligibility remaining.
Reynolds says that he established the system “out of necessity” and that “We needed a lot of players and did not have a lot of recruiting money. We started using our contacts and it worked really well.” In his first year, Slippery Rock experienced the biggest turnaround in Division II, going from winning seven games to 21, which led to Reynolds winning the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Western Division coach of the year award.
Reynolds highlighted the fact that player generally love their experience at Slippery Rock, which is how he keeps getting talent to come to SRU. “The players in the program have such a good experience, that they spread the word and we got more recruits that way, especially with players playing overseas professionally. It’s great as a coach to hear that players are having that great of an experience.”
Slippery Rock’s recruiting strategy has been highlighted by groups of players from the same colleges, which Reynolds went in-depth on. “The first year, we took a bunch of guys from Cecil Community College. That was the start of it. Then a few years later we took guys from Garret Community College.” Reynolds also mentioned specific SRU alumni that played a big part in the success of community college pipelines. “Luis Santos played great here and now has a professional career in Brazil. Marshalltown produced him and Jamal, who both had great careers. Now we have four more players from that college who were friends with those guys.” Reynolds added that the success of those colleges indivudually spilled over into SRU. “The three community colleges all had two commonalities: the kids all knew each other and they had a winning team. That has been key, having components from those colleges.”
Reynolds’ first year started with a slew of uncertainty, trying to establish such an unconventional system, but the success is what allowed him to continue that style of program. “The first year played a huge role in this system, going from seven wins to 21 wins was the biggest turnaround in Division II. If the first year didn’t work so well, we may not still be doing it this way.”
Reynolds not only brought about a new style of recruiting, but a new style of play as well. As Reynolds recalls “The first year we scored in the 90s and took more threes than anybody in the league. It was a completely different style of basketball. As we got more depth and built success and the roster got deeper, we started to play a different style. We play a lot of players, we want to guard you, out-rebound you and play unselfishly on offense. The players have done a good job of buying into our brand of basketball.”
Selling that kind of basketball can be difficult, because it makes it harder for one player to take over the game, which Reynolds sees as a strength. “It could be anybody’s night on any given night. Anybody on our team can beat you. The chemistry has played a huge part in the success. That is a huge credit to the players who have made those sacrifices.”
Reynolds has stated that it is a collaborative effort in selling the brand of “Rock Basketball” that his team plays. “We sell a lot of things: Win a lot of games, make a lot of friends for life, earn a degree, have a chance to play professionally,” Reynolds said. “The players, assistant coaches, and GAs do a phenomenal job of selling this program.” Slippery Rock itself has also been a huge piece of the puzzle. “When kids get here, they like Slippery Rock. Once they are here , they love it here. Not only the team, but the school and kids in general they love.”
The prospect of having the opportunity to play professionally is what every high school player dreams about, and Reynolds stated that SRU’s brand of basketball helps give players a great opportunity to do so. “The style we have here helps our players in being able to play professionally. Teams and agents see those qualities: you’re a guy who gets along with people and you don’t have an ego. That’s why our guys have been successful overseas.” Reynolds also points to the facts when it comes to production from The Rock “We have more professional players than the rest of the league combined, even with the constraints. We are proud of what we have done to win.”
As with any system, success will determine whether or not it lasts in the long run. “In eight years, we have the second-most wins and second-most amount of all-conference players,” said Reynolds of the production he has chartered at Slippery Rock. “We know the reason we are good– we have good players. That is the crux of any team– you need to have good players to win.”
Reynolds remains open about eventually doing some conventional recruiting, while still focusing on the positives of his system. “If you spend a lot of time focusing on the disadvantages, it won’t work. We would like to do some more conventional recruiting, but at this time we are not in a position where we are able to do that.”
This year, Slippery Rock must endure a massive turnover issue, as only two players from the 2015-2016 team remain. “Last year, we just had a lot of good guys graduate. ” commented Reynolds. “If you have a good team, you’re going to lose good players. It’s the coach’s job to replenish that pool and get good players back. It’s challenging this year, because we don’t have the usual contingency of players back who have played a lot of minutes.”
Scheduling has also been a big part of Slippery Rock’s success, as they constantly challenge themselves with one of the harder schedules in the conference. “We want to play the best schedule in the PSAC West,” said Reynolds of the challenging schedule he loves to play. “We play the best teams on the first weekend of the season to see where we are; it’s a good measuring stick.” In a season where SRU has already played against the University of Tennessee, Central Michigan and Wheeling Jesuit, it is no wonder why Slippery Rock has the ability to play as such a high level.
“Playing the top teams on the road has helped us make the NCAA tournament in the past, and we hope we will continue to do that.”
“We have a huge challenge ahead of us, but we’re excited about it.” Said Reynolds, finalizing his outlook on the season.
Slippery Rock has started the season 2-1, and will continue to play one of the harder schedules in the state this weekend, with back to back road games at Shippensburg and Kutztown.