Joining the huddle: Recruiting process key for Bemidji State basketball
BEMIDJI -- College basketball is competitive by nature -- highly touted stars clashing night after night as rival schools face off for both victories and bragging rights. But even during the offseason, when the gym is quiet and the locker room is empty, the competition doesn’t slow down for coaches.
No, it heats up.
The offseason is when Bemidji State’s coaches hit their heydey on recruiting, scouring both the Minnesota backwoods and the edges of the Midwest in search of the next greats of the Beaver basketball programs.
“A kid who would be an outstanding player in the Northern Sun is what we’re looking for. A high-level Northern Sun kid is what I have to fight like heck to get at Bemidji State,” said women’s head coach Chelsea DeVille. “We want kids who could maybe play at Division I, but would make an impact, especially when we’re rebuilding, here.”
“It starts with, where can we draw kids from? Where does Bemidji State traditionally get kids from? Where were the kids from when BSU has been really successful?” men’s coach Mike Boschee added. “It’s not just the best players all the time. It’s the players who fit us really well.”
And while the coaches certainly have their go-to spots to search, typically starting with AAU tournaments, they still need to keep their fingers crossed.
“It’s not a science, believe me. You have to get lucky in recruiting, too,” said Boschee, who is set to jump into his sixth season with the Beavers. “Very few get Division I scholarship offers. And then if they’re not quite good enough there, they’re usually good enough for us in some capacity… Then the flip side, the so-called Division III players you gotta look closely at, as well. Those could be the sleepers that you get lucky with who could change your program in a hurry.”
Each team has six incoming recruits to add to the 2017-18 roster. The men’s squad holds strong ties to Wisconsin, which has yielded five of BSU’s current players and two more soon-to-be freshmen. In 2010, assistant men’s coach Matt Majkrzak founded an AAU basketball program, the Wisconsin Jets, and the ties he still has to the program have helped rope in current players like redshirt freshman Zach Baumgartner, as well as sophomores Logan Bader and Peyton Dibble.
Meanwhile, another seven Beavers are from Minnesota, and Michigan and Illinois each contributed with a player on the roster, as well.
The women’s hometown ties are more diverse, led by six local Minnesotans. Illinois, North Dakota and Wisconsin each boast a pair of players, and Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota also raised a current BSU product.
For DeVille, who has just two seasons under her belt at the helm of the program, recruiting is a way to reshape and revamp the culture.
“Coming into Bemidji State, there were a lot of things I needed to fix and change, but the one thing I knew I could do was recruit. I knew I could find the right kid. I knew I could sell us and the university,” she said. “We can’t just sledgehammer this thing, we’ve got to chip away. It’s gonna take a lot of energy and effort, but it’ll be fun.”Bachmann on board
Part of DeVille’s rebuilding process was patiently reeling in Brooklyn Bachmann, a widely sought-after guard out of Minooka, Ill., who could fit in as a key piece to that puzzle.
“Bemidji was one of the first schools to really contact me,” said Bachmann, who scored 20.9 points-per-game in her senior season with the 24-4 Indians, en route to a school-record 1,523 career points. “They called me every week and just checked in. They genuinely cared about everything I was doing in life. They didn’t even sometimes, when they called, ask about basketball. They’re such nice people that I just wanted to play for that program.”
In the summer of 2015 -- DeVille’s first at Bemidji State -- Bachmann caught the rookie head coach’s eye at an AAU tournament in Chicago, where DeVille was on hand to watch a potential recruit on the opposing team. The coaching staff started to pursue Bachmann, sending a handwritten note, making phone calls and remaining patient while Bachmann sifted through offers left and right, ranging from community colleges to Division I in both basketball and volleyball.
And although it took about a year and a half until Bachmann committed, as she took her time and ensured that she was choosing the right school, DeVille believes the wait will be worth it for the program.
“We spent so much time on her, and I wasn’t finding kids better than her. I wasn’t just gonna settle for somebody else,” she said. “A lot of patience, a lot of praying, and at the end of the day you want to make sure they want to come and they’re not just pressured to… I want kids who feel like they’re blown away with weight off their shoulders and are so excited to come here.”
“The coaches, they didn’t really pressure me into doing anything,” Bachmann added, noting it as a big reason why she committed to Bemidji State. “Coach (DeVille) has been talking about my future teammates in such a high manner, and (the other incoming freshmen) seem to be working really hard, too. I really feel like the upcoming freshmen can really make a difference on this team.”Looking local
It’s not uncommon to net non-native talent like Bachmann (the men’s team has an incoming Illinois product in Mike Shepski, themselves), but Boschee was also able to lock up BSU’s most local recruit in recent memory.
Griffin Chase, a guard from Nevis, paced the 28-3 Tigers with a team-high 21 points-per-game in his senior season. He owns the all-time scoring record at Nevis with 2,219 career points and pioneered a 14-game winning streak that culminated in a berth to the 2017 Class A state tournament.
And, largely in part to a Beaver legend, he’s now destined for Bemidji State.
Scott Kramer played for BSU from 1991-94 and sits high on the all-time leaderboards in points (fifth with 1,361) and rebounds (third with 639). Fast-forward another 23 years, and he jump-started Bemidji State’s recruiting process with Chase during his senior season.
“He helped me out and emailed coach Boschee and introduced me. He was actually a big factor in how I’m there now, how it all worked out,” said Chase. “(Boschee) saw it and he was interested in me. He came down and watched one of my practices… From that point on, BSU was in contact with me.”
Chase didn’t sign during college basketball’s initial signing period, which is annually the second Wednesday in November. But by passing on a few less-enticing offers, Chase will suit up for his dream school this fall -- just the kind of player Boschee wants in the program.
“Everybody had nothing but good things to say about him and his character. It was probably an easy sell for me with him,” said Boschee, who inked Chase to a letter of intent on May 22. “You want your players to have a great deal of pride in the university they’re representing… The more guys you have like that, I think the better off you’re gonna be.”
Kramer’s successful efforts were started partly because he was Chase’s varsity coach at Nevis -- but it didn’t hurt that he’s also Chase’s uncle. And even after professional basketball stints in Macedonia and Bulgaria from 1994-96, the Akeley native still knows a thing or two about local talent.
“I think it’s pretty cool actually to keep the tradition going, to show where our family’s been,” said Chase, whose parents also attended Bemidji State. “It’s always been a dream of mine to go there and play basketball.”The right fit
Both Boschee and DeVille are allotted just eight scholarships -- either in full or divvied up as partial offers. Their limit is under the national Division II cap of 10, which puts them at a disadvantage from the beginning. When starting from behind, then, any little thing can help.
“Everything you can show recruits and give them, whether it’s scholarship money or equipment or facilities or weight rooms or shoes, it’s all a big part of it,” Boschee said. “We have a really good basketball program that’s won titles in the past. I think we’re on the right track to get back there again…. Hopefully that’s a big enough draw and sell that we can attract quality people here.”
For a team still plagued by losing seasons, Bemidji State can be a tough sell to certain recruits. But it makes finding the right type of player all the more paramount.
“There’s nothing shiny in my office. There are no trophies, my record is garbage, I’m young, we’re new. But we’re rebuilding,” said DeVille. “We need kids who want to be part of the change. It’s pretty cool to be a part of that.”
Once coaches know who they want -- and who they need -- receiving a commitment is beyond rewarding.
“It feels like you win the lottery,” DeVille said. “Those are the coolest moments, when a coach gets a kid who they really think will be a good asset, not just on the basketball court, but to the family we’re trying to make here.”
“It’s a great feeling because you have a mutual relationship that you’ve built up to the point where he’s trusting you, his family’s trusting you to take care of him and nurture him, try and help him be successful,” Boschee added. “You’re excited that he could be the one to help you win another championship.”