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College coaches changing recruiting routines in pandemic

Junior college athletic programs recruit year-round to try and convince talented athletes to join their programs, but that process was halted by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) in March as the pandemic forced the shut down of athletic activities.

Recruiting wasn’t reopened by the NJCAA until May 15, at which point colleges were allowed to once again engage in face-to-face recruiting.

However, the Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges (MACJC) made the decision to extend the restrictions on face-to-face recruiting in Mississippi until May 31.

This means colleges around the country will have first access to recruits while the Mississippi programs will be left waiting.

“It’s been difficult for everyone, but I do believe it’s not going to make us tremendously late. It’s kind of opened up our eyes to different ways we can think outside the box,” Christie Meeks, Pearl River Community College’s Softball Head Coach, said.

Scotty Fletcher is the head coach of PRCC’s ladies basketball program and he said his staff did a good job of getting recruiting done prior to restrictions being put in place.

Fletcher said assistant coaches Caroline Lumpkin and Chelsee Black were instrumental in maintaining relationships with familiar recruits, while also getting in contact with new prospects.

“It’s a good thing we took advantage of the opportunity given to us right after the season was over.”

“They did a phenomenal job of building and strengthening relationships, as well us having a good product to sell,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said the months of June and July are usually filled with team camps to evaluate local prospects, while also scouting talent on the local Amateur Athletic Union basketball teams.

Right now it’s unclear if either of those scouting opportunities will occur, but Fletcher is holding out hope.

Meanwhile Meeks said she and her staff would be going to high school softball practices to check in on possible recruits in addition to attending games on the weekend.

Meeks said some travel ball teams are also live streaming games and practices for coaches to watch in order to evaluate players on that particular squad.

“We had almost three months off where we couldn’t do anything and we’re going to play that catch up game.”

“At this moment, instead of looking at things we can’t do, we’re looking outside the box for things we can do,” Meeks said.

The NJCAA made the decision that athletes who participated in 2019-2020 spring sports seasons will not lose a year of eligibility due to the cancellation of sports.

While Fletcher’s program won’t get to take advantage of the rule because basketball isn’t considered a spring sport, Meeks’ team will essentially have the same roster size limit as before with returning sophomores not counting against the size limit.

Meeks said even with the new rule, the program’s recruiting process will move forward like normal.

“For us, it doesn’t change a whole lot. We still have to find what’s best for our players and move forward from there,” Meeks said.

Even with the changes in place, and uncertainty regarding the future, these programs still need to fill out rosters with the best available talent.

Because of that Fletcher said his program would need to adapt, but still carry on recruiting in a similar fashion to the way it did pre-pandemic.

“As we move forward the biggest thing we have to do is strengthen relationships, recruit locally and expand through out the state,” Fletcher said.