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Signing day commitments aren’t always for the long haul any longer

Updated April 12, 2017 - 9:54 pm

It has reached the point of a new car smell.

National signing day for many college basketball coaches has become more like test driving their dream ride with the realization there is a better than average chance they’ll never really get to enjoy it, that all the hours and weeks and months and sometimes years of work trying to secure it might only produce a year or so of use.

At some point, someone else is going to speed away with it.

It’s not the sort of epidemic that stands as a public health or safety issue, but there’s no doubt the growing number of transfers each year has caused programs to search deeper into their crystal balls when evaluating a player and his long-term goals when committing to a particular team.

The spring signing period began Wednesday, and already more than 430 players have announced their intentions to transfer.

Last year, more than 700 departed one school for another.

So while it’s always a pleasing sound for coaches when a fax machine signals the impending arrival of a signed letter of intent, a time for families to celebrate the next step in a young man’s educational and athletic journey, welcoming new players to your program in 2017 now comes with a hint of apprehension.

As in, how long is this kid really going to be here?

“A good coach will do his research, but with the new recruiting paradigm and the influx of all these transfers, you almost have to double the amount of background checking you do,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “You almost become an FBI agent. Everyone you talk to about the player is going to have a different agenda. Parents, coaches, immediate support group. You hope they’re honest with you during all of it.”

Menzies needs better players. Lots of them. The team that finished 11-21 and last in the Mountain West was not in any way skilled enough to compete most nights, meaning his well-known aptitude for recruiting talent now will be put to the ultimate test.

He needs to get some fellas, and fast.

Three of the nation’s top 11 prep players remained unsigned Wednesday, and among them was 6-foot-11-inch standout Brandon McCoy of Cathedral Catholic High in San Diego.

McCoy’s final five schools includes UNLV on a list in which Oregon and Michigan State are reportedly the leaders. He would be a huge get for the Rebels, even perhaps more so in those who might follow McCoy to UNLV than what he might actually deliver. Great players want to play with other great ones.

This might be officially labeled as his second recruiting class, but given Menzies wasn’t hired until April 2016 and had to piece together a roster full of bodies simply to fill the team’s uniform order, those he signs for 2017-18 and beyond should more define any future grades on names he convinces to become Rebels.

For now, meaning until a few more current players might choose or be asked to move along, UNLV has two remaining scholarships. Menzies is obviously looking as hard at the junior college level and potential for a fifth-year transfer as he is the prep courts to fill out this recruiting class.

It’s an expected move — he needs guys who are mature and good enough to make an immediate difference — and could allow him to focus more on 2018 and ’19 high school players while still making significant strides next season.

It’s hard enough building a program from next to nothing, which is about the stage Menzies began with the Rebels, but identifying recruits more likely than not to be all-in for the duration is nearly impossible in this time of instant gratification.

The number of transfers might define a larger issue beyond a lack of playing time, but there is no question the template for recruiting has changed with all the movement across the country. Some believe the process fails those making what is a life-altering choice in deciding on a school, that recruits are pressured and rushed by coaches into a decision they aren’t prepared to make, leading to so many eventually searching for a new program.

“I don’t think the thought process on signing day becomes about how long you might have a certain kid,” Menzies said. “It’s all about doing your evaluations correctly and assessing where he fits in your program and making sure you stack all your classes to give your roster balance.

“It’s just the realities of the recruiting world we now live in. I’m probably not taking a kid who tells me up front he’s only staying one year. If his sole motivation is his own development and then to move on quickly and not about helping us win, he won’t be a good fit here.”

Spoken like a true FBI agent.

I mean coach.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 98.9 FM and 1340 AM from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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