Miles More To Go

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Feb 032009
 
Authors: Sean Star

His title is coach. But only until last semester has that job description been completely accurate. More appropriately, Tim Miles was an architect.

After being hired to replace Dale Layer in the spring of 2007, Miles spent his first year and a half as the CSU men’s basketball coach practically rebuilding an entire program, as the turnover of players he inherited was almost comical.

Of the nine who were eligible to return for Miles’ first season, only two actually did. And only one of those had any significant playing experience.

Some players transferred to play for other schools. One left a year early for the NBA. Two lost their scholarships. And the rest simply left without much notice.

As Miles described it, the team was “gutted.”

Though the Rams are a mild 7-15 halfway through this, his second season, there is still a sense of accomplishment for the program – one that was felt months ago before the season’s first tip-off. It was back in October, Miles says, that he was finally able to get the program “caught up” from the dismal state it was in when he arrived.

“That’s 18 months, basically,” he said before a practice back in November. “… I felt like we finally got caught up this October to where it finally felt like this is how we run our program. Before that, we were constantly behind, constantly scrambling, trying to recruit, trying to get our guys here in order and acclimate them to what we expect, how CSU is academically – all those sorts of things.

“It takes a long time to catch up.”

Rebuilding through recruiting

The long road to recovery traveled by Miles was primarily paved through the inexact science known as recruiting, which, because of the strictly enforced guidelines of the NCAA, is tough enough under normal circumstances. The circumstances Miles endured, though, were anything but normal.

Upon his arrival to Fort Collins, Miles had but a few months to fill 10 roster spots, something that is “unheard of,” according to Matt Brewer, CSU’s NCAA compliance director.

“It was, it was … It was hell,” recalls Brewer, who arrived at CSU shortly after Miles.

In fact, only until recently was Miles’ task even possible. Previously the NCAA limited teams to signing a maximum of five players in one year, a guideline that was known as the initial-counter rule, Brewer said.

“Luckily they got rid of that a couple years ago,” he said. “Otherwise there would’ve been no way we could’ve fielded a team.”

Even still, simply finding enough players to fill the depleted roster was a challenge.

Because of recruiting guidelines, coaches are limited in the amount of contact they can have with prospective players, making Miles’ seemingly impossible task even harder.

These guidelines are divided up into four distinct “periods,” which define the NCAA’s yearly recruiting calendar. Each sport has a unique calendar and is customized to fit with the sport’s regular season and playoff schedules.

The “contact” period is when most face-to-face interaction occurs between coaches and prospective student-athletes. However, they are limited in number and closely regulated.

Pressed for time, Miles and his staff used their allotment of contacts “immediately,” according to Brewer.

Nonetheless, less than a month after being named coach, Miles managed to sign his first two recruits during the late April signing period, which proceeds the early signing period in mid-November.

The players who committed were Stephen Franklin and Donte Poole, both seniors in high school, who at the time appeared to be the first steps toward rebuilding the program.

However, symbolizing the tumultuous first year in a half for Miles at CSU, neither Poole nor Franklin ever suited up in green and gold.

As it turned out, Poole failed to meet academic standards and became ineligible, and Franklin was released of his scholarship after he faced charges of identity theft. He instead enrolled at Eastern Utah, according to a university press release.

But between the arrival and dismissal of Poole and Franklin, Miles managed to sign six players from mid-May to mid-June. However, two of the players were transfers from fellow Division-I schools and, per NCAA rules, had to sit out a year before they could play at CSU.

One of those players, forward Andy Ogide, said it was particularly tough not playing knowing the team was struggling because of its lack of depth.

“That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do — having to sit out,” said Ogide, who leads the Rams in rebounds (6.7) and is second in points (10.3) per game this year. “Because when the team was struggling and when they lost, we had to practice extra hard, and I had to be a part of that. It just sucked knowing that you couldn’t do anything about it to improve the team’s situation.”

With Ogide and fellow transfer Dan Vandervieren, formally of Purdue, on the bench, Miles was forced to hold open tryouts before the season just to fill the remaining spots on the roster. Three players, Adam Nigon, Joshua McGinley and David Cohen, made the team as walk-ons as a result.

Not surprisingly, the Rams struggled with the patchwork squad, as they failed to win a single conference game.

But throughout the patience-testing initial season, Miles seemed to remain enthusiastic, something, Ogide said helped woo him to Fort Collins.

“He’s just lively,” Ogide said. “Everyone wants to build a championship program, but you believe him when he says it.”

Another thing that helped Miles, Ogide said, was the coach’s time management, which he certainly needed throughout the past tumultuous year and a half.

“I do think he gave me enough time, seriously because during my visit, there were three players with me, but I still felt he gave an adequate amount of time to me, too,” Ogide said. “So he does a pretty good job of managing his time.”

Instrumental in the program’s overhaul, Miles said, was the advice he got from Brewer, who helps guide Miles and all the CSU coaches through the maze that is the NCAA recruiting bylaws.

“He’s a very thorough guy, very intelligent guy,” the second-year coach said. “So for us (trying to get through the last year and a half), I spent a lot of time talking to Matt.”

Possible infractions loom

Though Miles says he finally feels the program has caught up, not all the wounds have completely healed.

As part of its commitment to academic reform and excellence, every spring since 2003-04, the NCAA has released its Academic Progress Rate for each team. A team’s APR score is determined by a program’s average retention and academic performance over four years.

And because of the extremely low turnover in 2007, the men’s basketball team’s score last spring was below the national standard, meaning it lost a scholarship.

But with the influx of walk-ons last year, the infraction didn’t have an immediate impact.

However, because the score is determined by a four-year average, more ramifications are likely to come this spring.

One player, Josh Simmons, has already been removed from the team, while two others, Marcus Walker and Harvey Perry, have missed games for academic reasons this season.

“It just whacks you one year and kicks you the next. It’s something we’re gonna have to deal with on a regular basis for four years,” Miles said of the APR. “… So unfortunately that’s damage done from previous years, but we’re here to make that right, and we will, but it’s gonna take some time. Our guys need to stay in school, knock out their books, get their education, get their degree and, in time, play some pretty good basketball.”

Despite a possible looming penalty, Miles continued his restructuring of the program. And during the mid-November early singing period, four more players committed to CSU.

Best of all, only one of the four is a junior college transfer — something Brewer says is an important step for the long-term success of the program.

“You want to get away from recruiting JC players all the time, because honestly they’re only here for a couple years, and some of them come in with academic problems because where they were. Usually there’s a reason they were at a junior college,” Brewer said.

“And to be honest with you, talking to the coaching staff, this will be the last time they recruit a JC kid for awhile.”

As for the possible loss of scholarships, Miles says he’s in a “wait-and-see” mode right now as to whether he’ll add more players during April singing period.

With that said, like has done since his arrival in Fort Collins, the coach plan doesn’t plan to take his foot off the gas on the recruiting trail.

“I don’t know quite what we’re gonna do and if we’ll have any available scholarships or not. But one thing you never stop doing is recruiting. Recruiting is your lifeblood,” he said. “So we’re still out pursuing guys now with the idea, if something does open, we have the option.”

Sports writer Sean Star can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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