By Keith D. King
So far this year, San Diego Has been a quiet gold mine when it comes to recruiting talent in basketball. Players have committed to major college programs such as UCLA, Texas, UNLV, and Oregon, with other players committing to play at smaller major colleges across the nation. A name that you haven’t seen among the schools that will bring in top San Diego talent this year is San Diego State University. This isn’t a surprising trend.
If you revisit the decisions of other former great high school basketball players, there is a consistent pattern of out of state selections. But the question is why?
“San Diego is a big city, but always comes off as small market,” says Youth Sports Center owner Keith Dudley. “Our NFL team left, no professional basketball team, and a MLB team that isn’t winning. The perception is that San Diego is not sports city, just beaches and fun. Same thing when it comes to college. SDSU just isn’t looked at as a big sports school. Players here want to leave to expand their talent, they want to be prepared to play at the next level. There never has been a real pipeline from the inner city to SDSU. I think we need to start a program to expose these kids to this big great school right in front of your face. I just feel that SDSU just doesn’t present themselves to the inner city, and that’s where a lot of talent is.”
It is fair to think that a reason top names have chosen other schools is due to the fact that SDSU doesn’t possess the rich history as some of their competitors. They also don’t receive as much national attention while playing in the Mountain West conference. While it’s a respectable conference, it’s not nearly filled with the talent of a major conference that receives regular national exposure.
Future Hall of Famer Steve Fisher was hired to coach basketball at SDSU in 1999 and change the culture of the team. He made major strides, sending multiple players to the NBA including NBA Superstar Kawhi Leonard and former San Diego Standout Malcolm Thomas. Over the last seven years, SDSU has developed into a respectable basketball program, making the NCAA Tournament six times during that span. Outside of that the program has been relatively quiet, just appearing in five NCAA Tournaments in the previous 88 years.
“It’s not about what SDSU is not doing, but what else is out there,” said Lincoln High Boys’ Basketball Coach Jeff Harper. “College is a lot of things in terms of sports. How many tournaments have you been to, upscale facilities, how much TV time will you get, and how many players have gone to the league from that program. College basketball is a billion dollar business, so when making these decisions it’s kind of having to make a real business decision. SDSU has definitely tried to recruit from with San Diego over recent years, but I can’t say that they have tried their hardest. As an athlete and parent you have to compare stature and history. SDSU is a great school, but UCLA is in a bigger conference, they’re on TV every game. Things like that weigh into these young players decision, especially when they want to be one and done. It’s about finding the right fit.”
With a new coaching regime on the horizon after Fisher announced his retirement after this past season, it should be interesting to see how this staff will approach recruiting in San Diego going forward, and the pitch that they will use to entice hometown talent to stay at home. It will come down not only to what is said, but the presence the Aztecs will have on high schools campuses beyond the communities that they feel comfortable in.
Another option would be to move to the Pac-12 Conference. The move would bring tougher competition, but would also bring in more money for better facilities, better recruiting pitches, and the key that would make them a much more appealing destination, more exposure due to TV time. With the Chargers now in Los Angeles, and the Padres being, well, The Padres, the onus is now on SDSU to put together winning talent and give the fans of San Diego something to cheer for. What better way to do that, than starting with hometown talent?