Dec. 31, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- UW first-year assistant coach Lamont Paris is unlikely to gain a recruiting advantage based solely on his senior thesis which was a "Regression analysis on whether cigarette consumption was affected by the price of excise or sin taxes.''
Paris did earn the "time-honored'' Tootsie Roll and an "I did it'' button (another tradition) upon the completion of his 110-page independent study thesis at the College of Wooster, a private liberal arts school in Ohio.
It's also unlikely that Paris will win over a recruit simply because he shares a hometown (Findlay, Ohio) with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Rothelisberger though he did meet Big Ben once while recruiting.
Paris is not a name-dropper, not even when the name is LeBron James; an Akron native, who crossed paths with Paris more than once when the latter was coaching for James' former prep coach Keith Dambrot at the University of Akron.
What does bode well for the 37-year-old Paris in his transition to the Badgers and the Big Ten is a fundamentally sound recruiting philosophy that has been cultivated at the Division III, Division II, and Mid-Major levels.
"I would never say recruiting is easy,'' Paris said. "But I've been trying to put forth the same principles that I always have: Work hard at it. Spend a lot of time with the people you're recruiting; develop a relationship. And tell the truth.''
That has been his recipe. But he admitted that there are more ingredients in the mix now that present unique and different challenges. "For example, some of the quote unquote handlers that you may have to deal with,'' Paris said.
To varying degrees, it's part of the landscape in college basketball.
In his autobiography, UW coach Bo Ryan wrote, "Today, instead of dealing with street parking, we're dealing with street agents.''
Ryan volunteered the following illustration.
"I'm handling all of the recruiting,'' the coach is informed.
"Who are you?"
"I'm the third cousin. But everything is going through me.''
"Oh, really. That's how it works? Thanks, but no thanks."
Conceded Ryan, "I don't do real well in those situations.''
That's why Ryan has set his own standards for recruiting at Wisconsin. Paris can relate because he was introduced to a similar approach by Dambrot at Akron. That was reflected by how propects were evaluated.
"We spent a lot of time looking at the intricacies of every guy,'' said Paris, a lead recruiter for the Akron Zips. "Was it what we wanted? I'm not saying other people don't do that. But many times you get mesmerized with athleticism or with a guy who has played a couple of good high school games.
"With what we did defensively at Akron, we had a system and we worked hard to find guys who fit our system, similar to what we do at Wisconsin. That's opposed to thinking, `This kid is a Top 100, we have to take him.'''
Paris didn't make that list when he was coming out of Findlay. But he did field a few calls from Division II recruiters. Mostly, he drew interest from the College of Wooster, a Division III program that was recruiting a teammate.
"I didn't know much about recruiting in general,'' he said. "No one in my family had ever gone to college. There were a couple of schools I knew I couldn't play at, although I probably would have liked to.''
Enter the Fighting Scots of Wooster.
"They recruited me hard,'' he said.
As a junior and senior, Paris was the team captain and MVP. Overall, he competed in three Division III tournaments with the Scots. But he was more intent on using his degree in business economics than coaching.
"We had a couple of guys on our team who knew they wanted to coach from birth,'' said Paris. "That was never me. I wanted to play as long as I could. I loved basketball, but I wanted to have my own business of some kind.
"That was my original goal. Then my coach asked me if I wanted to coach. I said, `Sure, I'll do it to prolong going into the real working world.'''
His head coach was Steve Moore, a Division III legend who has won 633 games overall and 546 during his 23 seasons at Wooster. Go ahead and connect the dots between Moore and another Division III legend, Bo Ryan.
"Coach Moore won a lot of games despite the fact that I played a lot of minutes for him,'' joked Paris, noting Wooster is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation. "There are a lot of similarities between Coach Moore and Coach Ryan.
"Especially in how they approach the game and how humble they are. They both love basketball. You get the impression that if these guys were only making $30,000 or less, they would still be coaching because of their love of the game.
"What I learned at Wooster was having faith in what you're doing, and working hard at it. I also learned to have high expectations, regardless of what anybody else thinks you can or can't do. Or what they think you should do.''
With his first taste of coaching, Paris knew that he was making the right choice. After leaving Wooster, he was a grad assistant at DePauw in Greencastle, Ind., while completing his Masters degree at Indiana State in Terre Haute.
He'd wake up in the morning and do his scouting report. Drive almost an hour to campus and go to class. Drive back for practice. Drive to campus for night classes. Drive back home and do his homework.
Now that's a commitment (made easier by car pooling).
His next stop was at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), a Division II program in Indiana, Pa., 55 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
From there, he landed a job at the University of Akron where he came under the wing of Dambrot, who coached LeBron James during his freshman and sophomore years at St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School.
"The day Coach Ryan called and offered me the Wisconsin job,'' Paris said, "LeBron was in the gym and he came over and congratulated me. He's there all the time for open gyms. We crossed paths a lot of times. I wouldn't say he was my friend or anything like that. But I think we have a mutual respect for each other.''
Until he bumped into Rothelisberger in a Pittsburgh restaurant, he had no idea that Rothelisberger even knew who he was. But he remembered watching Paris compete in the Gus Macker 3-on-3 tournaments. "As big as he is today, he thought I was huge back then,'' said the 6-foot-1 Paris. "He was pretty young.''
The interesting thing about Paris' growth as a coach is that he has climbed the ladder competitively from program to program without having a "connection.'' Or someone on the "inside'' who opened some doors.
"It's a profession in which knowing someone is usually paramount in order to make a move,'' he said. "Each of the jobs I've had, I really wasn't tied into that family, other than when I started at Wooster. I didn't know anybody.
"So I've been fortunate to have people (head coaches) who have looked at what you've done and gotten a feel for your personality. I think at this point they would all feel happy they took the chance on me.''
Bo Ryan is in full agreement. "He has a strong pedigree as a teacher, a coach and in developing players,'' he said. "He's a great fit for our staff.''