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Staff photo / Baylor's Raegyn Conley shoots during the Times Free Press Best of Preps girls' basketball tournament title game on Jan. 4 at Chattanooga State.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the conclusion of a four-part series on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on college sports recruiting.

 

Drew Williams was supposed to be entering this AAU season — perhaps the most important of his young career — with the goal of having the type of spring and summer that would put him on the radar of major colleges across the country.

That may still be the case, but as of now all of that is on hold.

The sport most directly affected by the recent coronavirus pandemic has been basketball, with postseasons on hold and schools in limbo about their next steps. The summer is huge for every sport's recruiting, but as of now, basketball is the only sport that has had events either canceled or postponed. It's very possible that every sport could lose its summer seasons, which has become the biggest source of recruiting regardless of sport, with club softball and soccer, USTA tennis and travel baseball teams all potentially being affected.

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Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Bradley Central sophomore Quante Berry drives to the basket during the 2019-20 Region 3-AAA championship game against visiting Cleveland.

On March 13, the Nike EYBL circuit announced it was canceling its spring live period. The Adidas Gauntlet and Under Armour circuits followed soon after, and on Wednesday AAU president Roger J. Goudy announced that it would extend the temporary suspension of licensed AAU events through April 15, which affects area programs such as Chattanooga Elite and Tennessee Tigers.

Chattanooga Elite plays in the Gatorade Association, and its 2021 "Navy" team has won the national championship at the association's national tournament in consecutive seasons.

"We're disappointed because for these juniors, it's their last hurrah," said Kelcey Watson, an assistant at Tyner who is on the board of directors for Chattanooga Elite. "We as coaches have to be more diligent and reach out to coaches in different regions, because they probably won't get that chance to see these players at a time they normally would."

Watson said the program's goal is to find his players "good college fits at a free or reduced rate."

Only two Chattanooga-area programs, Pro Skills Basketball and Fast Break, a Cleveland freshman team, play on "shoe circuits," with both having played on the Under Armour circuit a year ago.

College coaches are allowed two live evaluation periods in the spring — this year, it was going to be April 12-14 and April 19-21 — followed by two in July. With the uncertainty of when the seriousness of the pandemic is going to subside and allow things to return to normal, those coaches have been diligently analyzing high school video and handing out offers to not just rising seniors, but rising juniors due to the fact that it's possible there will be no July period in addition to the April period.

Baylor junior Raegyn Conley recently announced her commitment to Wake Forest, despite possibly having an entire summer to gain even more recognition. Wake Forest has also offered an opportunity to East Hamilton sophomore McKenna Hayes, whose sister Madison won her second consecutive Class AAA Miss Basketball award and has signed with Mississippi State.

The 6-foot-7 Williams, who played his past two seasons at Hamilton Heights, hasn't had that opportunity. Rated as the No. 7 player in Tennessee and as a three-star prospect in 247Sports.com's composite ranking, the 6-foot-7 forward has offers from Stetson, Tennessee State, La Salle, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and East Tennessee State. He has interest from Cincinnati, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Pacific, Bradley, College of Charleston, East Carolina and others, but was hoping this summer could springboard him to even more opportunities.

"I was super excited. I knew what this summer was going to do for me," said Williams, who plays for B-Maze Elite in Knoxville. "I had a really good season with my school team and we got on the map this year; I think we were No. 2  in the country at one point, and all of that leading into AAU was going to be useful.

"I'm praying it's going to happen because I know what I've got."

Bradley Central sophomore Quante Berry has been one of those underclassmen who benefited from coaches' extra time to watch video. After averages of 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.6 steals, the 6-foot-3 guard received an offer from South Carolina this week to go along with previous offers from Florida and Texas A&M. Losing this summer won't hurt him as much as it will kids who will graduate in 2021, but it doesn't lessen the blow of the thought of losing an entire summer in front of potential college coaches.

"I feel it's a bad situation, but it's what we've got, so we've got to work with it," said Berry, who also plays for B-Maze Elite and spent all week in Knoxville working out at a private gym. "I'm taking every opportunity I can to get in the gym; this time could be good to help me motivate myself to run more because I can't always get in the gym."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

 

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