Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Roberts Keeping Florida in Kyle Anderson Sweepstakes
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — The page has turned for Norm Roberts.
For six years as the head coach at St. John’s, Roberts tried his best to keep the best talent from the New York metropolitan area at home.
Now, he’s working on getting the top area players to leave the Big Apple for Gainesville, Fla.
At this week’s Peach Jam, Roberts and Florida head coach Billy Donovan tag-teamed to attend every one of Kyle Anderson’s game with the Playaz.
“With Norm Roberts at Florida, they become a contender,” Kyle Anderson Sr. said when Roberts was hired in April.
The 6-foot-8 Anderson, a point guard who has drawn comparisons to Magic Johnson, nearly averaged a triple-double as the Playaz reached the quarterfinals before losing to the Oakland Soldiers, 79-73, in a game in which Anderson had 20 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds and 2 turnovers.
The No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2012, he is considering Seton Hall, St. John’s, Georgetown and UCLA in addition to Florida.
Anderson said he plans to visit Florida sometime in September, before announcing on his 18th birthday, Sept. 20.
“Kyle Anderson, if he works on his body and gets stronger, is Magic Johnson,” said one coach recruiting him. “He has a chance to be like Magic Johnson and have that type of an impact on the game.”
Roberts was fired after the 2009-10 season during a whirlwind New York-area coaching carousel that also saw Seton Hall cut ties with Bobby Gonzalez and Rutgers let go of Fred Hill.
After spending a year as an analyst with SNY, Roberts reached out to several programs, including Florida, this spring.
“When I lost Larry Shyatt [to Wyoming], I think the feeling was that I would bring back an older coach,” said Donovan, the reigning SEC Coach of the Year. “And I think Norm had kind of reached out just expressing interest to some people that I knew. And then a couple days after that, I ended up losing two more guys [Richard Pitino and Rob Lanier].”
He added: “I just thought Norm would be great. I think he’s recruited at this level. He’s been in some great programs. I thought his experience as the head coach being at St. John’s would be very, very valuable to all of us.”
Donovan, who won back-to-back NCAA titles at Florida in 2006 and ’07, said he didn’t hire Roberts exclusively to recruit the fertile New York/New Jersey area.
“I’m more inclined to get a total-package person,” Donovan said. “I’ve never ever believed if you’re really going to try to help an assistant coach, you say, ‘OK, you’re the recruiter, you’re the on-the-floor coach, you deal with the big guys.’
“You know, Norm someday wants to go back and be a head coach and he’ll do a great job.”
Still, make no mistake.
Florida is in the Kyle Anderson Sweepstakes because of Norm Roberts.
Ironically, Roberts is competing head-to-head with his former program — among others — for Anderson. St. John’s coach Steve Lavin and his staff were on one side of the gym while Roberts was on the other for several games at the Peach Jam.
“Really, none of my guys are there anymore [at St. John’s],” Roberts said. “Nobody from my staff is working at the school anymore, and none of our players except for Malik Stith are still there. That’s a totally different regime that’s over there.
“I like Coach Lavin a lot. He did a terrific job. I was happy with his success last year.”
Roberts said he was pleased when the Johnnies reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002 last season with a team almost comprised entirely of players he committed.
“I was happy for them with something that we had built toward doing,” he said. “When I brought in those freshmen some four years ago, I said that this is how it’s going to go. You are going to take your lumps as freshmen, sophomores you’re going to improve. And we got to the CBI Tournament. And I said that next year, that junior and senior year, is when you’re going to make that jump. And those kids did exactly that.”
As far as the recruitment of Anderson goes, St. John’s and Seton Hall will make their own cases, emphasizing the opportunity to play close to his home in Fairview, N.J, and to attract other elite players to those programs.
And while the possibility of Kyle Sr., the coach of the Playaz 17 squad, being hired as an assistant coach at the local schools has been discussed, it won’t end up happening, multiple sources with knowledge said.
“He’s a guy who makes other players better,” longtime New York recruiting expert Tom Konchalski said of Kyle Jr. “First of all, I think he will other attract other good players to those programs, especially for Seton Hall he would be a landmark recruit because kids like to play for Rutgers. They likes to play with the Myles Macks’, he’s a good kid. Not because he’s such a special passer or distributor, just because of his personality and whatever. But with Kyle, I think he makes everyone better and I think other players realize that.
“But I would be surprised if his list — even though it’s supposed to be a hard five — doesn’t expand because some other big guys are going to try to get involved…I have no idea, but let’s say if a Kansas or a Kentucky or a North Carolina came in hard, I think it would be hard for him not to consider them.”
For now, Georgetown will likely emphasize its system, and UCLA can point to the string of point guards it’s sent to the NBA.
Florida, by contrast, will point to Donovan’s history of preparing players like 6-10 Chandler Parsons for the NBA and the coach’s success winning titles.
The SEC Player of the Year, Parsons averaged 11.8 points per game in the regular season, while finishing third in the SEC in rebounding (7.8 rpg) and seventh in assists (3.6 apg). He was chosen in the second round by the Houston Rockets and is now considering playing in Europe during the NBA lockout.
Florida can also offer the opportunity to play alongside other talented players like Brad Beal, Mike Rosario and Patric Young.
“[Anderson] is a very, very special player,” one coach said. “You cannot make a mistake on where he goes.”
Every school in the hunt will make its own case and the decision will come soon enough.
But for now, a former St. John’s coach is keeping Florida in the hunt.
**Kyle Anderson Sweepstakes heating up
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.