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Start of spring signing period quiet for UB, Niagara men's basketball

The spring signing period for Division I basketball opened Wednesday, and the new men’s basketball coaches at the University at Buffalo and at Niagara completed the business day without any signed recruits.

However, they don’t plan to finish the spring empty-handed.

UB coach Jim Whitesell aims to fill five open scholarships, but has not garnered any verbal commitments and didn’t expect to have any immediate signees. UB granted releases to three junior college players who signed national letters of intent last fall, and their lone high school commit, Noah Williams, reopened his recruitment but did not sign an NLI with UB.

“I’m not caught off guard,” Whitesell said of a quiet first day in the spring signing period. “It’s a process. With the May period, and recruiting now in the spring, with transfer season, you want to be thorough and know there’s a lot out there, with kids that you’re continuing to recruit and talking to.”

Neither UB, Niagara, nor St. Bonaventure signed any recruits on the first day of the spring signing period.

Canisius received a signed NLI on Wednesday from Jacco Fritz, a 6-foot-10-inch forward from the Netherlands who played at DME Academy in Daytona Beach, Fla., this past season.

Unlike the eight-day fall signing period, which was Nov. 14 to Nov. 21, the spring period runs through May 15, which gives coaches more time to evaluate prospects and bring them to campus.

Niagara coach Patrick Beilein aims to have a full roster by the start of Niagara’s summer academic session in late June.

“We’re still in the process of recruiting,” Beilein said. “We’ve had kids visit campus, and I’m still in the process of evaluating what we have on this roster, and what roles we have them playing in, offensively and defensively.

“No commitments yet, but a bunch of guys who are here at Niagara, they’ve been locked in, since the first team meeting.”

Coaches cannot discuss specific prospects until a recruit has signed a national letter of intent, per NCAA rules.

“You’d love to have it done,” Whitesell said. “Realistically, you’ll go sometime into May, but you’d love to be done in the early summer. But there’s no date where I say, ‘Hey, we’re done.’ You do it year-round. Find the guys that make sense for your program.”

The NCAA’s four-day, no-contact period in recruiting ends Friday morning, and coaches can make in-person, off-campus recruiting contact until the end of April 24.

The NCAA's spring evaluation period is April 26-28. Coaches in those three days are allowed to watch an athlete compete in person or visit their school, and can sit in the stands during a recruit’s practice or game, as well as visit the recruit’s school. However, coaches are not allowed to communicate with that athlete or an athlete's parents away from a coach’s college campus.

“We’re pretty good with the reception we’re getting from kids,” Whitesell said. “There’s a lot of change in the college climate right now, and I’m excited about what lies ahead.

“I was on the road recruiting until Sunday night, I left that morning, I saw a lot of good kids in a short period of time. The big thing is being out there and working the lines. The next step is to get them on campus. The good thing is, we’re making progress in getting kids on campus and coming in for visits. A lot of kids are in the process of making a final decision, and getting down to one or two schools.”

Whitesell said he hopes to recruit another forward, following the graduation of Nick Perkins and Montell McRae. UB is also looking at junior-college and graduate transfers, and could consider bringing in a player to redshirt for a year, for development purposes.

Beilein is looking at every option available to assemble his roster at Niagara, whether it is a recruit out of high school, transfers, graduate transfers or junior-college transfers, and he has to plug holes left by the graduation of forwards Marvin Prochet, Dominic Robb and Greg King.

“The landscape of college basketball has changed,” Beilein said. “You can’t shut out juco kids or ignore transfers. Those kids can come in and help right away. Not that high school kids cannot, but age is a huge thing. A 22-year-old versus a high school student, they’re different people.

“We’re not looking for a quick fix, but a graduate transfer can help instill part of that culture.”

Another thing that’s changed: communication in recruiting. Instead of taking phone calls about prospective recruits, Beilein has recently opened his Twitter feed to find dozens of queries regarding potential players.

“I get more DMs from people who are excited about Niagara, or the fact that, ‘Hey, I have a juco player, a grad transfer, we saw you’re the new head coach, we’ve looked you up, I’ve known your dad,’ ” Beilein said. “I don’t think it (recruiting) is a huge challenge. It’s figuring out who will fit best for us.”

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