This article was originally published on August 25 and has since been updated following Kentucky’s official hiring of Jai Lucas as a special assistant to the head coach and recruiting coordinator.
Earlier this month, the University of Kentucky posted a job opening within the men’s basketball program as a special assistant to the head coach/recruiting coordinator, with an application deadline being August 27.
“The Special Assistant to Men’s Basketball Coach/Recruiting Coordinator duties include but not limited to: recruiting evaluation and administration, scouting future opponents and provides feedback directly to head coach and staff outside of practice and competition, and providing additional counsel on all aspects of men’s basketball program outside of practice and competition,” the official job description reads. “Responsibilities include basketball program observation; advance scouting; advising and guidance provision; and special projects coordination. Must adhere to State, University, NCAA and SEC rules, regulations, policies and procedures.”
The created job opening came just days after former Kentucky recruiting target and Texas assistant coach Jai Lucas emerged as a serious candidate to join the UK staff.
Last week, Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports confirmed the news that Lucas was officially finalizing a deal to go to Kentucky in an “off-court role,” with Kentucky officially announcing the addition on Aug. 31.
. @CoachJLuc, a highly-respected coach and former McDonald's High School All American , has joined the staff as the special assistant to the head coach and recruiting coordinator.#BBN, welcome Jai Lucas to #LaFamilia!
?? https://t.co/1hE1xmIaGz pic.twitter.com/WnlKWlmUSL
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) August 31, 2020
As details emerge of the official addition – roughly $350,000 per year as a special assistant to Calipari – it’s fair to ask why Lucas, who is considered one of the top up-and-coming recruiters in college basketball and a full-time assistant at Texas, would leave Austin for an off-court coaching position that would not allow him to recruit off campus?
Did he see the writing on the wall that Shaka Smart could be on his way out at Texas? Possibly. Has he been informed that he will step in as a full-time assistant at Kentucky next year to justify the one-year break, with a solid pay raise being included to sweeten the deal? Hm, now we’re getting somewhere.
But what if I told you that – on top of the aforementioned factors – Lucas’ “demotion” won’t really be a demotion at all for the lone year he’s expected to hold the position?
With the hiring of the Texas ace recruiter, Kentucky now has the ability to have John Calipari, Bruiser Flint, Tony Barbee, Joel Justus and Lucas together on Zoom calls/virtual visits, and it will be completely legal.
While he won’t be able to pick up the phone and call recruits and their families with limited restrictions the same way Calipari, Flint, Barbee and Justus can as official coaches, Lucas will still be able to serve as a key recruiting piece and potentially help seal the deal on commitments as the “virtual visit” trend continues to pick up and on- and off-campus recruiting continues to get pushed back.
In interviews with various parents of recruits, KSR has learned that secondary members of the UK program have been active participants on the video calls, including the likes of Rob Harris (strength coach) and Brady Kennedy (recruiting analyst). Just this past week, Clyde Hopkins, father of four-star forward Bryce Hopkins, told KSR that Kennedy and Harris were on the Zoom call in which Calipari extended a scholarship offer, adding that Harris was hands-on in the meeting regarding the Kentucky target’s potential future body transformation in Lexington.
“They had the strength coach, Rob [Harris], Coach Cal,” said Hopkins. “I’m not familiar with the entire coaching staff yet, but [Tony] Barbee, he was there. They also had [UK recruiting analyst] Brady [Kennedy] on there. Brady, Barbee, Coach Cal, and Rob [Harris]. … I believe [Bryce] is still growing, we talked to Coach Cal and his strength guy about how he’d transform his body. Once we get that done, he will become more explosive, more agile. He’ll be more athletic.”
When asked about the addition of secondary members of the staff, a source within the Kentucky basketball program likened Zoom meetings/virtual visits to unofficial visits in the eyes of the NCAA, adding flexibility to what schools are allowed to do with recruits being unable to visit campuses in person. In a sense, they’re simply bringing the unofficial visits to the athletes in a virtual format, hoping to show off campus and the facilities the exact same way they’d be able to if the recruits were physically there.
“This was actually my first time doing a Zoom call, and I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty neat, man. It’s neat, it really is,” Clyde Hopkins told KSR earlier this month. “To be in the comfort of your home and get a feel for the staff and to actually see them, talk with them. It’s pretty neat. I’ll tell you one thing, it saves you some money, I’ll tell you that. You don’t have to always drive down that highway [to different schools].”
It has been made clear that as an off-court special assistant, Lucas will not legally be able to recruit off-campus or participate in any on-court coaching or instruction, per bylaw 220.127.116.11 of the official NCAA rulebook.
18.104.22.168 Countable Coach. An institutional staff member or any other individual outside the institution (e.g., consultant, professional instructor) with whom the institution has made arrangements must count against coaching limits in the applicable sport as soon as the individual participates (in any manner) in any of the following:
(a) Provides technical or tactical instruction related to the sport to a student-athlete at any time;
(b) Makes or assists in making tactical decisions related to the sport during on-court or on-field practice or competition; or
(c) Engages in any off-campus recruiting activities.
What Lucas is legally allowed to do in his given role, per NCAA bylaw 22.214.171.124, is make phone calls leading up to official and unofficial visits, along with contacting signed prospects, among other behind-the-scenes work.
(a) after the institution receives a financial deposit in response to the institution’s offer of admission.
(b) after the prospective student-athlete signs a National Letter of Intent or the institution’s written offer of admission and/or financial aid.
(c) may initiate telephone calls to a prospective student-athlete or those individuals accompanying the prospective student-athlete during the five days immediately preceding the official visit and during the official visit.
(d) may initiate telephone calls to a prospective student-athlete (or those individuals accompanying the prospective student-athlete) beginning the day immediately preceding the unofficial visit until the conclusion of the visit.
(e) may initiate telephone calls to a prospective student-athlete (or his or her family members or coach) that relate solely to institutional camp or clinic logistical issues (e.g., missing registration information), provided no recruiting conversation or solicitation of particular individuals to attend a camp or clinic occurs during such calls.
Normally, Lucas would be limited in what he is allowed to do, and making a solid chunk of cash to do so. But we’re not in normal times.
Looking into the NCAA’s updated COVID-19 Question and Answer Guide, the organization has made it clear that as long as the Zoom meetings are initiated by a legal coach – Calipari, Flint, Barbee or Justus – “any institutional staff member may participate in the call.”
“If the call with the prospective student-athlete is initiated by the institution’s coach, any institutional staff member may participate in the call,” the official update reads. “NCAA Bylaw 126.96.36.199.1.1 (Exceptions — Before Commitment) identifies institutional staff members who may initiate or return telephone or video calls to prospective student-athletes prior to commitment, and any requirements that must be met for those calls to be permissible.”
Just like Kentucky’s other secondary staff members, Lucas will be allowed to participate in virtual calls and meetings, meaning the school will be able to utilize him as an unofficial recruiter moving forward. As much behind-the-scenes work he’ll do on the recruiting front – evaluation, administration, scouting, etc. – Lucas will still be able to do what he does best as a relationship builder and connections guy until in-person recruiting opens back up.
To take it a step further, the NCAA has extended its recruiting dead period from Aug. 31 through Sept. 30, prohibiting college coaches from in-person recruiting and evaluation. Behind the scenes, there is further speculation we may not see off-campus recruiting or evaluation until 2021, which would essentially take out the necessity of moving Lucas to a full-time assistant coaching role from day one. Bruiser Flint – a 30-year veteran coach with 20 years of head coaching experience – certainly fits better in that immediate role from an on-court coaching perspective.
In the off chance the NCAA allows on-campus visits in the coming months, Lucas will play a significant role on that front. In Kentucky’s official release, the school announced the new assistant will “independently manage official and unofficial visits and be responsible for all recruiting strategy for the program,” on top of his other in-house duties as a special assistant to the head coach.
If in-person visits remain barred by the NCAA, he’ll continue to make an impact on crucial virtual visits and Zoom meetings alongside Kentucky’s full coaching staff.
The priority was to get Lucas on staff in some form or fashion immediately and figure out how to get him on as a full-time assistant when it truly matters after the 2020-21 season. By bringing him on board as a special assistant to the head coach/recruiting coordinator now, Kentucky is allowing Lucas to utilize his impressive recruiting abilities while maximizing Flint’s coaching abilities.
We don’t know when in-person recruiting and visits will return to normalcy, but until then, Kentucky has finalized a coaching staff set to compete against the best of the best in college basketball both on and off the floor.