Photo by Ethan Erickson
George Dohrmann is a Staff Writer at Sports Illustrated, and recently had an article in the magazine that essentially stockpiled all of the recruiting mail that Roberto Nelson received during his sophomore year of high school. In the end, Nelson chose Oregon State, who did not send him any letters over the course of his recruitment.
George has been working the past eight years on a book that traces a handful of players from their time as 10-year olds through college, and Roberto Nelson is one of those players. As Dohrmann shared with me in part of the interview that I did not transcribe below, the recruiting letter portion didn't fit into the book due to space limitations, so it was turned into a magazine feature.
George was kind enough to spend some time talking about Oregon State basketball and Roberto Nelson with me recently. Here's a transcript from my phone interview session with Dohrmann:
Jake Bertalotto, Building the Dam: On the national scene, how big is this Oregon State story becoming, and how much does it pop up on your radar?
George Dohrmann, Sports Illustrated: Well, if you count online, this is the third story I've written on Oregon State in probably the last 13 months. I did a profile on Robinson after he got the job. Then, I did a story when Roberto heavily committed, talking about how big of a catch it was. Then, obviously the story on Roberto's recruitment and the letters wasn't largely about Oregon State, but obviously, if you don't have a guy good enough to attract all that attention from colleges, it doesn't become a story.
Bertalotto: So I'm sure when the process of Roberto collecting the letters started, you had no idea that Oregon State would come in and swoop him out of a crowd. When did Oregon State first come onto Roberto's radar?
Dohrmann: The first time Oregon State came on the radar was last summer after I had done the profile on Craig. I was in Vegas watching Roberto and a couple other kids in my book play. I saw Craig watching some of his games, and talked to Roberto's coaches who said that Oregon State was interested in Roberto as well as teammate Joe Burton. It was pretty amazing how late in the game Oregon State was when it came to recruiting Roberto. Ohio State had been recruiting him hard for over a year at that point, as had UCLA and other schools as well-- and not just with letters, with calls and visits. Oregon State got in the game late, but it's a credit to Craig and his staff that they were able to get in with Roberto and make an impression quickly.
Bertalotto: When Craig was hired, a lot was made of the connection to Barack Obama. Robinson even said that he would use the relationship to his advantage if it meant getting into the living rooms of recruits he otherwise wouldn't. A year into this, do you think the relationship is producing recruits?
Dohrmann: There's no question. I remember when Roberto heard about him, that's what he knew-- that Craig was Barack's guy. I called Roberto the day of the Democratic National Convention when Craig was introducing his sister, and Roberto said "Hey, I can't talk now, my boy is on TV." (meaning Craig). It absolutely resonates. There were two things that really swayed Roberto. It helped that Craig was Obama's brother-in-law. It helped that there was that notoriety. But it also helped that Craig was selling playing time. Craig came in there and said that you're going to play if you come to OSU, because I need players. UCLA, who was on him at that time, had all these players who were guards and I think Roberto just did the math, and said that ‘I'm good enough to go to UCLA and play right away, but there will be three or more guys who will be entrenched there and will have a few years on me.' If you look at Oregon State's roster now, they need him to play right away. There's some guards there including Jared Cunningham, who is a good recruit. But the idea of coming in with Cunningham and competing is different than coming into a program like UCLA with a few guys who have been there for two years. And the other thing is David Grace. Grace was the AAU coach in Southern California for the AAU program that Roberto played for. That's a story of getting relationships in recruiting, and Craig has clearly has developed some kind of connection in Southern California by hiring David Grace. It's no coincidence that David Grace was hired and that helped OSU get in with Roberto Nelson and Joe Burton who played for the Compton Magic, who Grace used to coach. I don't think that Craig would think that's a coincidence at all, he'd say absolutely, that's why we hired David Grace. That helped him get in with Roberto and with Joe.
Bertalotto: In your profile on Craig after his hiring, he said that he felt like he wouldn't have gotten this job had Oregon State been better. Now, Oregon State fans are hoping he sticks around for just a few more years. What are your thoughts on Craig moving forward as a Division-1 head coach?
Dohrmann: This year will be crucial for Craig. It's often easy for a coach to come in and make a team better than it was. Oregon State was so bad that of course it was going to get better. New coaches come in and motivate the players and those things, then the team takes a leap-- we often see it, in football as well. That's going to be interesting to see this year, because the Pac-10 has seen his system for a year, they know his personnel, the players are going to have to integrate-- it will be interesting to see. And there's no doubt that he is a dynamic personality. He's a relatively young, African American head coach with an incredible pedigree. If he wins, even if he wins a little bit, he'll keep getting mentioned for vacancies. You saw his name come up for the USC job, and what has he done? He hasn't even made the NCAA tournament. So you have to believe that if he gets OSU to the NCAA tournament, any big job that comes up, they're at least going to call him. I hate to say this to primarily OSU fans, but if you're Craig, you can sit back and decide what your perfect job is. Maybe he wants to go back to the Chicago area and coach a team like Illinois, or coach a big time program in the Big East. He can basically sit back at this point and wait for that perfect job to come up because in some ways he is an ideal candidate for any job that opens up.
Thanks to George for sharing some of his time with us, and providing the insight on both Nelson and Coach Robinson. Once again, check out his feature in this weeks Sports Illustrated.