Anyone who has visited this blog space most likely knows I wrote a book of funny stories about college basketball recruiting, family and life in general (Life’s A Joke). The story behind it dates back to the NCAA change in off campus recruiting rules. When I first got into college coaching, evaluating recruits meant going to watch them play in person (except for guys who had “bird dogs,” i.e. friends whose opinions they could rely on). Recruiting consisted of going to a prospect’s games (or practices) and watching him play. This method, obviously, was quite costly because seldom did a coach get to see more than one prospect at a time. In fact, I recall as a graduate assistant at the University of Oregon (GAs were allowed to recruit off campus back then), going on a recruiting trip to the East Coast during which I saw 21 prospects play in 19 days.
Several problems existed with those rules, however. First of all, it was unfair to schools in rural areas, e.g. the Universities of Wyoming and Maine couldn’t see nearly as many as their state university counterparts UCLA or Ohio State. Secondly, it was incredibly expensive to see, in most cases, one prospect each trip. There had to be a better, more frugal, more equitable way to evaluate young players who were going to be offered a full grant-in-aid (scholarship). The NCAA decided to allow summer events, made up of all-star or select teams, most under the AAU umbrella. This allowed a multitude of prospects to be see at one time at one venue. This morphed into mega events in places like Las Vegas, in which three or four showcases (usually sponsored by the shoe companies), featuring as many as 64 teams in each, to be played all at the same time. This was infinitely more fiscally responsible.
With nearly every school represented, often with more than one staff member in attendance, it became a mini-coaches convention. After the evening games concluded, groups of coaches would get together and go out for a late night dinner and beverage(s). Naturally, the talk would turn to story telling – how stupid the players were, how stupid the coaches were, etc. Inevitably, a coach would say, “We ought to write a book.”
When I joined Jerry Tarkanian’s staff, it was as director of basketball operations. Since my recruiting duties were restricted to on campus and telephone only, I had more time on my hands than ever before. I decided to write that book. At home one evening I took out a pad and jotted down notes that would remind me of a story. That first night I could only come up with 11. Eleven stories! I knew there were many more than that.
The next day (and all that followed), I would carry an index card with me and, whenever somebody would say something that would jog my memory, I’d write down some key words. Two-and-a-half years later, I had 265 stories and a book was conceived. Tomorrow’s post will reveal a humorous, as well as tragic, story about its actual coming to fruition. For now, allow me to skip ahead to what happened after it was published.
A close college friend of mine told me he knew a vice president of Barnes & Noble. Keep in mind this was 2001 and B&N was thriving. Even if this guy could get my book in Barnes & Nobles store in Fresno only, it would drastically increase sales. I’d experienced a few book signings at local restaurants and could visualize myself sitting at a table at B&N with a long line of patrons waiting to get a personalized, autographed copy.
My buddy got me the VP’s direct line and I immediately rang him up. After his secretary put me through, we exchanged some small talk before he got to the point. I had mentioned that I self-published (another story for another blog), as opposed to going through a publishing company. He said to me, an obvious novice, “You do have an ISBN number and a bar code, right?”
“Uh, excuse me?”
The VP ended our conversation by saying, “Do you know when you buy a book and, just before you pay for it, the cashier scans it and there’s a beep? That beep is the bar code.”
Needless to say, that was the first and last conversation I had with the Barnes & Noble Vice President. If there will ever be a sequel (and it is in the works):
“You can bet there will be an ISBN number and a bar code.”