High school basketball season doesn't start until well after Halloween, but the evaluation game has no timetable.
A flock of college coaches in polo shirts bearing school logos marched into Elk Grove, Sacramento and the Bay Area on Wednesday and Thursday to study prospects in organized workouts. Is there anything more challenging than trying to gauge a young man's athletic ceiling when he doesn't even fully know himself, or whose mood might hinge on his social media responses?
"It's more than just his game that we look into," explained Arizona State associate head coach Eric Musselman, the former Kings and Warriors coach. "Is he going to get taller? How much more weight will he gain? Will he get stronger? Has he matured? All those things factor into the equation."
Some college programs scout summer events that include junior high players, which Musselman says can be a bit premature.
"Really, players start coming on the map as sophomores, and that, in my opinion, is when the recruiting process is a fair time to start," he said.
A basketball lifer whose late father, Bill, coached in college and the NBA, Musselman said he's enjoying his foray into the college game. He seems primed to head his own program someday. He's a natural recruiter who studies the game exhaustively in an effort to learn and teach. Recruiting burns some coaches out, but the concept inspires Musselman.
"Recruiting, in reality, is the lifeblood of college sports," Musselman said. "You can't have a successful program and win at a high level otherwise. Recruiting is more important than X's and O's, and as a recruiter, you've got to be excited, high energy. You're around kids.
"They rejuvenate you. It's like sticking your Blackberry into a charger. You walk into a gym and there's a vibe. No day's the same. No gym's the same."
And no prospect is the same. Who plays defense and hustles like Dennis Rodman? Who has great physical skills but lacks heart? Who's a scholar, who's not?
Musselman toured the state this week, visiting six schools in three days, glued to his iPad for verbal directions as he navigated unfamiliar neighborhoods.
Musselman said there is a stark difference between evaluating high school players and evaluating talent for the NBA draft, which he was part of several times.
"There's way more risk in recruiting and giving a scholarship from high school to college than thinking about an NBA draft pick from college," Musselman said. "There's so much more of a risk factor of not really knowing about high school kids. Their body is still growing. Their mind is still growing. They're still trying to figure out who they are as a person and a player. College guys, you have a good idea what you're getting."
Still, the college recruiting game can be frustrating with players coming and going, never mind the countless hours to land them in the first place.
"We're in a new world, and I don't think the general public realizes that there's about a 50 percent transfer rate with players," said Musselman, 48. "When I was growing up in the 1980s, maybe one guy in four years transferred. Now it just happens a lot."
Musselman said today's young athletes have so many voices offering advice.
"I just think players have an inner circle of influence that is much larger than it was before," Musselman said. "It used to be mom and dad and a high school coach, and that's where it ended. Now it's two Amateur Athletic Union coaches, and there might be two high school coaches because the player transferred from one school to another. That's a lot of people trying to make decisions. Doesn't matter. It's a challenge, and I love a challenge."
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.