Out on the recruiting trail, Gil Cheung is a travelling salesman: His product is Brandon University, but the tools at his disposal aren't the same as all the other salesmen out there trying to do the exact same thing as him.
The 30-year-old head coach of the BU men's basketball team is no different than the 41 other men's basketball coaches in the CIS or for that matter the 42 women's coaches across the country all competing amongst one another to secure a finite resource -- talent.
It is not to suggest that Brandon University doesn't have its selling points, but anyone who follows university basketball in this country knows there are challenges against BU when Cheung goes out and tries to sell prospective athletes on the idea of becoming a Bobcat.
The recruiting budgets, the money available for scholarships and, currently, the oldest facility in the Canada West are all things that could be considered drawbacks by potential athletes who are looking for their post-secondary destination. But it's also true that every school has its minuses, and every school has its plusses.
Cheung said the CIS applies an "8.4 rule" for what a school can offer for scholarships: Whatever that school's yearly tuition costs, the coach has 8.4 times that figure as an allotment for his entire team. An Arts student at BU pays $3,564.89 for a year of tuition, meaning that the 8.4 rule would allow the teams to spend nearly $30,000 on scholarships. Cheung wouldn't divulge figures for his budget, but it is believed that the individual team budgets are nowhere near that 8.4 figure and closer to $18,000 for a team, giving the coaches only six full scholarships at best and leaving BU behind other schools in the country, financially speaking.
But, for Cheung, it's about accentuating the positives at the expense of the negatives.
"I think we have great qualities about our place," he said. "It's a smaller university, it's a great community and I think the people here really take care of us very well. I don't care what anyone wants to say -- I understand that UBC has a big campus and they're in Vancouver, but at the same time, if UBC goes and they win 16 in a row, they're not on the front page of the paper, they're not having coverage for them twice a week every week. When they sign a player, he's not on the front page. ... I think in the bigger markets you get lost in the shuffle, you're just another one of the students, but here it's a great thing."
When Cheung was recruited to play for the Bobcats in 1999, the landscape was drastically different than it is now, a mere 12 years later. The Internet wasn't the prolific entity it is now and the term social media was years away from being coined. Now with the likes of Twitter and Facebook -- plus recruiting sites like Flagrant Fouls, the Canadian basketball version of a site like Rivals.com -- no player in Canada hits a jump shot without every coach knowing about it.
"Recruiting today, it's so much quicker, it's so much more efficient, but also it makes the world a lot smaller place," Cheung said. "There isn't a kid in Toronto, Montreal, B.C., that I know about that coach (Barnaby Craddock), coach (Mike Raimbault), coach (Scott Clark) that they don't know about.
"When I was recruited here, the labour was so much more intensive. I know coach (Jerry) Hemmings will always go down as one of the best recruiters in college basketball, north or south of the border. He manually called three or four people. He never typed in Google and got contacts or Facebook pages. You had to do so much more. ... Now there's different basketball websites, different ranking services, scouting services. Everyone knows about everyone and it comes down to making connections."
Cheung was at the British Columbia AAA high school provincials last month just a few days after making a recruiting trip through Southern Ontario. In B.C., Cheung took five players and their families out separately for lunch and to deliver his pitch.
Another reality facing coaches in Canada nowadays is the talent drain to the United States is happening in greater numbers, and it's happening earlier as well. More and more, the elite-level Canadian talents aren't just going to greener pastures in the NCAA, but they're doing it for high school as well, choosing the prep school route and leaving Canada behind long before university decisions are made.
The Texas Longhorns' fabulous freshmen, Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph, got to Austin by way of Nevada's Findlay prep, while the three Canadians who appeared in last week's McDonald's All-American Game are each playing out their high school eligibility in the U.S.
So when you consider that those A-level talents are already heading south for high school, and B-level players, who have stayed in Canada, still carry the NCAA dream, it means that Canadian recruiters are left fighting over the next tier of athlete, although Cheung didn't agree that calling those players C-level was fair.
"I wouldn't say 'C' kids, I think you're just trying to establish contact with kids that have a genuine interest in staying in Canada," he said. "There's some kids whose heart is set on playing down in the States somewhere. It doesn't matter where it could be, it could be Southern Utah Technical Bible Something.
"They're set on playing on the States because they think everything looks like what you see on TV (last night in the NCAA tournament). Very few players, very few programs get to that level. I think what a lot of them are missing out on is getting a chance to get a great degree at a Canadian University, play in front of friends and family and all that stuff. I think it's big to keep the best kids in Canada and, yeah, it's getting tougher and tougher.
"... We're looking for the kids that are the best fit for us on and off the court. To be honest with you, are they C-level kids? No I don't think they are. I think you just have to find the right fit and sometimes you have to find the kids that bounce back (from the U.S.) or are a bit older or the ones who are set on staying at home."
There are also major discrepancies between conferences in the CIS, something the national organization has never seen fit to adjust. Entry requirements at many institutions are getting lower -- something that BU always had in its favour -- so some schools are able to attract just about any athlete, regardless of their academic standing. Additionally, teams in each conference outside of Canada West are allowed three international recruits on their roster, while the western teams are, of course, only allowed two.