Bill Self’s Coaching Plus Elite Talent is a Scary Proposition

Posted by BHayes on October 9th, 2013

Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveleris a national columnist.

Tweets that end with a hashtag of “#RockChalk” are not hard to find in the Twitterverse, but one in particular had to bring a smile to the face of Bill Self and Kansas fans everywhere on Tuesday. Kelly Oubre, one of the top prospects in the prep class of 2014, announced his commitment to Self and KU yesterday morning via social media.

The Findlay Prep (NV) wing, who now looms as the natural replacement on the wing for presumptive one-and-done Jayhawk freshman Andrew Wiggins, is another huge get for several reasons. Oubre (#10 in RSCI’s summer rankings for the class of 2014) is a significant coup for Self, a coach whose recruiting efforts – at least in terms of the star power at the top of the rankings – haven’t always matched up with the prodigious success his teams have enjoyed on the court. This isn’t to say the Jayhawks have been winning multiple Big 12 titles and making Final Fours with two-star recruits from western Kansas, but with the Wiggins/Wayne Selden/Joel Embiid class now on campus and this commitment from Oubre for next season also in the books, Self and Kansas should be taken more seriously than ever as major players in the recruitment of the nation’s top prospects.

Kelly Oubre, A Consensus Top-15 Prospect In The Class Of 2014, Is The Latest Highly Regarded Prep Star To Commit To Bill Self And Kansas

Kelly Oubre, A Consensus Top-15 Prospect In The Class Of 2014, Is The Latest Highly Regarded Prep Star To Commit To Bill Self And Kansas

According to RSCI Hoops, prior to this year’s incoming class, Kansas had landed just two consensus top-20 recruits (Xavier Henry and Josh Selby) since 2007. Of course, that number may as well have been one, as class of 2010 guard Selby never realized the potential he flashed during his high school days, averaging only 7.9 PPG in one disappointing season in Lawrence. For an interesting frame of reference, intrastate rival Kansas State — a program with nowhere near the hardwood history as KU — has recruited just as many top-20 players in that span. For (mostly) better or worse, Self simply hasn’t chosen to draw from that group of elite talents as often as the other national programs — granted, part of the reason for that may be some light reluctance on the side of the blue-chippers — but he has seemed pretty comfortable building winning teams without so many prep superstars dotting his roster.

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Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun – Are Package Deals With Top Recruits Just The Flavor Of The Day Or Are They Here To Stay?

Posted by BHayes on September 25th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.

With the recent news of a potential Cliff Alexander-Jaquan Lyle package deal, can we officially label the recruiting season of 2013 as the summer of bromance? An Alexander-Lyle pairing would mark the second duo of top-25 recruits in the class of 2014 to make the college decision a joint one, as Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones (both top-five recruits according to a number of outlets) have long marketed themselves as a package deal for college recruiters. We may not be witnessing Bigfoot here – package deals like this have certainly gone down in the past – but are these examples proof of an emerging trend? The most frequent iteration of the phenomenon in years past had to be the brother package – see Harrison, Andrew and Aaron (Kentucky) or Barton, Will and Antonio (Memphis) – or if we were stretching, close friends who either grew up together or played their high school ball with one another. But now we are beginning to push the definition of proximity even further, as high school basketball players from completely different parts of the country are forming relationships strong enough to consummate these package recruitment deals. It’s a testament to the growing reach of the AAU circuit, the increased facility of long-distance communication in today’s world, and last, but not least, an eerie imitation of the current dynamics within NBA free agency – the professional equivalent of the recruitment process.

Kentucky Has A More Common Version Of The Package Deal Arriving On Campus This Fall In the Harrison Brothers --Emphasis On Brothers

Kentucky Has A More Common Version Of The Package Deal Arriving On Campus This Fall In the Harrison Brothers –Emphasis On Brothers

The modern high-major college recruit simply isn’t afforded the same summer vacation  he used to have. Even a decade ago, there simply were not as many mandatory (in the sense that every other high-level recruit will be there) camps, AAU tournaments, and international competitions as there are today. We could spend a lot of time discussing the many negatives of this current grassroots setup, but one positive to grow out of the arrangement is that recruits have the chance to spend more time with their peers from across the country. Especially for kids not playing their high school ball at the hoop factories (Findlay, Oak Hill, Huntington, etc.), I would imagine finding peers in your native surroundings can be a challenge, so having the chance to spend time with those facing the exact same circumstances as you has to be a welcomed opportunity for these star recruits.

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Seton Hall’s Fishy Recruiting Tactics

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 20th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

There will be some measure of disbelief the first time you see it. Don’t hesitate to look, just know that when you start scratching your head, trying to think of an explanation, your eyes do not deceive you: the above link takes you directly to a list of Seton Hall’s 2014 recruiting class, which now counts three top-100 commitments, including Thursday’s huge addition: Lincoln High School (NY) shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead, a consensus five-star prospect ranked well within the top 40 of any recruiting database, ended his high profile recruitment Thursday when he committed to the Pirates. Whitehead, an explosive 6-foot-3 shooting guard with possible one-and-done designs, received offers from Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, UCLA, Syracuse, and other big-name high-major programs. Before Thursday’s decision, Whitehead was believed to have narrowed his lengthy list to two schools: St. Johns (who Whitehead visited Wednesday, and thus the school many expected Whitehead to choose) and Seton Hall. As word of the five-star guard’s announcement circulated, it was easy for one’s mind to wander: what led Whitehead to choose Seton Hall, a long-dormant program under Kevin Willard, over the Steve Lavin-led Red Storm? Was there something behind Whitehead’s decision not made apparent at his announcement? That seemed to be the implication from a New York Post report divulging the imminent hiring of Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, Whitehead’s middle school teacher and high school coach (and founder of Juice All-Stars, Whitehead’s AAU team), to Seton Hall’s staff. The sequence of events did not really leave much room for interpretation: Whitehead appeared to be a “package” deal.

If Seton Hall can't compete with top programs for high-level recruits, bundling players assistants is a legal, yet questionable, workaround (Photo credit: Under Armour/Mary Kline)

If Seton Hall can’t compete with top programs for high-level recruits, bundling players assistants is a legal, yet questionable, workaround (Photo credit: Under Armour/Kelly Kline)

I’ll answer the question that surely popped into your brain sometime over the last five seconds: No, there is nothing illegal about Seton Hall’s reported decision to hire Morton. The NCAA instituted a rule last season prohibiting the hiring of third-parties connected to recruits to any position other than one of the three assistant spots allotted to each team. Morton is expected to become one of the Pirates’ three assistants, making his new position perfectly valid – in the eyes of the NCAA. How the rest of the college hoop world (fans, rival coaches, and players) feel about this is another story entirely. Before you make a conclusive judgment, there is a pattern of repeated behavior worth discussing that might influence your opinion. Whitehead may be the latest package deal in Seton Hall’s 2014 class, but he’s not the only one. It was just over a month ago that 2014 four-star forward Angel Delgado’s commitment to Seton Hall was followed weeks later by the Pirates’ hiring of Oliver Antigua, who knew Delgado through his assistant’s role on the national program of Delgado’s native Dominican Republic. Or go back five months earlier, when 2013 point guard Jaren Sina – who reneged on his verbal commitment to Northwestern after the Wildcats replaced former coach Bill Carmody with Chris Collins – opted to join Seton Hall right around the time Fred Hill, a former Northwestern assistant instrumental to the New Jersey-based Sina’s initial commitment to the Wildcats, was added to the Pirates’ staff. That makes Morton’s potential addition Seton Hall’s third prospect-tethered hire under Willard over the past six months.

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Negative Recruiting Reaches Staggering Depths

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 18th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Most college hoops fans follow the game purely for their own enjoyment. They don’t see what goes on behind the scenes – the extreme measures programs often take to keep their student-athletes eligible and the hostile interplay between opposing players. And they most certainly do not know everything there is to know about recruiting. The practice seems simple enough: woo players with the promise of playing time, high scoring totals, and wins; drop huge sums on gaudy locker rooms, maybe a game console or two; superimpose a silhouette of your school’s logo/mascot at midcourt, just to give that four-star shooting guard something to look at, something the other schools don’t have, every time he takes the floor. All of this is fair game, but anyone with even scant knowledge of college basketball recruiting, particularly amongst the best schools and players, can tell you there’s much more to it than shiny facilities and the prospect of maintaining a gaudy scoring average in an uptempo offense. The presence of agents, shoe company representatives, and other third parties, all attempting to influence top-level recruits’ decisions in one way or another – and quite often funneling them to a particular school – has only increased in recent years. Coaches and players are not oblivious to this; it’s not hard for them to point out those who are not playing by the rules.

It's truly dispiriting to learn coaches would go so far as to use a coach's medical condition against him in recruiting (Getty Images).

It’s truly dispiriting to learn coaches would go so far as to use a coach’s medical condition against him in recruiting (Getty Images).

That’s just one unseemly aspect fans rarely, if ever, get to experience. The number of top-ranked players who don’t come across some type of illicit financial arrangement – who are not offered something from someone – over the course of their recruitment is probably smaller than anyone not directly involved with recruiting could possibly imagine. Another side, an arguably worse one, is the concept of negative recruiting, wherein coaches bash coaches from programs, or simply bash their programs, in an effort to lead players away from competitors. It can be anything from pointing out a particularly unsavory aspect of one coach’s resume, to critiquing his preferred style of play, to commenting on the lack of fan or institutional support at his program. Sometimes, things get ugly, and on Tuesday, we learned of one particularly disconcerting case involving Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy.

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Prepare for a “different” type of Kentucky point guard

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 16th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Elite point guard play has been a hallmark of John Calipari’s Kentucky teams. The Wildcats typically pluck one of the nation’s best floor generals from any given recruiting class, drill them in the arts of the dribble-drive offense, their draft stock soaring all the while, then – with Calipari’s customary backing – encourage them to enter the NBA draft, where a first-round selection awaits. From John Wall to Brandon Knight to Tyreke Evans to Marquis Teague, Kentucky under Calipari has become the most desirable landing spot in the country for highly-touted high school point guards looking for the quickest and most seamless path to the NBA. In fact, dating back to 2007-’08, when Memphis rode Derrick Rose’s face-melting talents to the brink of a national championship, Calipari has started a new point guard every season (a salient statistic pointed out late last week by The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy). The run of truly elite point men ended in 2012-13 with Ryan Harrow, whose inability to handle the big stage, and general lack of talent and athleticism, was evident from the start.

There should be little expectation for a regression in point guard play when Ulis (likely) takes over in 2014 (AP Photo).

There should be little expectation for a regression in point guard play when Ulis (likely) takes over in 2014 (AP Photo).

But the streak of alternating point guards continued all the same, as it will in 2013-14, when top-ranked Andrew Harrison, one member of Kentucky’s insane 2013 recruiting class featuring six McDonald’s All-Americans and three players ranked No. 1 at their respective positions, according to ESPN, will take over. Once Harrison leaves (probably after one season), Kentucky will have to brace itself for the likelihood – gasp! – of a point guard keeping his starting spot for more than one season. That was one of the implications of Marian Catholic (IL) guard Tyler Ulis, a consensus top-40 player in 2014, committing to Kentucky Friday. Ulis is not like the star UK point guards of recent vintage – long, physical, equal parts scoring prowess and distributive intuition. The 5’8’’, 150-pound guard is a point guard in the traditional mold – more a shot creator (NBC’s Rob Dauster, apparently impressed with Ulis at an AAU event, nicknamed Ulis “Tyler the Creator”) than a shot maker. Ulis’s stock soared this summer on the AAU circuit after a series of brilliant performances against elite competition, including a 22-point, 17-assist effort at the EYBL Peach Jam in a highly anticipated match-up between his team, Meanstreets, and the Howard Pulley squad led by Tyus Jones, the No. 1-ranked point guard in 2014, who is expected to commit Duke (and has reiterated his belief that he and Jahlil Okafor, the top-ranked overall player in 2014, are a “package deal”).

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Commitment of Jordan McLaughlin an Encouraging Sign for Andy Enfield at USC

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 12th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Dunk City was short-lived and it was awesome. Those are the two descriptions that pop into one’s head when you look back on Florida Gulf Coast’s headline-grabbing run to the last season’s Sweet 16. The Eagles didn’t just beat second seeded Georgetown and seventh seeded San Diego State in succession, they played some of the most ostentatious, brazen, high-flying hoops March Madness has ever seen. Florida Gulf Coast would have been a huge national story (which it was) even without the alluring mystery surrounding its Wall Street-bred head coach and his supermodel wife. All the elements – the highlight reel alley-oops, the beach-side campus dorms, the rollicking on-court celebrations, under-recruited point guard Brett Comer’s neglected high school basketball career, the immense branding and academic exposure the Eagles’ run granted the barely two decades-old university, Andy Enfield’s wife – made the Eagles America’s collective sweetheart. Florida Gulf Coast’s reign was brief, but it was brilliant. No one will forget Dunk City.

With his first big recruit in tow, Enfield is acquiting himself well in his new job (AP Photo).

With his first big recruit in tow, Enfield is acquiting himself well in his new job (AP Photo).

Nor did prospective employers believe the man behind the madness, Enfield, just happened to get hot at the right time – the typical formula for big NCAA Tournament upsets. The moment Florida finished off its humbling 12-point Sweet 16 win over the Eagles, Enfield became one of the nation’s hottest head coaching candidates not named Brad Stevens (Speaking of which: miss you, Brad). His name was floated about the college hoops coaching carousel, though for a time it seemed no one was convinced (after just two NCAA Tournament wins), that Enfield had more to prove before landing a high-major job – until USC finally, with immense outside apprehension, took a leap of faith with Dunk City’s creative genius. A lot of people were dubious about USC’s perceived decision to hire a coach because of two impressive wins in a wacky, unpredictable, upset-breeding ground of a single-elimination basketball tournament.

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John Calipari’s Recruiting Prowess is All-Encompassing

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 12th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Recruiting has never been as simple as John Calipari makes it look. Winning national championships, plucking the annual Rivals Top 150 of its very best talent, sending them off to the NBA Draft, and  grinning with every lottery selection. It is a self-sustaining cycle, and it has long since worked. That’s the part that makes sense. Most coaches don’t have the luxury of bringing in six McDonald’s All Americans to an iconic, tradition-laden program – so they use scouting acumen, and developmental prognostication, to find the best players the best teams have neglected (or temporarily dismissed) and scoop them up before engaging in a recruiting battle they can’t possibly win. Most high-major programs offer their own uniquely attractive features, true–even non-bluebloods offer variously amenities and benefits many top high schoolers find appealing. But generally, their job is more difficult than John Calipari’s. At this point, Calipari’s program basically recruits itself (Calipari is a terrific recruiter on his own merits, and he’s been in battles for top players with other big-name programs before, but there are a number of factors – program, coaching history, track record of NBA preparation – that give him a leg up on competitors). Most other coaches need to do a lot more heavy lifting before landing the players they sign.

From national championships to alumni games, Calipari has no rival on the recruiting trail (Getty Images)

From national championships to alumni games, Calipari has no rival on the recruiting trail (Getty Images)

Not only does he boast those obvious advantages, Calipari has a few recruiting tricks up his sleeve that he can pull out at a moment’s notice. There was the famous Jay-Z incident, in which the hip-hop mogul visited Kentucky’s locker room after the Wildcats advanced to the 2011 Final Four, not to mention his backstage access to Hov’s Barclays Center-opening concert. Or the controversial “greatest day in the history of the program” remark, which referred to Kentucky’s landmark five first-round selections in the 2010 draft, a statement representative of Calipari’s desire to – above winning championships, even – turn the high schoolers he recruits into wealthy professional basketball players using one year of Kentucky-based tutelage as their developmental pathway (in lieu of the impossible solution: the abolition of the NBA’s 19-year-old age limit). And then, my personal favorite: Calipari apologizing to recruits in June 2012 because “I’m spending the majority of my time answering questions from NBA teams about my six guys.” The subtle brilliance of that tweet is everlasting; sorry, five-star high school hoops stars of the world, but I’m busy talking to NBA scouts.Your questions will have to wait. It’s perfect.

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No Dante Exum in 2013-14? College Hoops Won’t Suffer Too Much

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 29th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

In the immediate aftermath of the Miami Heat’s thrilling seven-game victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, college and professional basketball fans alike directed their focus not at the player draft looming one week ahead, but at the 2014 draft – the one expected to be populated by the most talented recruiting class, featuring one of the most talented players, of the past decade. Speculation of various teams “tanking” was abundant and widespread. General managers assumed futuristic, pick-stacking, salary-shedding free agency strategies. “Wig-out for [Andrew] Wiggins” entered the lexicon. Everyone wanted to get in on the talent bounty waiting in the 2014 draft lottery. Rightfully so. By now, the biggest prospects basically roll off the tongue as a reflex: Kansas’ Wiggins, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, among others. But there’s one name you might not be quite as familiar with. That name is Dante Exum, an Australian-born 6’6″, 188-pound slasher who had scouts swooning after stealing the show at the FIBA U-19 World Championships in the Czech Republic this summer (along with a standout performance at the Nike Hoop Summit), where he averaged 18 points per game, just under four assists, and dropped 33 points against a formidable team from Spain.

Even in a loaded 2014 draft class, Exum should be a lottery pick if he declares (Getty Images).

The NBA Draft chatter intensified, and Exum’s lottery bona fides soon hardened into a national scouting consensus, leaving little doubt he would join Wiggins and Randle and the like in upper reaches of the first round next June. Earlier this summer, ESPN.com draft insider Chad Ford ranked Exum third on his list of “Top 100 Draft Prospects” for 2014. The only lingering question about Exum, who is on track to finish his high school course work in October, making him eligible to enroll in any American university at the end of the fall semester, was whether he would bring his hyperbolically mythologized land-down-under skills to the Division I ranks for a few months before entering the draft. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman answered that question on Tuesday:

“Schools have been saying I can start in early December and play this season,” Exum told ESPN. “But if college is the option, I’ll stay in Australia, do workouts with the national team and then go to college next August. Playing this season in college is not an option.”

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A Familiar Narrative: Xavier Rathan-Mayes of Florida State Snagged By Academic Issues

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 27th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Academic eligibility issues among high-level college basketball recruits are not a novel development. They are varied and wide-raging, stretching across the national prep landscape, from Dallas to New Hampshire to  and everywhere in between. Players leaving so-called “diploma mills,” schools devised to graduate high-level prospects by any means necessary to meet minimum eligibility requirements at the next level, often see their transitions to Division I interrupted once the NCAA looks into their shoddy academic credentials. Top 10 Florida signee Chris Walker is a recent high-profile example. Ben McLemore is another famous case. The accounts of academic negligence in high school coming back to bite players in college – whether by partial qualifier rulings or outright ineligibility – are too numerous to document in one post. Monday brought news of another highly-ranked recruit losing his college eligibility after not receiving academic clearance from the NCAA: Florida State recruit Xavier Rathan-Mayes, the No. 7-ranked shooting guard and No. 30-ranked player in the 2014 class, according to Rivals. Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton broke the news Monday afternoon.

Losing Rathan-Mayes is a huge blow for FSU (Getty Images).

“Following a review by the NCAA Eligibility Center, it was determined that some of the coursework Xavier completed during his high school enrollment could not be used to satisfy NCAA Division I initial-eligibility requirements,” the school released in a statement. “The NCAA has allowed Xavier to enroll immediately at Florida State and receive athletics scholarship. However, he will not be permitted to practice or compete during the first year of enrollment.” 

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Emmanuel Mudiay Could Represent a Turning Point for SMU

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 26th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

None of the 15 victories SMU tallied last season were quite as important as the massive recruiting win it scored Saturday night. That’s when Emmanuel Mudiay, a consensus top-five player and arguably the top point guard in the 2014 class, subverted the natural college hoops recruiting food chain by announcing at halftime of the Under Armour Elite 24 game that he would spurn scholarship offers from Baylor, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, among others, to attend SMU. The natural reaction? Woah. Why would a player as talented and with as clear a path to the NBA Draft lottery as Mudiay, turn down not only the sport’s most proven preps-to-pros pipeline (Kentucky), but a Big 12 juggernaut (Kansas) that’s won nine-consecutive conference championships and is welcoming the most celebrated high school prospect since Kevin Durant (Andrew Wiggins) to its campus this fall? Mudiay answered that very question on the ESPNU airwaves:

With Mudiay making his verbal commitment, the arrow is pointed up for SMU (Getty Images).

“I prayed about it a lot, and this is what I felt was the best fit. My family is here, and they can see me play, and I will learn from a Hall of Fame coach in Larry Brown. He has done it in college and the pros. He knows what it takes to get there, and I think we can do some special things at SMU.”  

The allure of Larry Brown is one thing. Brown is considered one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, the only one (it should be said) to have won championships at both the college and professional levels. Brown is a tremendous coach, but if Mudiay’s decision was exclusively the product of a longing to reap the benefits of Brown’s individual tutelage, the commitment wouldn’t feel as important as it does. There were other factors involved. Mudiay is the biggest recruit SMU has ever landed, but he is not the only highly-ranked player to choose the school. In fact, just this year, the Mustangs are bringing in Keith Frazier, a McDonald’s All-American from Dallas, along with a group of well-regarded transfers, including former Illinois state guard Nic Moore, former junior college big man Yanick Moreira, former Villanova forward Marcus Kennedy, and former Illinois guard Crandall Head. Make no mistake: Mudiay is a better player and a more esteemed prospect than any of those guys. But the point is that he is the best of several; he is not the only one. Mudiay’s commitment is the rousing culmination of a recent uptick in recruiting, and if his decision prompts other top-ranked players to follow suit, that uptick could calcify into an accepted recruiting standard.

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College Basketball is Far More Than a Four-Year Mission

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 15th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The lengths parents will go to control and obsess over their children’s youth sports development are legion. The process begins as far back as grade school when children with exceptional athletic talents are weaned off other athletic exploits and forced to devote hours upon hours to the sport their parents have identified as the one most likely to offer an expedient (and financially permissive) path through college, and for the best of the best, all the way to a professional career. Recent NBA draftee Shabazz Muhammad’s infamous age-change is the latest example, but there are countless other cases involving kids whose participation in youth athletics becomes more about the potential awards down the line – college scholarships, professional fame, shoe contracts, and the like – than the pure, blissful, unbridled joy typically inhering childhood athletic competition. Try the recent Wall Street Journal profile of 15-year old New Yorker Jerron Love, a supremely talented prospect with hyper-controlling parents who went as far as to start posting YouTube clips of their son at 11-years old titled, “Jerron Love 11 Year Old Basketball Phenom.” There’s also, more famously, the curious case of Demetrius Walker, chronicled in George Dohrmann’s tremendous book Play Their Hearts Out, which details the rise and fall of  a 12-year-old hoops phenom deemed the absolute surest of “sure thing” prospects before said sureness ever reached a high school basketball court.  Now more than ever, elite sports at the youth level are becoming a more career-oriented endeavor, replacing athletic enjoyment with long-term professional thinking. This shift in thinking has, naturally, gripped youth basketball at disturbingly young ages.

One of the biggest recruiting busts in recent memory, Walker is a popularized example of today's warped youth basketball culture (Getty).

One of the biggest recruiting busts in recent memory, Walker is a popularized example of today’s warped youth basketball culture (Getty).

It has reached the point where, for some prospects, a typical, uninterrupted, seamless progression through middle school is less important than preparing oneself in the most opportunistic way for the recruiting evaluation cycle. How do I know? A recent article in The Star-Ledger provided the newest detail to a culture of elite youth basketball that has officially become a professionally motivated enterprise, wherein some of the country’s most highly touted recruits are repeating grades in middle school to maximize exposure to college coaches and better position themselves to leverage a crucial evaluation window to their greatest possible benefit. All four of New Jersey’s most highly rated prospects in the 2014 and 2015 classes repeated grades, and other big-name talents – including 2013 stars Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Noah Vonleh (Indiana), Wayne Selden (Kansas), and lottery pick Nerlens Noel – have made the same choice. This is not a new practice. ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep, cited in writer Mathew Stanmyre’s article, states, “The genie is out of the bottle. It’s no longer a trend – it’s an accepted practice within high school basketball.” The thinking behind the move is simple: artificially place oneself in a younger age group so as to grant oneself the physical and skill advantages that come with facing a lesser level of competition. That’s the basic idea, but there are a few dynamics at work here, all of which go into making this practice not only a smart and efficient way to elevate one’s relative prep hoops standing, but a wise early career move.

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The 2013 Recruiting Class Might Just Be Better Than You Think

Posted by Chris Johnson on June 18th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The 2012-13 college basketball season was excellent. Truly, it was – from the buzzer beaters to the rotating wheel of No. 1 seeds to Florida Gulf Coast and on through every grinding Big Ten showdown and Doug McDermott scoring explosion and Russdiculous moment stashed in between. It was great. You name it, last year had it all – but for one critical distinction. It didn’t have elite freshmen talent. There was no Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant or even a John Wall to satiate the eager eyes of casual fans who pay only a passing glance to college hoops right around NCAA Tournament time to get a better feel for that year’s upcoming NBA draftees. They want to know who can make their teams better at the next level; the excitement and mystique of college basketball is beside the point. Who cares if college basketball is awesome regardless of how “loaded” the top of the draft is?! We want franchise-changing one-and-done pros! I don’t see any this year! This makes me angry!

Players like Gordon at Arizona and other top-ranked 2013 stars at other select programs are why this  freshman class has the chance to be one of the best in recent memory (AP).

Players like Gordon at Arizona and other top-ranked 2013 stars at other select programs are why this freshman class has the chance to be one of the best in recent memory (AP).

Readers of this site, I’d like to presume, do not follow that train of thought. While Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Trey Burke, Otto Porter and Victor Oladipo are the crème de la crème of this year’s lottery group, none are likely to evolve into max-contract team-defining superstars, and guess what? The 2012-13 season still rocked. College basketball doesn’t need transcendent star power to retain its elemental excellence, but even the purists among us can easily admit: It’s more fun when the Durants and Davises and Derrick Roses of the world are pushing their respective teams to new heights. There, you win, NBA fan.

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