We wanted to reflect on this before it got too stale. Wednesday the NABC strongly recommended that the growing practice of college coaches targeting middle-school kids as prospects unconditionally end. This is in light of the uproar that ensued in May when uber-recruiter Billy Gillispie at Kentucky received a verbal commitment from Michael Avery, a 6’4 eighth-grader from southern California who had not yet even picked a high school, much less a college.
Will This Kid Be Any Good in Four Years?
Gillispie took the brunt of the criticism in the national media, but he wasn’t the first or only coach who was using this questionable (but legal) strategy to ‘lock up’ young players who arguably have no idea what the concept of going to college means yet. Anong others, Tim Floyd at USC and Bruce Weber (two mentions in one day!!) at Illinois have also made use of this practice. The NABC, ironically led by Tubby Smith (the former UK coach who withstood increasingly harsh criticism, some legit, some not, based on his recruiting while in Lexington), asked all college coaches to hold off on offering scholarships or accepting commitments from prospects until mid-June after their sophomore year in high school, stating that younger players:
[They] have not yet displayed sufficient academic credentials or, in the vast majority of cases, basketball maturity to accurately project them as admissible students to the institution or impact players on the basketball team. [...] The academic and athletic profiles of these younger students are still very much works in progress. Coaches and athletes need to respect the process and allow development to occur in both areas prior to making commitments.
Already Committed to Maryland
While I often agree with and respect the reasoned discourse made by the esteemed Truzenzuzex at A Sea of Blue, the Kentucky blog of record as far as we’re concerned, we never could quite get over the smell test on this one. Notwithstanding the arguments of caveat emptor and the lack of any enforceability of such early commitments, this whole situation just had a backroom feel of predatory extortion, an awkward taking advantage of kids (and parents) who may not know any better. We view it as not dissimilar to the equally distasteful Sonny Vaccaro-bred fast-tracking of certain kids to certain schools based on implicit promises and subsequent shoe company representation.
Luckily, this may be a situation where coaches were doing it because they felt they needed to avoid a competitive disadvantage. Now that the NABC has effectively disavowed this as a strategy (although it is still legal), coaches appear to be supportive of the line-drawing. Billy Gillispie stated today:
I fully support anything the coaches’ leadership and governing body thinks is best for college basketball and high school-age basketball players. It’s not like you’re not going to go out and evaluate young players. They’ve just strongly encouraged us not to seek a commitment, offer a scholarship, those kinds of things, which we definitely will adhere to.
What will be an interesting test of a coach shadiness factor (yeah you, Huggins, and you too, Gary) is to see who obliges the NABC with this directive to avoid recruiting the youngsters. Nevertheless, we think this is ultimately a move in the right direction.