Thursday, July 17, 2008

Billy the Kid Recruiter

"Doggone Billy," is what one coach had to say about the recruiting of younger and younger players.

It's unfair to UK's coach Billy Gillespie to blame it all on him. And I will, unlike some magazines, explain early and clearly what is satire and what is not. My title, above, is.

However, Coach Stallings did have a point. Although it is unfair to assign all the blame to one guy, when you offer scholarships to an 8th-grader, as Coach Gillespie did, someone is going to say something.

How many of us knew much about anything in the 8th grade? How can coaches avoid undue influence? How can the public be sure that children are protected, the parents' interests are fully taken into account, and there was no candy passed under the table?

So, after the news about Gillespie's scholarship offer got out (though not necessarily because of it), someone did say something, and it was the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). The NABC published a recommendation that coaches not accept commitments until the end of the prospective recruits' 10th grade year.

Given the concerns duly noted above about the problems of recruiting younger and younger players, the goals of the NABC are understandable. And most coaches are going to go along with it. That is, until somebody like Greg Oden shows up in their basketball camp. Physically advanced and socially mature, and a heck of a ball player at 15 years of age. Fully able to understand the nature of the recruiting war, and looking forward to a career in basketball. Maybe the potential recruit concentrated on another sport, or didn't play AAU ball, so nobody really knows about him but the coaching staff at the camp.

What's a coach to do? There are so many existing NCAA restrictions on when you can recruit and how. So many coaches that cheat or test the limits of the NCAA's rules. So much pressure from alumni and administration to win. The practical result is that ethical and hard-working coaches are going to use whatever is at their disposal (within the NCAA's allowed rules), including the recruitment of younger players, to gain a competitive advantage.

Can you imagine a rival coach swooping in and pledging a top ten player, a kid who was from your town, had been at your camp, who liked your school, who even liked you as a coach, but you never gave him an offer because you were waiting until he finished the 10th grade?

The bottom line is this: unless the NCAA says kids are off limits, the coaches are occasionally going to take a chance on a guy who they think is a can't miss prospect.

I imagine that had LeBron James during his 10th-grade year pledged to the Dawgs, I would have heartily commended the coaching staff for their hard work in securing his commitment early.

Who's kidding whom?

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