Sports

Recruiting has gotten out of hand

A few days after our son was born, a letter arrived from Dave Odom, then head basketball coach at Wake Forest.

I had gotten to know Odom while covering college basketball for the Greensboro News & Record, and Odom, in a wonderful way to say congratulations, "offered" my kid a basketball scholarship to play for the Deacons.

I told Odom I would one day hold him to it.

We were joking.

I thought about that the other day when I read that Southern Cal coach Tim Floyd had offered a scholarship to 14-year-old Ryan Boatwright, a point guard from Aurora, Ill.

The 5-foot-9 Boatwright has yet to play a high school game. In fact, after the scholarship offer was extended and accepted, Boatwright decided which high school he'd be attending.

Boatwright took Floyd's offer even though he said Southern Cal was only his second favorite school. North Carolina has always been his No. 1.

Apparently Roy Williams wasn't quite ready to extend an offer. He may have been waiting for Boatwright to qualify for his learner's permit before he'd make that commitment.

Floyd isn't alone in his zeal to land the next great eighth-grader in America. About a dozen kids from the class of 2010 have already been offered scholarships.

Welcome to the obscene world of college basketball recruiting, where these days it seems players are having to take the pacifiers out of their mouths to accept scholarship offers.

And we wonder why kids have inflated opinions of themselves.

Ever since the first "recruiting service" began ranking players, college recruiting has been spiraling toward this stupid pattern. These services rank the top grade school players in America and coaches are falling all over themselves trying to get in on the ground floor with kids who can't decide which pair of baggy pants to wear to school that day, much less which college they want to attend to "further their education."

AAU and other summer-ball coaches, who see a free meal ticket down the road, are pushing these kids, too, and becoming the middle men in this hoops meat market.

Go on the Internet and you can call up any number of recruiting sites that rank players with five stars, four stars, no stars. Had they seen my kid toss that mini-basketball out of his crib at six months, who knows what he might have been rated.

College coaches run summer camps. Don't think for one minute they aren't keeping their eyes on the latest 13-year-old phenom who might be shooting jumpers in between popping pimples for a week in their gym.

And coaches compound the problem by being afraid that if they don't try and hook up with these kids at the earliest point possible point, one of their competitors will. Their egos are so large they believe they can accurately evaluate a kid's ability to play at the collegiate level, even though the kid is four years away from having his shadow darken the door of a college gym.

Never mind the kid might actually turn out to be a bust in high school. Never mind the scholarship offer might give the kid an overly inflated perception of himself. Never mind the kid should be thinking about other things (academics, hanging with his friends, girls) over picking a college at age 14.

Never mind the kid should -- heaven forbid -- just be allowed to be a kid.

And what if, after three years of high school ball, the kid might not be able to cut it at that particular school? Will that college coach keep his "commitment" to the kid?

Having looked at the rising cost of college, I'm thinking about picking up the phone and calling Dave Odom. Odom is now at South Carolina, but I would hope his "commitment" to recruiting my kid would still stand no matter the school.

Never mind my kid doesn't play basketball. An offer is an offer.

Coach Odom, we accept.

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