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October 25, 2012

In Recruiting, How Far is Too Far?

There's a Presidential Election about to be contested, but looking around and surveying the landscape, you'd swear it's taking a back seat to college basketball recruiting.

People are still talking about the decision of the Harrison twins to go to Kentucky (as if that was a big surprise). Some of us continue to marvel that Maryland was even in the discussion, but that was the Under Armour connection (don't be naive, yes it was!). And now, with the Harrisons off the board, Julius Randle is the hottest commodity still out there.

Unless you prefer Andrew Wiggins. Or maybe, like Sports Illustrated, you think Simeon's Jabari Parker is the best high school player since Lebron James.

Just what is it about the college destinations of 17-year old children that makes so many of us act the way we do?

It's not just the fans; it's the college coaches. I think they set the tone for it all.

Yes, I know their livelihoods depend on convincing the best, brightest high school athletes to come to their schools. In basketball, especially, where just one or two guys can dramatically change the fortunes of an entire team, recruiting can make or break a coach.

But you'd be shocked at the lengths some of these coaches go to. . .

I mean, the first example I'm about to give you isn't that bad. Borderline stalkerish, but could be worse.

A high-profile local recruit told me that a college coach was speaking to him and asked about the recruit's girlfriend--using her full name--and knew exactly how long the two had been dating, as well as the fact that the girlfriend had been sick recently but felt better now!

Now, many would simply say that the coach was 'doing his homework,' that this kind of thing is harmless. After all, if you didn't want people to know who you were dating, why post it on Facebook?

But am I the only person who finds that just a tad unsettling? That a college coach is trolling a child's facebook page, and possibly the page of his teenaged girlfriend?

It used to be that 'doing your homework' meant that you found out the name of a prospective employer's wife and knew that he had 3 college-aged children. The kind of thing that might gain you just enough 'atta boy' points to get you a job. You had young, ambitious individuals doing considerable 'homework' to find public information that wasn't that easily obtained.

Now, we have grown men and women browsing social networking websites to gather easily accessible information in an effort to appear hip/concerned/informed (take your pick).

I'm sorry, but that's a role reversal that I'm really not comfortable with. But it gets even better/worse.

The mother of yet another high-level local recruit confided the other day that she was very relieved that she could go back to her regular workout routine, now that her son had committed to a high D-I program. No big deal, right?

I thought she meant that she had changed days or times perhaps, but she said 'no, I can now go back to jogging the track at the fitness center alone.'

Huh?

She went on to explain that two (2) different college coaches had taken up the habit of being at her gym whenever she was there, and they would literally jog around the track with her on a regular basis.

A third coach would show up and just chit-chat politely, though he wouldn't actually hit the track with her. He'd just watch her run.

Where does this end?

The NCAA has gone all schizophrenic on us, allegedly setting stricter rules regarding the spring and summer evaluation periods (FAIL) while simultaneously opening up contact with rising juniors to allow unlimited contact.

So Kevin Sampson was a trailblazer, then, not a rule-breaker?

I'm not on a soap box here, I don't have the answers. I'm just here to tell you that 'Houston, we have a problem.' Selecting a college for a high-level student-athlete should be a fun, informative and pleasant process. Yes, there will be some heartache for schools that lose out, there will be intense pressure on plenty of high-level recruits.

But this process appears to me to be careening out of control. This is the Wild West now, where the daring gunslingers can get away with questionable or outright unlawful activities if they cover their tracks well enough.

Is that really the message we want to send to our next generation of American leaders?

I think not.


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