Things a boy cannot do in ninth grade:
- Change the radio station in the cafeteria
- Grow a moustache
- Speak in the same octave from one day to the next
- Stand up from behind his desk after Sex Ed class
Things a boy can do in ninth grade:
- Accept a scholarship to play division I college basketball
Makes all the sense in the world, doesn’t it?
The New York Times dug into the strange world of tween recruiting in a June 2 column, noting that the NCAA allows coaches to extend scholarship offers to kids who are on the verge of graduating middle school. While that notion may cause many disingenuous sports fans to promptly catch the vapors, is it, in any real sense, a threat to anything?
In my book, a scholarship offer extended four years before high school graduation means exactly bupkes, and I don’t even really speak Yiddish. The top coaches of the top programs know they can wait for kids to develop, then swoop in and grab the ones they really want (e.g. John Calipari). As the Times article points out, one recent Kentucky coach fell victim to the cradle-robbing craze, and it didn’t work out for him or the kid:
Billy Gillispie was dismissed by Kentucky just one year after he made an offer to Michael Avery, a 6-4 eighth grader. Avery will play for Sonoma State, a Division II university in his native California, next season.
In fact, there is little risk involved for either the athlete or the university, at least in terms of limiting future possibilities. The acceptance of a verbal offer is not binding for either side. Only a letter of intent, signed by a player during his senior year, constitutes a commitment.
Quite aside from the fact that the kid may never grow into his potential, as happened with Avery, any coach desperate enough to seriously court a ninth-grader isn’t likely to be around to fulfill his end of the bargain anyway.
In essence, middle-school recruitment is nothing but a publicity stunt. The kid gets a head start on feeling like he’s God’s Gift to basketball (waddup, Mr. Aichuwa?) and the coach looks like he’s getting ahead of the game in some intangible fashion. A parent of one of these allegedly up-and-coming stars of the future laid it all out for NYT readers and, one hopes, his kid. As such, we’ll let wise parent Mo Lewis have the last word:
“It’s like telling a 14-year-old you’re going to get him a car when he turns 17. He still has to learn how to drive, study for the test and pass it.”
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He went to middle school with Barry Sanders. Really.