In today's SEC basketball teleconference, Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader writes that Billy Gillispie, the new Kentucky coach, took some serious flack from fellow coaches about recruiting young players. Some of the coaches outright scoffed at the practice, using some pretty pejorative language to describe it:
I find this a very interesting thing. Gillispie is either on the cutting edge of recruiting, at least in the SEC (out west they are taking commitments from 14-year olds), or he is setting himself up for serious problems later on.
"Silly." "A little bizarre." Something to avoid.
That's how some Southeastern Conference coaches viewed the growing trend toward prospects making college commitments as early as the eighth grade.
However, new Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie, who has gotten commitments from two prospects just out of the ninth-grade, did not join the naysaying on a SEC teleconference Monday.
Let's examine, for a moment, the positives and negatives of signing younger players:
- Getting them early - Potentially, it enables a college to plan their recruiting better, and better prepare for incoming talent.
- Making it harder for opposing coaches - Every time a kid commits early, it frees up the coach to focus on other needs.
- Providing recruits with some peace of mind - theoretically, coaches would tend to leave a verbally committed recruit alone, more or less. This is certainly not always true, and it is almost never true in football, so what we could see here is basketball recruiting metastasizing into football recruiting, where changing allegiance can happen every minute.
- Providing parents with some peace - see above.
- Non-binding - if the player or the school doesn't work out before the LOI is signed, they can part ways with no penalty to either.
- Non-binding - A verbal, in the eyes of the NCAA, means nothing. But do we want kids' first act out of high school to be breaking their word? And suppose a school feels that withdrawing its offer is in its best interest. Not good.
- Are you kidding? - 14, 15 and 16 year olds accepting scholarships to play college ball? These guys are barely pubescent, and they are making these kinds of decisions?
- Questionable evaluation - Who knows if such young players are going to work out?
We can understand completely why SEC coaches feel a bit like they need a shower after talking about this, but it the time for talking about it is with us. Coaches may be uncomfortable, but they have a duty to both their schools and their teams to do the best job at recruiting that they can. The coaches who limit themselves to parochial view will quickly find themselves bedeviled by the same sorts of things that ultimately forced Tubby Smith's hand.
Pearl acknowledged feeling pressured to make recruiting decisions earlier and earlier in a prospect's high school career.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "I've gotten calls from high school and AAU coaches saying we're falling behind.
"It's the nature of our business. You have to adapt and change. I'd prefer my focus as a college coach emphasize that a sophomore be committed to his 10th-grade year and doing well in geometry class."
I don't pretend to know the answer to this. It is facile to say that we shouldn't be recruiting youngsters, but the fact of the matter is, they want to be recruited at 14, and at least some of their parents are perfectly comfortable accepting a scholarship at that age. The NCAA, of course, could put such recruiting off limits, and perhaps it should. But the nature of the debate is this -- how young is too young?