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July 18, 2007

Coaches split on early commitments

Last month's revelation that Ryan Boatright, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from the Chicago suburbs, had committed to Southern California fueled debate about when college coaches should pursue and accept commitments.

Most SEC coaches said picking a college before beginning high school was premature.

"I didn't even know how to go to the bathroom in eighth grade so I don't know how I could have made a decision to go to college," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "I was trying to get into the ninth grade rather than trying to get into college."

South Carolina coach Dave Odom also found the practice outrageous. The league's oldest coach, 64, said he wouldn't allow a player to commit until he was entering his junior year.

"I don't pay attention to eighth-grade commitments, ninth-grade commitments or 10th-grade commitments," Odom said. "It draws lines and says this is the team we have to beat. I don't want our coaches involved in that type of recruitment."

Georgia coach Dennis Felton said he understands the appeal of landing a young phenom, but warned that it will lead to more de-commitments.

"Your first reaction is the same whenever somebody in your league gets a player," Felton said. "You're thinking, how good is he, regardless of age.

"But, I think it's getting a little bizarre. The earlier kids commit the less likely they are to stay committed. Guys are committing and don't necessarily mean it. The reason it's so hurtful in basketball is that we have a small number of scholarships. We might be trying to sign 1-5 guys, not 25. The other dynamic is when you accept a commitment from a young man and he de-commits a month later you could be in a position where there isn't anybody left who can help you at this level. It makes me queasy on a number of levels."

It doesn't seem to bother the league's two new head coaches: Kentucky's Billy Gillispie and Arkansas' John Pelphrey.

Gillispie has a pair of commitments from the class of 2010. K.C. Ross-Miller, a point guard from the Dallas suburbs, and Dakotah Euton, a power forward from Ashland, Ky., have committed to UK.

Gillispie said the ever-growing AAU scene allows coaches to evaluate younger players and creates an atmosphere for early commitments. Eleven other prospects from the class of 2010 have committed, all to schools from the six major conferences.

"(High school prospects) play so much now. There is probably more info about players now than in the history of basketball," Gillispie said. "They want to make decisions really early. The earlier that happens before their physical maturity can take place the greater risk it can be."

Pelphrey, who at 38 is the youngest coach in the league, goes one step further. He wouldn't mind taking such a risk - even on someone as young as Boatright.

Class of 2010 Commits
High school players are announcing their commitments to colleges earlier and earlier. Already, 13 players who have just completed their freshman seasons have made public their intentions. Here are those players, listed alphabetically:
Name, school
Noah Cottrill, West Virginia
Jordan Dykstra, Iowa State
Dakotah Euton, Kentucky
Perry Jones, Baylor
C.J. Leslie, N.C. State
Dwayne Polee, Southern Cal
Jereme Richmond, Illinois
K.C. Ross-Miller, Kentucky
Patrick Simon, Washington St.
Jamison Sterns, Baylor
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State
Dion Waiters, Syracuse
"I have seen a couple of eighth-graders that if they wanted to commit to Arkansas I'd certainly let them," he said.

Tennessee's Bruce Pearl might find himself agreeing with Pelphrey in a couple years. Pearl doesn't want to pursue prospects at younger ages, but feels he has no choice.

"You have to recruit younger based on these trends. I've gotten calls from high school and AAU coaches saying we're falling behind on sophomores," Pearl said. "So it does put more pressure on you. The nature of our business is you've got to be able to adapt and change. I really would prefer to encourage that sophomore to have a good sophomore year and work hard in geometry and do what he can to help the seniors win state.

"Certainly recruiting (that early) can stunt a player's growth. If they commit really young they can just think, 'Hey, I've made it, I've arrived.' I understand how it works. We'll try to speed up. I feel like the more information I have the better decision I make. I need to see a kid play a lot. I'm better when I see them evolve over a period of time. By the time I'm done deciding a player may already have committed someplace. And my process may be confused with a lack of interest. We'll have to adjust to that."

Whoever adjusts fastest will be rewarded with a promising recruiting class loaded with potential. But coaches will need to develop patience, too. That class will probably be three or four years away from showing up on campus.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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