It's a scary thought, but middle schoolers are now recruitable players
Tom Boatright has a pet expression he drops on his grandson from time to time: "You still have milk on your breath."That's his way of reminding 14-year-old Ryan Boatright that he's a youngster with a lot left to learn in life and on the basketball court. "You've got a long way to go," Tom Boatright tells Ryan.
In recruiting, it's all about being first. If you get in on the kid in eighth grade, you're first.
An anonymous assistant coach
If offering a scholarship to a 5-foot-9, 135-pound wisp who has never played a high school game strikes you as perverse, premature and preposterous, you must not be a college basketball coach. Recruiters are going after the adolescent crowd like Joe Camel.Coaches are dangling scholarships like Halloween candy in front of children who are closer to grade school than college. Scottsdale ninth-grader-to-be Matt Carlino got an offer from Arizona State last month -- but Arizona offered him two years ago as a seventh grader. By the way, Lute Olson will be 77 years old when Carlino graduates from high school. ESPN Scouts Inc.'s list of 130 top prospects from the class of 2010 (rising sophomores) has 10 marked down as already committed to a college. New Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie has oral commitments from two members of that class, and one from the class of '09. Baylor has a couple of commitments for 2010 as well. DeShaun Thomas of Fort Wayne, Ind., considered by some the best member of the class of 2010, already committed and de-committed to Ohio State in the spring.
The negatives attached to super-early commitments are fairly obvious:• Do the kids actually know what they're doing? Ryan Boatright said USC "has always been my second-favorite school." The favorite is North Carolina, which begs the question: What if Roy Williams calls tomorrow with an offer? "I don't know," Boatright said. "We'd have to talk about it. I'm staying at USC right now." Two weeks in, and he's still staying with USC. Sounds like a commitment etched in stone. • What if they're misevaluated or peak early, never getting much bigger or much better? Several years ago Maryland had to rescind an early offer to the famously overhyped "Jewish Jordan," Tamir Goodman, when it became apparent that his game was better suited for Towson University than the ACC. Former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith offered West Virginian Adam Williams a scholly as a high school sophomore, and the kid went on to prove he had no business at that level over the next few years. He transferred to Marshall after a brief and inglorious stay in Lexington.
Boatright's dad, Mike McAllister, is also his AAU coach on the Illinois Mixers. He asked the coach at a California junior college what camps might help toughen Ryan for high-school ball, and the coach made a call to USC to see whether he could attend the Trojans' elite camp with blue-chip high school players. Invitation in hand, McAllister, Ryan and his mom, Tanesha Boatright, flew out to California last month.
The discrepancy potentially could be significant, since coaches are not allowed to have in-person contact recruits off-campus prior to their senior year of high school. There is some question whether the Radisson -- which serves as a dorm for some USC students and was the player housing for the elite camp -- is considered part of campus. The USC compliance office had no comment on the issue this week. Sports information director Tim Tessalone said the recruitment of Boatright is being reviewed, but there is no evidence of wrongdoing.Wherever it was, one thing everyone agrees with is this: A scholarship offer was made and accepted. "My dad asked him if I could verbally commit, and Tim Floyd said yes," Ryan said. "So I did it." The next day, Ryan and his parents flew home to Illinois. To their shock, they found that news of Ryan's commitment had spread while they were on the plane. When they landed in Chicago, Tanesha's phone was blowing up with messages from family and friends saying they'd read about Ryan committing to USC on the Internet. "I didn't tell anybody," Tanesha Boatright said. "I'm still confused at this moment how everyone found out." One educated guess: USC leaked the news to someone -- a fan Web site, a recruiting Web site, a reporter, someone. It's against NCAA rules for schools to publicize verbal commitments, but it might be the most commonly broken rule on the books. Coaches want to get the word out to the world. And when this particular word got out, it led to backlash. The Boatrights said Floyd told them to expect some instant notoriety and negativity, but they still seem surprised by some of it -- most notably hearing the hosts on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" decrying the commitment of a 14-year-old to a college. "I promise you, if I had a phone number I would have called in," Tanesha Boatright said. "I thank God that there's positive things on the news about my son. It's not about a murder or something else. Every day you turn on the TV and see an African-American young man being murdered. "Whether they offered him something at 14, 16 or 18, what is wrong with it? What if it was a scholarship for good grades? Wouldn't that be exciting? My son makes good grades and he is good at sports. Hey, he's a good kid. He's been trained to work hard and study hard." Ryan' personal trainer is grandpa Tom. And it must be said that the family has a long history with big-time athletics. It isn't like the Boatrights were blindsided by the recruiting game. Tom Boatright is a former college football player and track athlete at Northeast Oklahoma State and now runs a celebrated AAU track outfit called the Aurora Flyers. Several of his five daughters have earned college scholarships for track, including current University of Arkansas All-America sprinter Tominque Boatright. "He's got a long line of success in front of him," Tom Boatright said of Ryan. "But he's got to want it. Sometimes it's more the parents who want it for them. "The day he got home [from USC] he went and lifted. I told him he needs to work even harder, now that he's under the microscope. Two days after that he went and ran 400s. "Some kids tend to want to soak up the glory. I told him to stay out of the way and keep working." When Ryan got back from Los Angeles he put a sign on his bedroom wall. It says that for every critic he adds another day to his workout regimen and another plate to the weight bar. That's admirable determination. But this is still a child with milk on his breath, already thrown into a whiskey world. Pat Forde is a national columnist for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.