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Original Issue

How Low Can Coaches Go?

THE TALLEST boy ona middle school playground answers his cellphone. "Hello," he says.

"Hi, Kenny.This is coach Bobby Violation at Shady State University. Am I catching you at abad time?"

KENNY: Um, kindof. I'm at recess.

COACH: O.K., Iwon't keep you long. I just wanted to tell you that after watching you at acouple of camps last summer, my staff thinks you're quite a basketball playerand we'd love to see you wearing a Shady State uniform when you get tocollege.

KENNY: College?Are you sure you've got the right number? I'm only 12 years old.

COACH: Oh, I know,but last month the NCAA's legislative council lowered the minimum grade for arecruitable athlete in basketball to seventh. Until now, the rules covered therecruiting of kids only in ninth grade and above. That's probably because noone thought colleges would go after players younger than that, but you know howus coaches are. Shoot, I'd recruit a sonogram if it would help me beat outKansas and North Carolina for a kid.

KENNY: I shouldhang up now. My parents will, like, take my phone away if they find out I'vebeen talking to a stranger.

COACH: Sure, sure.But in the last two years USC has gotten verbal commitments from a pair ofeighth-graders, Dwayne Polee Jr. and Ryan Boatwright. And anothereighth-grader, Michael Avery, accepted a scholarship offer from Kentucky. TheNCAA decided that if coaches were going to recruit players that young, thosekids should be protected by the same rules as prospects in high school. So aslong as coaches follow those rules—which means we don't get caught breakingthem, like this phone call does—we can officially recruit kids your age.

KENNY: You mean,the NCAA was worried about coaches recruiting middle school kids, so theypassed a rule to make it O.K. for coaches to recruit middle school kids? Thatdoesn't make any sense.

COACH: You'll findthat's not unusual for the NCAA, Kenny.

KENNY: Whatever.I'm too young to decide on a college. Right now I'm just worried about passingalgebra.

COACH: Son, wehave fifth-year seniors here who haven't passed algebra. Don't you worry aboutthat. Let's talk about something that matters. What are you driving to schoolthese days? Maybe we could help you upgrade in that department.

KENNY: Driving?I'm four years away from my learner's permit.

COACH: Right. Mybad. Force of habit. How do you get to school?

KENNY: If theweather's good, usually on my skateboard.

COACH: O.K., ifthere's an overnight package on your front porch soon with a spanking newBirdhouse skateboard, it wouldn't surprise me. I wouldn't have any idea how itgot there, of course, but it wouldn't surprise me. What else do you have onyour wish list?

KENNY: Well, I'dkill to have a Wii.

COACH: Done. Wehave a booster who owns an electronics store.

KENNY: What's abooster?

COACH: You areyoung, aren't you? A booster is ... well, you know the tooth fairy?

KENNY: Duh. I justlost my last baby tooth a month ago.

COACH: Well, abooster is basically like the tooth fairy. He makes money just magicallyappear, but for kids who win games, not lose teeth.

KENNY: It allsounds great, Coach, but what if, like, when I'm a sophomore or junior in highschool, I decide I want to go to another college instead?

COACH: I wouldhope that you're too loyal to back out of a commitment. Unless, of course, I'mcoaching at another school by that time. Then I'd expect you to dump Shady likea bad girlfriend and come play for me there.

KENNY: Hold on,Coach, I'm getting another call.

(A few minutes ofsilence.)

KENNY: Um, thatwas my dad. He was pretty ticked when I told him you called me. He said thatinstead of regulating college coaches' contact with players my age, the NCAAshould have banned it entirely. He thinks recruiting has gotten so crazy thatyou guys will be scouting my little brother's third-grade rec league teambefore long. I'm supposed to tell you to lose my phone number until I'm in highschool.

COACH: He has apoint. Tell your dad I'm sorry I bothered you.

KENNY: Noproblem.

COACH: But justout of curiosity, is your buddy Jimmy, the point guard, with you? Could youhand him the phone?

If you have a comment about college basketball recruiting, send it

"Oh, I know [you're only 12 years old], but theNCAA voted last month to lower the minimum grade for a recruitable athlete inbasketball to seventh."