by Kent Sterling
It seems illogical to talk to 14 and 15 year-olds about where they might prefer to go to college.
Every week for a 15 year-old, if I remember correctly, feels like it lasts a year, and they change their mind about what classes they want to take next semester every other day.
How can anyone expect a kid in his mid-teens to know where the hell he wants to go to college? Well, you can’t, but it doesn’t hurt the kid to claim an allegiance to Purdue, Kentucky, Louisville, or Indiana.
The Hoosiers in particular seem to enjoy getting kids to pledge IU years before they are eligible to sign a binding letter of intent.
Tom Crean likes to do it because it allows him to build a more meaningful relationship with a player, and begin the process of teaching him how to be a college basketball player.
Workout plans are given to the player, and academics are monitored and adjusted. The road to eligibility can be more closely plotted, and areas of physical weakness can be improved.
This is important because most parents don’t know what is necessary to help, and some coaches know a good deal less. Trusting the majority of high school coaches to put together a program that will best prepare a kid to play at the next level is folly.
There is the risk of a kid backing out of his commitment as minds of kids and parents can change quickly. Lefty Driesell famously said, “I love early commitments, that why I know who I have to beat.”
Recruiting certainly didn’t stop for Indianapolis Tech High School’s Trey Lyles when he told Crean he was coming after he gradated high school in 2014. That happened early during his freshman year.
Lyles recruiting has certainly picked up since he decommitted last summer, and that’s okay. The Hoosiers weren’t thrilled, as Lyles has only improved since pledging Indiana, but in no way does Lyles reversal of course hurt his career or chance to play at a high level.
Because of his verbal, Indiana provided him with some guidance and oversight that certainly was a benefit. He’s in a better place today because of that interaction, and as long as there is no damage done to the kid, what could be wrong with his early commitment?
Basketball players have the upper hand until they sign a letter of intent, so why shouldn’t they enjoy that position as long as possible? Once they sign, the schools own their rights, and without a release they are locked into playing for their chosen school.
One they sign for their scholarship, the players agree to become indentured servants of the school without the rights to license their image, get paid for generating millions of dollars used to pay the coach, or leave without losing a year of eligibility.
There is a lot of good that comes from playing college basketball. Athletes have a lot of advantages over normal students, most of which only become evident after graduation.
Kids learn how to deal with adversity in a way that is impossible for the ordinary student body. While the rest of the students spend a lot of energy trying to figure out how to productively – or not – fill their days, student-athletes have very little time of their own.
Being a college basketball player is a year-round full time job. The hours of workouts, shooting, and going through drills easily fill 40 hours a week throughout the year. There is an NCAA mandated maximum practice time of 20 hours per week, but you can’t ban kids from trying to make themselves better. If they don’t work tirelessly, someone else will and playing time will be jeopardized.
So while the kid has a little bit of leverage, there is nothing wrong with using it. Lyles is ranked the number four player in his class entering his senior year, and his list includes 15 schools that have offered him a scholarship. Indiana is one of them, and Lyles still might choose to study and play in Bloomington.
The risk of early commitments entirely belongs to the school making the offer, and given the complete reversal of power once the kid signs on the line which is dotted, there is no reason to change anything.
Let the kids hold the cards for a little while. Once they report to school, they won’t have any to play.
Here’s what the 6’10” Lyles looked like in Fort Wayne two weekends ago.