Although just 13 and in the eighth grade, Wendell Moore already is being courted by the likes of college basketball royalty Duke and North Carolina.
Why? One reason would be because he’s already 6-foot-4 and apparently quite talented. Another certainly is that Moore’s potential and skill represent cash money to coaches and schools.
It’s a down-and-dirty business, college basketball, one that revolves around dollars. Caught in the middle are young athletes, often Black, who are so green that they can only see the wonder in receiving so much adulation from adults they admire. The unseemly part of this whole recruiting underworld evades them, and usually their parents or guardians. They love the attention, even as they end up being used as pawns.
The NCAA, that bastion of high moral ground, actually allows college programs to recruit kids in middle school. The access is limited, but the impact of such contact, over time, could be damaging.
“Definitely,” David S. Dickerson, the Founder/Director of HoopKidz Instructional Basketball and HoopElite Basketball in the Washington, D.C. area, two of the nation’s top camps for young players, told Atlanta Blackstar. “There is the threat of a sense of entitlement that can overtake these kids when recruited so young. Depending on that 13-year-old kid and his family situation, that kind of attention can be detrimental. They certainly can be influenced by outside interests because they’re so young and vulnerable.”
But here’s the thing, Dickerson said: “This has been going on for a while.”
For sure, it is not new, but college recruiting and all that leads up to it is a new world. High school basketball, once a right of passage for young players, matters less and less for those who are uber-talented and have aspirations of playing big-time college basketball.
Some players actually have bypassed playing for their high school team because college scouts do not bother to attend those games.
Somewhere along this seedy road, AAU basketball took over. The endless games in various cities attracted most of the top talent, and while it fatigued and nearly bankrupted parents who had to fund the participation and get them to the destinations, college coaches flocked to the games because it was a prime opportunity to see talent several times over a few days.
Well, even AAU seems to be running its course. Complaints about teams being stacked with all-stars, the lack of development of players and many of the questionable associations of those involved with the teams are taking a toll. Something called the “sneaker circuit” is the rage now, invitation-only camps sponsored by Nike, Adidas and Under Armour that attract the best talent and, at the same time, the attention of colleges.
“What parents considered a common sense approach to their child getting exposure from colleges—playing high-school ball, going to a camp or two in the summer—is long gone,” Dickerson said. “The development of young basketball players is totally different.”
Take camps like Dickerson’s aforementioned opportunities and Clay Dade’s Fabulous Frosh invitational for high school freshmen. Those camps are critical to a young player’s development because of the level of teaching that takes place there. It’s not just about basketball. Dickerson’s and Dade’s camps also focus on developing them as young men, handling the inevitable media onslaught, understanding how to use social media to their advantage and not detriment, selecting colleges based on aspects beyond basketball, being disciplined as a student and so on and on and on.
Once they move beyond those camps—where college coaches are not allowed, by the way—is when it gets dicey. Duke hears that North Carolina is interested in a player like Moore, and they start sending letters to the kid, too.
This goes on across the country. Almost all colleges, especially the big-named schools, participate. “They almost have to,” Dickerson said, “because they are competing. You know that one school is doing it, a rival, and you can’t just sit back and watch that kid embrace all that adulation and not get involved.”
The sketchy part of all this is dangerous. Say Moore, from North Carolina, is so enamored with Duke that he commits based on the Blue Devils’ recruitment of him now. And what if, in five years, by the time he’s ready to graduate from high school, he did not develop as Duke had hoped, and the team recruits other players they believe fit their system better?
The kid sees this and is hurt, feeling jilted. Does he still go there? Does the school “encourage” him to go elsewhere? See the point: the teenager serves as a pawn in a recruiting game, whether he ends up at the original school or not.
Some will say, “So what? He still got to go to college and play for a school he wanted” and get a quality education. That may be true, but it would not mitigate the fact that he was used—and could be starving after dinner if the NCAA does not allow stipends and food allowances for athletes.
Word is that paying players will happen and soon, which will be overdue. But, as an example of the money involved in college basketball, Mike Kryzewski made about $11 million in 2011. The bulk of it was from Duke, but other significant chunks came from sneaker deals, apparel companies, camps, radio shows. All of it ties back to a teenager who just wants to play basketball.
This story is bigger than this space allows. But for the moment, something seems particularly sideways about a 13-year-old being recruited by a college when he hasn’t even gotten to high school.