Detrimentally early recruiting

For most high school athletes, making it to the NCAA is an unachievable dream. Though less than four percent of all high school women's basketball players make it to the next level, in the last month, at the ripe age of 13, middle school students Jada Peebles and Deja Kelly have seemingly realized their childhood dreams of playing collegiate basketball.

Not only have they secured the opportunity to play ball for Division I programs, but Peebles and Kelly have also chosen to play at their dream schools — NC State and the University of Texas, respectively. Both NC State and Texas have accepted Peebles' and Kelly's verbal commitment to join the teams upon graduating high school. Taken at face value, Peebles and Kelly's situation is an enviable one.

In 2007, Ryan Boatright was in a similar position. Following a superb performance at the University of Southern California’s invitational basketball camp, Boatright met with and then verbally committed to then-USC head coach Tim Floyd. The 14-year-old jubilantly returned home as a local celebrity — with the benefit of no longer having to worry about the strenuous recruiting process. Boatright could now play the game he loved without the burden of the travel, tournaments and letters which accompany recruiting. Unfortunately, verbal commitments are non-binding for both sides. When Floyd left USC three years later, the school decided not to honor its end of the bargain and notified Boatright that it would not sign him to a letter of intent.

In nearly every circumstance, the early-recruiting process in basketball hurts recruits such as Boatright by removing them from the nationwide recruiting process. The lack of a binding provision from the program’s end allows universities to hedge their bets by securing multiple verbal commitments while continuing to recruit other players. Already committed recruits are placed in a situation in which their options are extremely limited. To prevent the lopsided circumstances such as those created in Boatright’s situation, the NCAA proposed legislation in 2010 that prohibited verbal commitments until after July 1 of an athlete’s junior year. The NCAA rejected the legislation.

Fortunately, Boatright found a place on the University of Connecticut basketball team upon graduating high school and went on to to win the national championship. Only time will tell if Peebles and Kelly will have to endure the rollercoaster ride that is collegiate recruiting, but one thing remains clear: the NCAA, for all of its dialogue on prioritizing academics over athletics, is far off the mark when it comes to early-recruiting regulations. Promising young student-athletes a position on collegiate rosters well before their academic careers truly begin is hypocritical and harmful to their personal and athletic development.

I have all the confidence in the world that Peebles and Kelly will amount to great basketball players and individuals. I cannot, however, express equal confidence in the stability of the NC State and University of Texas basketball programs. NC State recently fired their coach of four years after she compiled a 70-64 record at the school.

By verbally committing to the Texas and NC State, Kelly and Peebles have effectively withdrawn from the recruiting pool for the next few years. The two teenage girls have been asked to project five years into the future and assess if their interests at the end of their high school careers will be in line with their chosen programs’ goals, performance and needs.

Basketball recruiting is highly dependent on performance in invitational tournaments and camps designed to showcase athletes for college coaches. As Kelly and Peebles offer little value to such events because of their verbal commitments, they very well may be excluded from the best tournaments and camps.

When one of the two coaches who accepted the 13-year-olds’ verbal commitments inevitably leaves the program and no longer honors the verbal agreement, the athletes will be forced to play catch-up in the extremely competitive college-basketball-recruiting landscape.

They may not be fortunate enough to rebound as Boatright did.

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