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Patience of Mathis family stands as welcome change in hectic recruiting world

The recruitment of Virginia basketball target J.C. Mathis has been more like a nine-month NyQuil infomercial than a never-ending episode of "The Bold and the Beautiful."

No tales of Ronald Curry-like infidelity to pass along. No reports of sleazy drug peddlers packing shoeboxes full of cash in a last-ditch effort to lure the kid to a school sponsored by Nike or Adidas. No soap opera stuff. Just a player, his father and a list of prospectives.

For nearly a year now, in cautious yet calculating fashion, Mathis has pored over his options, making visits to promising possibilities, gradually paring down his once obese list of colleges to a more manageable number, always maintaining a cool head.

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    Virginia remains the prohibitive favorite to land the Kennedy High School power forward, a chiseled 220-pound combo forward with a Charmin-soft perimeter touch to match a diverse repertoire of inside moves that even Kevin McHale would applaud.

    But Pete Gillen's Cavaliers have been in or near the lead the entire time, and still Mathis hasn't pulled the trigger.

    When Florida no longer held the appeal it once did, Mathis promptly dropped Billy Donovan's Gators, only to insert Boston College and Georgia Tech as intriguing leads worth a follow-up. Virginia has nosed ahead of the Yellow Jackets and UMass, but Mathis plans to take a late visit to the Tech campus before concluding the saga. Official visits on the last weekend of April, just two weeks before the May 15 late signing period deadline, are unheard of ... that is, unless your name is Mathis and you're just not quite ready to decide.

    Mathis chose the road less traveled by. For once, a teenage student-athlete opted to keep his name out of the headlines by keeping his sights set on the most critical decision of his young existence, rather than hastily throwing himself into a commitment.

    Such little buzz has sounded that it is accurate to label Mathis' uneventful prelude to a resolution downright boring. The term "scoop" is obsolete.

    For the middle-aged men who tout themselves as high-school hardwood gurus, it's maddening. And for college basketball fanatics who swim in school spirit, it can't get any more frustrating.

    Mathis is a recruiting buff's worst nightmare. Call him all you want to, attend his games, even form a pen-pal network with the boy and his family - it will get you as far as it would get me with Ashley Judd: nowhere.

    While the recruiting universe is busy ripping out its collective hair, Mathis' excruciatingly slow odyssey offers a refreshing change from the temperamental, tantrum-prone teens who drown out even Marcus Camby's bickering with their petulance.

    Mathis didn't develop into this rare bird by chance; his father and coach, Johnny, played an integral role.

    Parent-child relationships can be a tenuous proposition at best in modern athletics. Often the kid wants one thing, while mom and pop prefer another. It can get nasty.

    In the case of the Mathis family, however, there are no horror stories to tell. Rather, this is the tale of a father who has stood devoutly at his son's side, advising when appropriate, deflecting distractions (a.k.a. the media) when necessary and always encouraging his son.

    As a result, J.C. Mathis has enjoyed a fairly normal senior year - as normal a senior year as a ballyhooed basketballer with game enough to leave college coaches from San Francisco to Saskatchewan drooling can have.

    He has attended class devoutly - Ivy League schools remain an outside possibility - honed his hardwood skills to the tune of 17 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and has talked with his real friends more than those nosy roundball savants who delve deep into his life.

    Mathis may have provided us few chills and even fewer thrills, but he has given us hope.

    And for that, we should be grateful.

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