There are a number of key decision criteria that go into choosing which school a top athlete will eventually attend. For some of the top athletes in Chicago, local homicide rates may be top of the list.
The intriguing and telling narrative comes from this piece in the Chicago Tribune, which spoke to Chicago three-star point guard prospect Evan Gilyard, who turned down multiple local scholarship offers in favor of UTEP, in El Paso, where there were just 15 homicides in all of 2015. That contrast with the much maligned gang battlegrounds of Chicago’s South Side helped push Gilyard to the Miners rather than one of his hometown schools, whether it be UIC (University of Illinois Chicago), Loyola, or even a prospective future offer from a school like DePaul or Northwestern.
“It’s safer out there,” Gilyard told the Tribune. “In Chicago you have a lot of violence, a lot of gang violence, and it hasn’t been as safe. When I looked at UTEP, I saw there was a very small amount of murders. … We looked up the school and saw it’s a real tight-knit community.
“I would’ve loved to have played for my city.”
Of course, the flipside of prospects like Gilyard leaving the city are the coaches who are desperate to keep them there. The Tribune’s Shannon Ryan spoke to a number of local coaches and their predecessors about the stigma Chicago schools face, and how they strive to overcome them.
“You’re not starting the conversation with how beautiful the campus is, how great the university and the academics are,” Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy told the Tribune. “You’re now starting the conversation from a safety standpoint. It’s not even basketball first.
“As any parent should be, they’re concerned about the safety of their child. Now you have to convince the parents how you can protect their child from the violence. It has completely changed how you recruit.”
The safety issues certainly make it understandable why today’s top Chicago talent is trying to get as far away as possible. It’s certainly not like the Windy City’s best has always stayed home, but the current quest to abandon Chicago for any pastures safer seems to have reached a new climax, with Gilyard serving as the movement’s reluctant poster boy.
“I wanted to make a smart decision about where I would go. It’s the violence. It’s horrible. You have to look over your shoulder. I don’t go out. I’m in school, go to basketball and just stay focused.”
If not for the violence, Gilyard said, he would have more strongly considered staying to play in Chicago.
“It would have been wonderful,” he said.