It took less than a day for Paul Scruggs to realize his high school experience might be a little different than others.
On Tuesday, his first day as a freshman at Southport High School, he was approached by several fellow students in the hallways.
“They came up to me, asking me who I am,” he said. “They asked if I was the freshman who had (a scholarship offer) from Indiana.”
Scruggs and Zach Gunn, a freshman-to-be at Hamilton Southeastern, were offered scholarships by Indiana last week. Neither has played a high school varsity game; neither had attended a day of high school at the time. Yet both are now swimming in the fishbowl as highly touted recruits, where every word they say is analyzed on message boards and every move is tweeted.
There is no guidebook for Scruggs, Gunn or their parents on how to deal with the increased scrutiny and attention.
“Fortunately, one of the things that makes it easier for us is that Zach is a very mild-mannered and well-behaved kid,” said Gunn’s father, Mark Dooley. “He’s confident on the court, but he doesn’t seek attention. One thing I did tell him was that from here on out, he needs to watch everything he says online or out loud, because a lot of people will be paying close attention.”
Even as he extended the offers to Scruggs and Gunn, Indiana coach Tom Crean warned both that there would be backlash along with the attention.
“I’m going to have a target on my back,” Gunn said. “But I’m not going to think I’m better than anybody else. I’m just going to keep working as hard as I can. God gave me some ability to play basketball, but I haven’t done anything yet.”
Gunn and Scruggs play for the Indy Hoosiers, a grass-roots travel team coached by Mike Peterson. Both had visited Indiana several times for games and were on Crean’s radar as potential targets even before he watched them in July.
But still, the offers came as a bit of a surprise.
“I was shocked, thankful and grateful all rolled into one,” said Paul’s father, Dan Scruggs. “But it also comes with the understanding that this is just the beginning. Paul is humble. He grew up with six older brothers and a sister, so he has to be.”
Crean hasn’t been shy about extending early scholarship offers, with mixed results. James Blackmon Jr. and Trey Lyles both committed to Indiana in fall 2010, before their freshman seasons; Blackmon has stuck with Indiana, while Lyles later rescinded. Jalen Coleman and Eron Gordon were other local players to receive offers before their freshman season; both remain uncommitted to a college at this time.
Scruggs and Gunn both appear unlikely to make an early commitment.
“Not at this point,” Scruggs said. “I think I’m going to wait and see what other scholarships might come and then decide after my junior year. I have a lot to work on, and focus on my academics.”
Along with the high rankings and early offers come opportunities, wanted or not. Dooley said he was approached by a 17-and-under grass-roots team about playing in Las Vegas at the end of July. When Dooley said no, it wasn’t received well.
“They talk about exposure, but he’s 14 years old and he’s been playing AAU ball since second grade,” Dooley said. “How much exposure does he need? People know who he is. At some point, there’s overexposure and people can nitpick your game to death. But the bottom line is he’s 14 years old and doesn’t need to spend a week in Las Vegas.”
It’s the beginning of a long journey for Scruggs and Gunn. Both believe they are prepared for what awaits.
“I think so,” said Gunn’s mother, Prescilla Gunn. “As prepared as any 14-year-old can be.”