Most elite high school athletes at least recognize that, on some level, they’re perceived as attention-seeking drama kings, but they also assume that the not-so-casual observers know two indisputable truths: The attention comes with the territory and their seemingly drama-filled recruitments are merely them going through the process.
“Nothing more than that,” said Cretin-Derham Hall (Saint Paul, Minn.) defensive end Jashon Cornell. “The reality is that we would rather not have all of this attention; I know that’s true for me. I think most people know that we don’t need all of this extra stuff.”
Apparently, the same can’t be said for the college coaches trying to reel them in.
“Coaches promise some of the craziest things,” said Saint Rita (Chicago) shooting guard Charles Matthews, who is ranked No. 9 in the ESPN 60. “I had a coach tell me that I could just do whatever I wanted to do if I came there. Anything. They’ll tell you whatever they think you’ll like. Anything to make you happy, but the more they do that the more I don’t like it.”
Oh the irony.
As the country’s top ranked junior, Cornell has certainly fielded his fair share of ego-stroking promises from college football coaches.
“One coach actually told me that if I came there I could start right away over a guy who’s been there,” Cornell said. “I mean he was serious too. I don’t wanna hear that. That’s the last thing I want to hear. I’m a player that needs to have something to work for. Hearing that was a turnoff.”
It’s a sentiment shared by the vast majority of elite recruits who favor straight-talk to appeasement.
Duke assistant Jeff Capel said that, having been in the same position as the players he’s recruiting, he knows that, by and large, “it’s easy to decipher who is being real with you and who’s just shooting game.”
“Someone is basically trying to sell you a bill of goods that is not true. How can you trust that guy?” Capel said. “And why would you want to play for a guy that you don’t trust? We don’t do that because it’s not the foundation this program was built on. Each kid that decides to come to Duke knows that, no matter what, we will always believe in them, and we will always tell them the truth. People that truly care about you and love you will always do those two things!”
Still, Matthews said “most players” are capable of keeping souped-up sales pitches in proper perspective. Coaches playing catch-up to bigger programs likely see the “Hail Mary” recruiting tactics as their only option.
“And that’s why I don’t worry too much about it when I hear crazy things,” said Matthews, a junior. “It’s usually the schools that never really get top players. Just letting me come in and be the man isn’t really gonna help me in the long run.”
That’s why Callaway (Callaway, Miss.) junior shooting guard Malik Newman, who some consider to be the top guard regardless of class, said he gets more excited when coaches tell him what he needs to work on.
“I’m a hard worker so I want to go somewhere where I know I’ll be pushed,” Newman said. “I just want to know how I can get better. Usually anything that coaches say trying to impress you isn’t good.”
There are some exceptions.
All of the college coaches recruiting the country’s top senior, Whitney Young (Chicago) center Jahlil Okafor, are well aware of his affinity for dogs; and when Ohio State assistant Jeff Boals informed Okafor that he’d named his dog “Rebound Jahlil Boals,” Okafor was thoroughly impressed to say the least.
“I thought that was really cool,” Okafor said. “Definitely the first dog I’ve had named after me. That; I can deal with.”
It’s the cheesy freestyle raps on the voicemails, the awkward “I love you” at the end of a chat and the uber-cliché “ball in your hands from day one” ploy that prompts an immediate eye-roll reaction from elite high school athletes.
“I think the biggest thing is that we just want the coaches to be genuine,” said Trinity’s (Euless, Texas) Myles Turner, who is ranked the No. 3 center in the ESPN 100. “We don’t need to hear all of that extra stuff. We just want the coaches to be straight-up.”
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