Actions of Third Parties Can Muddy Recruiting Waters
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
In wooing high school prospects to join their programs, college basketball coaches seek to convince players that they can provide the best place to continue their athletic and academic development. Doing so requires building relationships and trust with players, their parents and often a high school or summer league coach.
Increasingly over the past two decades, however, college coaches have lamented the proliferation of additional participants in the recruiting process. These third parties -- who collectively fall under such labels as "handlers," "middlemen" or "advisers" -- latch on to prospects at young ages and then attempt to broker access to the players in exchange for benefits from college coaches or their schools.
Previously a factor for only the most elite high school prospects, third-party recruiting is becoming much more widespread. LuAnn Humphrey, the NCAA's associate director of enforcement who oversees the organization's basketball focus group, said one of her sector's biggest concerns is that the presence of third-party handlers is trickling down to less-heralded recruits.
Several prominent figures in the summer basketball circuit noted a rise in the population of small-time handlers in recent years.
"Players at all levels now have guys who are influencing which college they choose," said Bob Gibbons, a national recruiting analyst for 30 years. "That's not in the best interest of the sport and, in many instances, not in the best interest of the young man. More and more people are trying to share in this and get a piece of the action. It's not just the high-level prospects, which it previously was, it has gone down now to the mid-level players. . . .
"These kids are being bought. They don't always get the proper guidance. It is not so much where they want to go as it is where they are influenced to go by people they trust. It has gotten to the point where I think it is out of hand."
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Mychal Parker, a 6-foot-6 swingman out of Washington, N.C., possesses considerable, yet not elite basketball talent. Scouting services rate Parker between No. 48 and No. 70 among the nation's high school seniors. Several colleges, including Maryland and Virginia, are vying for his services, but he is not the kind of incandescent star to whom college coaches would expect to have obstacles gaining access.
Yet over the past five months, college coaches, AAU team directors and even shoe company representatives came to understand that if they wanted to deal with Parker, they also had to deal with Joe Davis. Davis, a 22-year-old also from Parker's home town, accompanied Parker to nearly all of his camps and tournaments this summer.
Under an agreement made with Mychal Parker's father, Omar, Davis was supposed to transport and watch over Parker as he traveled across the country to showcase his talents. But Davis, who has known the Parkers for more than 10 years, since he and Mychal played on the same AAU team, at times went further, blurring the line between caretaker and power broker.
Davis runs Scoutsfocus.com, a fledgling basketball recruiting Web site. His designation as a recruiting analyst enabled him to obtain media credentials to various summer basketball events. His designation as "Parker's guy" enabled him to establish relationships with the college coaches pursuing the player's commitment to their respective programs.
Sources close to six other Division I programs that either are or were recruiting Parker, including Clemson, Miami and UCLA, said Davis contacted members of the schools' coaching staffs seeking benefits of some sort in return for access to Parker. Many sources contacted for this story requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of a recruit's amateur status and, in some cases, because of NCAA rules prohibiting them from speaking about unsigned recruits. In some cases, sources said, Davis wanted the programs to subscribe to Scoutsfocus.com; in other cases, he wanted to serve as a paid instructor at the programs' elite camps.