After a 4 1/2-hour drive, with two pit stops, through a steady rain, this recruiting trip continues ingloriously for Bob Tallent, George Washington University basketball coach, and his chief aide, Tom Schneider.
They are driving around this city's Hill District, the area that spawns championship basketball teams with regularity and an occasional pro football star like Larry Brown. They cannot find Dave Thornton's home. Suddenly, they spot Thornton, 6-foot-7 1/2 leading scorer and rebounder of Schenley hHIgh's state championship team, walking home from baseball practice.
First problem solved. The Colonial's first visit to Thornton's home will not be so easy.
Thornton leads Tallent and Schneider, who have been recruiting him religiously since October, up a flight of stairs and introduces them to his mother, Corrine Thornton. Ten minutes later, after much small talk, she turns to Tallent and says: "What school did you say you were from?"
She later says she is fed up with recruiters.
Meanwhile, Thornton pulls out a cardboard box fitted with recruiting letters - mostly unopened. On top of the pile is a GW application. He fills it out. The chitchat gets going better when Thornton joins the conversation. Some 20 minutes later, Thornton's father T.J. comes home from work, a lunchbox in his hand, a bag of groceries in his arm.
He speaks and Tallent does a double take. "Why do you bring strangers in here?" I want you to stay in Pittsburgh."
Welcome to Family Feud.
During the drive through more rain back to Wasington the same night, Tallent said recruiting is a situation in which each case is unique.
On first glance at this visit, it might seem that Tallent and his assistants, Schneider and Len Baltimore, have wasted their time. They have followed Thornton's play harder than any ohter coaching staff in America, Tallent says. They have seen him play 18 games this season. It is now Thursday; they have not seen him since Saturday, in all-star game. It is the longest period during which they have not been visible to him since December.
But Thornton is not your typical 17-year-old basketball player. He already has earned a $2,000 grant as Schenley's outstanding student-athlete. He is mature beyond his years. He knows what he wants, engineering, just like his brother Tom.
It is there that Tallent knows he has a common thread. He has an engineering degree from GW. He was a star basketball player at the school. He did both successfully. It is his No. 1 selling point.
In many recruiting situations, it is more important to recruit the mother and/or father harder than the athlete. In this case, it is easy to tell that Thornton is going to make his own decision and that his parents will not change his mind. Thornton already has eliminated a large number of universities because they do not offer a degree in engineering.
Both his parents would like him to stay home and attend Duquesne. He is the youngest of five children and the only one still living at home. The parents say they are concerned for his welfare and they want to be near him. His older brother Tom had problems when he went to Detroit (they involved a change in coaching staffs.)
According to Thornton, Duquesne does not have an engineering school and he would have to cross register at Carnegie-Mellon, another Pittsburgh school. It is something Thornton does not want to do. His mother understands. His father does not.
"I believe you should stay here in town," the elder Thornton says.
"I don't want to do that. I want to get away from this place," Dave Thornton responds.
"If he's around me, it'll cost me less," the father says. "There are good schools around here."
"No," replies Dave Thornton, shaking his head.
"These basketball schools here are no good for me."
"I hope you're making the right decision," the father says.
"I'm making the right decision," the son answers. "I'm going to school for engineering. I'm not going to let somebody change my major for me to stay home."
Schneider and Tallent are in a rough situation. Whatever they say could alienate the wrong member of the family. Already this season Tallent has lost a top guard prospect, after his father took an assistant coach's job at Penn State.
So Schneider talks matter of factly, even a bit brashly.
"Go call or visit Duquesne and ask them to meet the dean of the engineering school, and see what they say," says Schneider.
Dave Thornton breaks into a smile, biggest of the 90-minute visit, and nods.
"Go over and check it out," Tallent chimes in. "That's what I'd do if I was his father."
After this, the father asks about summer jobs, cars and spending money. The mother asks about dorminatories, classes and getting her son up every morning. Tallent handles the questions with ease: he doesn't need a car at GW, the summer jobs are available for him to earn his spending money, the coaches make sure the players get up, go to bed and attend class.
Finally, the father asks, "What are you going to do, Dave?"
"I'm definitely not going to stay in Pittsburgh," Dave replies.
"What are you going to do?" the father asks again.
"I don't know what," Dave answers. "That's why I'm going to visit these schools and find out what's best for Dave Thornton says he will visit four schools - George Washington, Providence, Old Dominton and Western Kentucky.
Tallent and Schneider both impress upon him to make sure the school has its own engineering program. Tallent says he had that problem when he was being recruited, that schools offered five-year programs, with the fifth year at another college or university.
Earlier, Dave Thornton had told them the recruiting had "cooled down" even though he still gets an occasional 1:30 a.m. phone call.
IT was a perfect opening for Tallent.
"I'm glad to hear that," the coach said. "All you have to do is sign with us and it will be real cool."
But the GW coaches had no real hope of getting Thornton to sign this day. They knew he would not choose the Colonials sight unseen. This weekend, Thornton will visit the campus, and the coaches plan to introduce him to the dean of the College of Engineering.
Next: The Bump