Dwayne Bryant had heard the stories players told one another in basketball camps, but he said he never thought a coach would approach him with anything but the promise of a chance to play.
"One of them said, 'How does $15,000 sound?' " Bryant said. "I was shocked. My brother was with me and he couldn't believe it, either."
Bryant, who is from New Orleans and is bound for Georgetown, would not say which school made the offer, which is a violation of NCAA recruiting rules. He said he immediately turned it down.
"Money was brought up in conversations," Bryant said. "But it was a turnoff. My parents used to say that you don't have to do things like that. So after the conversation, I would call back and say I wasn't interested. Sooner or later, it would catch up to you."
The 13th annual Capital Classic All-Star Game Saturday night at Maryland's Cole Field House will be a showcase for players who attract such interest from recruiters. But Bryant is the only participant who says he has been approached with such an offer.
For the nation's top players, the senior year of high school is just the culmination of years of recruitment. J.R. Reid of Virginia Beach, who many consider to be the top player in the country this year, received his first recruiting letter when he was in eighth grade. A few weeks ago, he announced he was headed for North Carolina after narrowing his choices to Iowa, UCLA, Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina.
The senior year is the time for official visits to campuses and for coaches to visit the player at home. For top players, that brings lots of attention.
"It's an experience of a lifetime," said Andre Reyes, a 6-foot-10 center from Manning, S.C., who signed a letter of intent to go to Maryland. "It only happens once. It's fun but it's hectic. I got used to it, but it was sort of a relief when it was over."
With recruiting scandals so frequently in the news in the last few years, players have become wary. Phil Henderson, a 6-5 guard from the Chicago suburb of Crete who is headed for Duke, was also among those who said that any extra enticements would have been met with rejection.
"I never let anybody mention things like that," Henderson said. "Down the road it would be found out. What's $1,000 or a car when five years from now you can make so much more? There are no shortcuts. You go to college and get a degree."
Henderson said he narrowed his choices to Duke, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma -- and each had a slightly different message.
"With Coach K [Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski], it was a total commitment to his players," Henderson said. "He gets the kind of people he wants, not what he can get.
"Bobby Cremins [of Georgia Tech] sort of recruits by position. He was saying, 'I won't recruit anyone else at your position for four years.' He's a great coach but Coach K was more family-like while Coach Cremins was more all-business. It's like the towns. Durham is a small town, Atlanta is more business.
"Coach [Terry] Holland [of Virginia] knew exactly what he wanted to have me do. He said I'd have to be a leader, someone the players and everyone at Virginia could look up to, taking a leadership role as a freshman. But I wasn't sure if I could take on that responsibility as a freshman. I guess Coach Holland was building his team. Coach K said I would take that sort of spot when it came."
Henderson said the message from Oklahoma Coach Billy Tubbs was different from the rest. "He was trying to sell me on all the wonderful things that were involved in playing Division I at Oklahoma," Henderson said. "He said they treated their players first-class, staying in the best hotels and things like that. He was trying to sell me on the glamour life of the big-time."
Reyes had narrowed his choices to Maryland, Clemson, Georgetown, North Carolina State and Tennessee.
"Clemson and Tennessee were about the same. They didn't really stress one thing, though Tennessee has a new place to play," Reyes said. "N.C. State talked about being in the ACC and being close to home.
"Georgetown was different. You could say it was a little stricter on grades and publicity. Players don't give many interviews. Coach [John] Thompson was different. He was more like a father figure than the others. Coach [Lefty] Driesell [of Maryland] was, too, but Coach Thompson was more of a stricter father figure than Coach Driesell. I just felt I could fit into the Maryland atmosphere better. And I felt it was a place I could play right away because they don't have a center."
Reyes said he had been warned by his coach, Gunter Sweat, about the pitfalls of alternative offers. "I wasn't really expecting anything. Only the Chris Washburns and Pat Ewings get stuff offered to them. Coach Sweat talked to me about that, and he said, 'If they can buy you, they can also sell you.' "
Fess Irvin, a 6-foot point guard from Gonzales, La., had said last fall that he was going to Louisiana State, but is uncertain now because of the possibility LSU could have a problem with the NCAA, in part because of Tito Horford's short tenure there. As of last week, Irvin said he had not ruled out any of his five choices -- LSU, Maryland, Georgetown, Kansas and N.C. State.
Irvin said he wasn't the object of offers that violate NCAA rules, probably because "they knew . . . I'd turn them in to the NCAA. Raymond Talley is an investigator with the NCAA and he monitored my recruitment. If I had any questions, I would call him."
Coach Morgan Wootten helped Steve Hood, as he has helped many at DeMatha, deal with the rigors of recruiting.
"I wasn't surprised. Mr. Wootten told me it would be rough, and it was," Hood said. "That was the reason I signed early."
Wootten had rules for the schools wishing to recruit Hood, one of which was that they could not call him at home.
Hood said his contact with boosters and alumni mainly involved letters.
"[Boston College] had a vice president of the United Way write to me, and from Maryland, Tom McMillen [of the Bullets] wrote to me," Hood said. "During the summer, I talked with John Lucas. I used to play with him and he said I'd be a star if I came to Maryland."
Did that make an impression?
"It didn't have any effect," said Hood, who chose Maryland anyway. "Anywhere I went, I would play as hard as I could."
Hood said that campus visits were similar. "They [current players] take you out, show you around," Hood said. "You go to parties and they try to introduce you to lots of girls. They probably figure if the recruit has a real good time, it will make him want to come back."
That's the idea.