At the Nike/ABCD high school basketball camp at Princeton University last summer, Georgetown Coach John Thompson sat on a balcony overlooking Dillon Gymnasium -- a perch he chose deliberately, he said, "because I like to see who's here . . . and to see what's going on."

From his seat, Thompson could see a TV reporter interviewing high school players, schoolboy coaches hobnobbing with college coaching legends, a Nike consultant renewing friendships with coaches and players, a talent scout gathering information for a subscription newsletter, an NBA team scout evaluating 17-year-old players, a sportswriter collecting quotes and an agent just sort of hanging out.

Surveying the scene, Thompson shook his head.

"When this camp first started {in 1983}, you didn't see as many members of the media here," he said. "Now you got guys from TV. You got guys from the press. You've got more coaches. We are all a part of it. So the kid has to be better prepared to deal with it. These kids, if they cannot cope with agents, if they cannot cope with the press, if they cannot cope with coaches, how the hell are they going to cope with drugs? How the hell are they going to cope with alcoholism and AIDS and every other thing? Realistically, these kids are under an awful lot of pressure."

Agents, coaches, writers, scouts -- never before has the high school basketball landscape been so cluttered.

And never before has the environment that nurtures high school basketball stars raised so many concerns:

Concerns that "middlemen" are becoming more active in the recruiting process.

When Washington Bullets and former LSU forward John Williams was a senior at Los Angeles' Crenshaw High, his family asked the father of a former college basketball star for assistance in dealing with college recruiters. In one meeting with a Nevada-Las Vegas recruiter in March 1984, the middleman stated that Williams would only sign with the Runnin' Rebels if the price was right, according to a UNLV source. "The man opened the meeting by saying he was working on the finances of John's recruitment," the source said. "Then he said that John would sign for $50,000 up front, a {Nissan} 280ZX with a Turbo engine and an allowance of $600 a month." According to the source, the UNLV recruiter declined to meet the demands of the middleman, who has denied any involvement.

Williams said he was surprised when he heard the demands at the meeting. "I didn't ask anyone to do that," he said. "The only thing I wanted from a college was a scholarship."

Williams said that as a 12th grader it was hard to get away from outside influences -- even at high school. "One day, one of my high school teachers came to my house to take me for a ride," he recalled. "I just thought we were going out to enjoy ourselves. Turns out, we were going to look at some land with a friend of his. They were telling me that if I make the NBA I should go into the land business."

Concerns that some high school coaches are looking for payoffs.

A Big Eight recruiter said he was informed several years ago that he would have to pay a New Jersey high school coach $5,000 to get a visit with a star player. Another coach, in St. Louis, demanded video equipment, the recruiter said.

"A lot of high school coaches have their hands out -- a lot of them," John Thompson said in a recent interview. He recalled a 1986 meeting with a player from a Midwestern city: "I become very suspicious when a kid is in the room with you, the mother's in the room with you, your staff is in the room with you and the {high school} coach makes a statement that 'I have to talk to John privately. We have to have a conversation.' Right away, you say to yourself, 'Here it comes.' "

After refusing to meet privately with the coach, Thompson said he was not given an opportunity to recruit the player. "Sometimes what happens is, {a high school coach will think} 'when I get you in my home and we talk privately maybe you might drop something on the floor' or 'maybe you'll give me an exorbitant amount of money for speaking at my camp,' which is one way in which it is done," Thompson said. "But when that doesn't happen, they'll say, 'Well, hey, our kid doesn't have the interest in your school that he had before.' " Concerns that college coaches are recruiting athletes before they even have entered high school.

Since 1982, when the NCAA began allowing high school seniors to sign national letters of intent in November, rather than wait until April, recruiters have been contacting athletes earlier than ever.

Donald Ford, a 6-foot-6 sophomore at Washington's Dunbar High, recalled that as an eighth grader he was contacted by more than a dozen college coaches, including Rick Barnes, then an Ohio State assistant, now the head coach at George Mason. Some college coaches believe it is prudent to demonstrate their interest in players at an early age.

"The earlier you start with an individual, hopefully the better he will become familiar with your program," said Maryland Coach Bob Wade, who sent a letter to Ford last summer. "I think it's important that you make contact with the kid as early as possible, whether it be in junior high or their freshman year of high school." Concerns that agents are making inroads with high school athletes.

For years, agents have been signing college athletes to secret contracts that violate NCAA rules. Today, in the competitive scramble to identify future clients, some agents are beginning their searches in high school gyms. Under NCAA rules, a student is not eligible for intercollegiate sports if at any time he has made an oral or written agreement with an agent.

Georgetown-bound Alonzo Mourning, the No. 1 player in this year's recruiting class, said he was approached by agents as an 11th grader. "A couple of people have come up to me and said, 'I'm a lawyer and I want to be your agent,' " said Mourning, a 6-10 center from Chesapeake, Va.

In December, Thompson witnessed an agent being introduced to the parent of a player at a high school game in Washington. "More and more, you're starting to see these people at these contests," he said. "One agent was so dumb that he sent a letter to me, letting me know that if I wanted to talk to a {high school} kid, if I wanted to visit the kid, that he was the one representing him. Not only is that illegal {under NCAA rules}, it's stupid."

Thompson said he is most troubled by agents who act as middlemen for college coaches. "I see a lot of lawyers involved now in talking to kids and being go-between people," he said. "These lawyers have the idea that they can control these kids later on and get involved with their families. It's a sign of the times. And to say we're going to go back to the old way is just as ridiculous as saying we're going to go back to riding horses and buggies."