LeBron James and his son LeBron Jr. in 2012. (Photo: Roberto Koltun/El Nuevo Herald/MCT)
Kentucky coach John Calipari was at the basketball championships in Lexington last summer. So was Ohio State coach Thad Matta. Both were scouting talent that they could fill their rosters with — in 2020.
Not surprising, of course. A college coach makes his reputation because of the talent he recruits, and a coach can’t afford to not watch the next great player, particularly if the player’s name happens to be LeBron James Jr.
Yet for LeBron Jr. to be on a coach’s sonar illustrates just how out of whack the college game has gotten. Football and basketball coaches spend so much time away from campus in search for talent that they don’t do enough for the talent they do have, so when you hear they’re recruiting LeBron Jr., well, perhaps the craziness of it all comes into clarity.
LeBron Jr. might have talent galore. He might be the second coming of his father, the best player to ever take an NBA court. But LeBron Jr. is 10 years old, and for men to be hounding him, waving scholarships and other perks at him, proves the recruiting game has reached its breaking out.
LeBron Sr. said colleges should be called for some sort of violation and should stop lording over pre-teens like prime steak at the butcher’s market.
He is right. But what good does it do to be right when colleges and recruiting services are spotlighting talent at younger and younger ages?
Adidas sponsors a camp called “Jr. Phenom,” and Nike holds a youth camp similar to it. Rivals.com might be the worst offender, using its website and rankings to anoint youth too young to be treated like royalty.
In one recent report, Rivals.com discussed a football camp in Boston for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, and its report claimed a boy named Bryce Gallagher, a linebacker, dominated the field.
Rivals wrote: Eighth grade athletes Anthony Berksza and Sam Kaprellian were top performers every combine event while sixth grader Sam LaMothe did more than hold his own against the older competition. He placed in the top 5 in both the 20 and 40 dash. Michael Manning also showed a high ceiling as an athlete at the event.
None of this excuses college coaches. They are as much to blame as Rivals and the sneaker companies. For the coaches are the ones flying overhead like vultures with a scholarship in hand, and they hand out these scholarships like M&M candy.
"It's pretty crazy,” LeBron Sr. said.
Crazy doesn’t do such recruiting justice. What this has done is turn youth — boys who haven't hit puberty — into a commodity. We already know the excesses recruiting of high school athletes leads to, but dipping down into elementary school for a talent ought to offend everybody.
Maybe we should just step back and let a boy do boy things, let him play the game for the game’s sake. But that’s not the world of recruiting on the college front. It’s an endless search for talent, and 12-year-olds are the prize.
And coaches like Calipari and Matta are there to judge talent, refusing to play the waiting game for boys easily swayed and too easily corrupted by a system that treats them like prime beef.
So how young is too young?
Good question, and the answer isn’t so certain. But let’s agree that a boy who’s 10 years old isn’t ready just yet to don a Kentucky uniform and lead the Wildcats to the Final Four.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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