SEC coaches grapple with NABC's request

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 3:11am
Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie is at the center of the current controversy.

When it comes to recruiting, how young is too young?

It’s a debate raging this summer across the national college-basketball landscape. Clear answers seem to be in short supply.

The National Association of Basketball Coaches this summer asked its members to refrain from recruiting players who haven’t completed the 10th grade. Soon after, Florida accepted a verbal commitment from Austin Rivers, who recently completed the ninth grade.

Earlier this year, Kentucky received verbal commitments from eighth-grader Michael Avery and ninth-grader Vinny Zollo, developments that some speculate motivated the NABC to take action.

Second-year Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, who has been at the center of the debate, agrees with the spirit of the NABC’s request. However, he wants everyone to play by the same rules.

“I’m a company man, but I’m not going to get beat up as far as competing,” Gillispie said last week. “You always want to try to do what the coaches’ organizations asks. But you’re not going to sit by the wayside while other people are getting ahead of you.

“Interpret that however you want to.”

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings hasn’t faced the dilemma of recruiting players not even old enough to obtain a driver’s license, but he sees both sides of the issue.

“There’s always going to be people in our business pushing the envelope, and I don’t necessarily blame them for doing that,” Stallings said. “Maybe the coaches’ association is asking for us to apply some common sense.

“I guess I’m in favor of the position the coaches’ association has taken. At the same time, I have to smile when I see a guy out there getting after it like that and trying to get the job done.”

Eyebrows were raised July 2 when Florida received a commitment from Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers. The pledge came after the NABC had “strongly” discouraged coaches from recruiting players of Austin Rivers’ age.

Coaches can still operate as they wish, since the NABC can only express it wishes but has no disciplinary recourse.

NABC executive director Jim Haney told the Lexington Herald-Leader that NCAA legislation might be required to keep coaches from continuing to ask for commitments from young players.

“We’re in the process now of working that out with the NCAA,” Haney said.

Donovan maintains his belief that the burden rests with the players’ family.

“I believe the decision to commit should be a family decision,” he said. “It should be up to the family and the player to decide when they are comfortable to commit to a school.”

Translation: The NABC’s request might continue to go unheeded.

“Every single coach has to do what they think is best for their individual institution,” Gillispie said. “You have a responsibility. You have to recruit the absolute best players and give yourself the best chance to win, within the rules.”

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