Indiana should blame the process, not Lyles

August, 8, 2012
8/08/12
2:00
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After Trey Lyles (a 6-8 forward from Indianapolis who’s currently ranked seventh in the 2014 class by RecruitingNation) rescinded his verbal commitment to Indiana Tuesday, Tom Crean conveyed his frustration –- an emotion Hoosiers fans have shared in the last 24 hours -- through tweets:

It’s not unusual for coaches to accuse others of “tampering” when a recruit decides to reconsider his options. But it’s a misstep.

Everything about the recruiting game -- prior to athletes signing national letters of intent, a move that can’t be made until they’re seniors in high school -- is a phantom process.

Players can commit at 13 years old, when coaches and prospects can’t really project if the school is the right fit.

Years before they can take official visits, athletes pay for their own unofficial trips to campuses. There, they talk to coaches and tour the schools they might attend. The unlimited text messaging, private tweets and phone calls (for players who’ve completed their sophomore seasons) will add to the static and increase the wooing of kids who can’t sign with the teams that covet them.

A recruit can’t make a tangible, binding commitment to a program until he’s a senior in high school. So there’s this gap between the time of commitment and the actual signing. And with time, some athletes will question their commitments.

Lyles could go back to the Hoosiers, although ESPN.com’s Dave Telep says it’s rare for an elite talent to re-commit to a school Insider. His high school coach, Indianapolis Tech’s Jason Delaney, told the Indianapolis Star that Indiana is still “No. 1” right now:
Tech coach Jason Delaney said Tuesday that the 6-9 Lyles, who is ranked in the top-10 nationally in the 2014 class by multiple recruiting services, still has Indiana No. 1 on his list. But Lyles, who committed to IU and coach Tom Crean before even playing a high school varsity game, would like to compare it other schools.

“He committed so early,” Delaney said. “He still loves IU and it’s still No. 1 in his book. He just hasn’t had anything to compare it to yet.”

Delaney said he hasn’t been contacted by any schools yet, but that is sure to change quickly.

The evangelists will look at Lyles’ case and use it to fuel their “today’s kids don’t commit to anything” message. And they will miss the point.

They’re just kids. But college coaches and universities expect these adolescents to make what comedian Katt Williams calls “life decisions.”

These are the same kids that linger in the lunch line because they can’t decide on pizza or grilled cheese. The same kids that recently learned how to drive. The same kids that can’t vote or drink.

Yet, they’re supposed to choose a college at 14, 15, 16 or 17. And never, ever think twice.

I didn’t play Division I basketball. But I was offered scholarships to compete at the Division II level in football. During one official visit, I nearly committed to a program because I couldn’t take my eyes off one of the school’s female sprinters. Every school had its perks in my mind. I wanted to commit to all of them.

So imagine what a blue-chip prospect such as Lyles endures throughout this period.

He’s at the dealership and the salesperson says, “Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Porsche or Maserati.”

Blue-chipper: “Um, they’re all fast, right?”

He really can’t go wrong and that’s the challenge.

Plus, it’s not like coaches verbally commit to prospects. They don’t tell them that -- barring any unforeseen circumstances -- “I’m committed to coaching you in the 2014 season.” They maintain their flexibility with vague responses such as, “That’s my intent, but I never say never.” It’s the same vague dialogue that’s used in locker rooms when coaches resign and take new jobs.

Why shouldn’t recruits exercise their rights to explore, especially if they’re offered zero guarantees that the coach they intend to compete for (players commit to coaches, not programs) will be there when they arrive?

Yes, some coaches try to lure committed players to their respective programs. Crean is right. That happens. That’s unethical. And it’s not good for the game or the kids.

Kids commit, de-commit and re-commit, however, because they’re not sure. And they don’t have to be sure, especially when they’re not even old enough to see R-rated movies alone.

This situation isn’t just about Crean or the Hoosiers or Lyles or tampering accusations. It’s about the underground rules that govern the recruitment of teenagers. They’re not binding. They’re not real.

So why are we surprised and/or shocked when a kid changes his mind? He can barely make a decision about today’s lunch.

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