Austin Rivers proves "committed" HS sophomores are nothing to get excited about


by Zach Rosen

“I know I said I wanted to go to UNC but I’m potty trained now”

With the recent de-commitment of Austin Rivers from the fetid swamplands of Florida, the era of early commitments has lost another ounce of credibility. But who are we kidding? Early commitments have never meant anything. There was a time that a young man entering college with the intention to play sports was only asked where he was going in his senior year, when such things should be decided. But then the world of recruiting became more competitive, and the use of technology made it easier to single out and evaluate targets.

Then one day an enterprising coach was at a basketball game to see a young man slightly younger than the normal age range of recruiting targets, and the proverbial light bulb came on. “Hey, this kid is a hot prospect, I should recruit this kid and have him come to my school to play basketball”. He later went on record saying the player was a “hot prospect” and that he would be trying his darnedest to get him to commit to play at his university. That young player did end up going to the University of Indiana and compete under the tutelage of that coach; his name was Bobby Knight, and the year? 1986.  Never mind the fact the kid was in the eight grade.

Only a few people outside of the Hoosier nation know the story of Damon Bailey, but his recruitment and subsequent career began a trend of getting verbal commitments from players at increasingly earlier ages. The trend has become the paradigm necessary to survive in today’s coaching climate. Now, I’m not here to trash Billy Gillispie, that’s been done enough and there’s nothing worse than beating a dead fruity-smelling horse, but the fact is the guy loved getting kids to commit early. Commitments from players in classes 3 years away had fans hooting with excitement, finally rid of the “I’ll let Bobby Perry’s cousin on the team” Tubby era. But then a funny thing happened; he got a 13-year-old to commit. Every Cat fan knows who Michael Avery is, and the media firestorm that followed made sure everyone else did. The commitment, like a Billy Gillispie lawsuit, didn’t hold but was just another milestone in the modern age of college basketball and the dynamic of what it takes to get elite talent. College recruiting has become a Western Expansion-style land grab, if you can get there first it’s yours.

But let’s be honest, this is crap. Recruiting kids to come to a college at the age of 14 is nothing short of ridiculous. At age 14 I was just figuring out what you were supposed to do with a girl (lay on top and shake violently, right?) and still riding a bike around my neighborhood during the summer. Obviously my youth was a little more normal (and much less talented) than these kids but come on, how informed are you about the world at that age? And then you see coaches from upstart to legendary status walking in and out of your house and trying to pressure you to make a decision about where you’re going to attend college. It’s stupid and should come as no surprise to anyone that these kids eventually end up changing their minds. It’s natural, I changed my mind seven times today and I’m 25. To think that you can convince a kid that age his collegiate future and potential pro career is best served by going to College X instead of University Y is like telling Tiger to pick a girl to seduce before taking him to Perkins, you have to know what’s out there.

Am I surprised that Austin Rivers de-committed from Florida? Hell no, the man can’t develop players and he got the kid to commit before he got a learner’s permit. Will I be surprised if the NCAA adopts a rule preventing such commitments from taking place sometime in the future? Much less than if Billy G starts a sober driving ad campaign.

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