Sports

One small change goes a long way after a corruption scandal (published in 2023)

Tyler Boston has several knocks against him. For one, he’s a 6-foot-1 high school senior, lacking the size to easily catch the eye of college recruiters. On the other hand, college basketball coaches can afford to be picky with high school seniors because the transfer portal is chock full of older players who have an extra year of pandemic eligibility.

Additionally, when Boston travels to high-profile recruiting shows in Atlanta and Las Vegas next month, it is unclear whether he will be able to emphasize the scope of his skills to college coaches as he will compete for playing time on a talented travel team. .

Fortunately for Boston, he had another podium the past two weekends, playing with his high school team, Bullis from Potomac, Maryland, against some of the top private schools in the basketball hotbed known as the DMV (short for the Washington region: the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia).

The DMV Live event was one of about 50 NCAA-certified events in the country in which college coaches were allowed to conduct in-person evaluations of players with their high school teams. The events ranged from the June Jam in Appleton, Wisconsin, to the massive Section 7 tournament in Arizona, which saw a dozen fields built in an indoor NFL stadium, to the New York City Public Schools Athletic League Showcase in Brooklyn.

Over the past two weekends, Boston showed off his ability to lead a team, make 3-pointers (he made half of his 26 attempts) and defend with purpose. A little over a week ago he didn’t get any scholarship offers, but now his phone is ringing off the hook.

Holy Cross offered a scholarship. Then East Tennessee State, Fordham and Fairfield.

A week later, the University of Pennsylvania said they had a spot for him. So did Robert Morris, Merrimack, Delaware State and Mount St. Mary’s.

“When they call you, that’s great news,” said Boston, who has been commuting 50 minutes from his suburban Baltimore home since ninth grade with hopes of playing in college. “I had interest before, but no offers. That means hard work pays off. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the gym, and I’m thankful that things have turned out promising.”

Events like DMV Live, which are open to high school teams during recruiting seasons, are among the few lasting byproducts of the NCAA reforms promised after the FBI corruption investigation that rocked the college basketball world nearly six years ago.

A committee, led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, called for a number of notable changes, such as creating a new process for NCAA investigations, tougher penalties for coaches who break the rules and postseason bans of up to five years , and excluding freshmen as the NBA continues to ban players from going straight from high school to the professional league. Only a handful of the ideas have been implemented and even fewer have stuck.

Last week we were reminded of the situation again: The NCAA gave Will Wade, the McNeese State coach who was fired by Louisiana State last year, a 10-game suspension and banned him from recruiting players off campus for two years. This brought an end to an investigation that had been running for four years.

Wade’s punishment did not include the “strong offer” he made to a recruit and his intention to pay players in the state of Louisiana more than the NBA minimum salary as a rookie, claims that were captured in a wiretapped phone call that was first reported reported by Yahoo and then broadcast by HBO. The committee that investigated the case said more evidence was needed.

Justice in the corruption scandal, as it turned out, fell almost exclusively on black assistant coaches. They were quickly fired, sometimes even jailed, and stayed out of college basketball, unlike the white head coaches involved.

What the FBI wiretaps and hidden cameras did was expose the underground economy of college basketball, fueled by money from shoe companies and agents and choreographed with the help of handlers who funnel players into schools. These middlemen are often affiliated with shoe company-sponsored travel teams, and over the past 25 years they have largely replaced high school coaches as the gatekeepers for recruits.

In its reform effort, the NCAA attempted to regain the influence of Nike, Adidas and Under Armor in 2019 by reconfiguring the recruiting calendar. A 12-day recruiting period in July, when the shoe companies held their national tournaments, was reduced to six days. The remaining six days were devoted to high school teams in June, and NCAA-run camps were added to a recruiting window in late July. (A redesigned NCAA camp will resume this summer — along with a girls’ camp — after a three-year pandemic-related hiatus.)

Grumbling from college coaches about the changes, who complained about the diluted talent and disorganization at some tournaments, has given way to acceptance — at least at events like DMV Live, which charges college coaches $250 for a package of e addresses and telephone numbers of players.

The benefits include exposing players to a more structured environment than a typical base game, where a player’s individual skills are more likely to be highlighted.

The tournament was held at two gyms at DeMatha Catholic High School, which has produced a long line of NBA players, including Adrian Dantley, Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hawkins, who was selected 14th overall in last week’s draft by the New Orleans Pelicans .

On Saturday, Hawkins’ coach at the University of Connecticut, Dan Hurley, was at DeMatha looking for the next generation of talent that could put his team, the reigning national champions, in a position to challenge for another title.

“The more evaluation tools you have, the more you see different teams, different styles of play, different types of coaches, the better you can evaluate the player,” Hurley said.

Hurley had plenty of company. In the main gym were Kansas State’s Jerome Tang, Virginia Tech’s Mike Young, Providence’s Kim English and Notre Dame’s Micah Shrewsberry, who squeezed his visit in between trips to Wisconsin on Friday and North Carolina on Sunday. Also in attendance were assistants from Villanova, Virginia, Iowa, Indiana and North Carolina State, along with dozens of other coaches from mid-majors and virtually every Ivy League college.

The NCAA’s hand is visible in the lengths events must go to prevent coaches from coming into contact with players. Stacks of yellow police tape keep college coaches away from players or their families. Coaches have separate restrooms and gym entrances.

That separation led to some coaches, phones to their ears, waving from across the gym to a player or his parent to let them know they were watching.

It is questionable to what extent the influence of coaches has diminished at the local level, but the high school showcases have led to more involvement between high school and college coaches, according to several high school coaches.

“College coaches get to know the kids better because they talk to the high school coaches more,” said Damin Altizer, the coach of St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Va., whose team’s swirling moves, unselfish passing and sharp shots were reminiscent of the Golden State Warriors’ best basketball performances.

“What are they like after a long day in the classroom and then going to practice?” he continued. “Obviously, AAU is so valuable because they get this great exposure. But the high school coaches see them more as a person, and I can’t overstate how valuable that is because that’s how they’re going to be successful when they go to college.”

The biggest draw for college coaches at DeMatha this weekend was the four-game series involving Paul VI Catholic High School of Chantilly, Virginia, which according to recruiting site 247 Sports has the state’s top four players, led by a 1, 80-yard center, Patrick Ngongba II.

Paul VI won four games last weekend, three by blowout, but was tested by Bullis on Saturday before prevailing, 58-53. In that game, Boston, Bullis’ point guard, more than held its own. He scored 16 points and had six assists — both game highs — and gave the ball away just once. His determined play, as one of the smallest players on the court, seemed to lead his team — just like the pros he most admires, Jalen Brunson, Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry.

If Boston opened the eyes of some college coaches, they might ask further. They might find out that his father is a high school math teacher, that his mother works for the federal government, that he has a 3.7 grade point average and that he plans to study finance or accounting.

It’s the kind of background that, in the right setting, could allow him to stand out from the crowd.

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