MICHELE NORRIS, host:
By now we're used to hearing about basketball players being drafted to the pros right out of high school. Now apparently college scouts are also seeking younger talent.
Michael Avery has got game; he's already 6'4" and he's got a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky. Here's the thing. He's in the eighth grade. We wanted to look at this new age of teen recruiting, so we turn to Brick Oettinger; he's a recruitment analyst with PrepStar.com. Welcome to the program, sir.
Mr. BRICK OETTINGER (Recruitment Analyst): Thank you for having me.
NORRIS: So how rare is this?
Mr. OETTINGER: How rare is it? It is rare enough that we're talking about perhaps the fourth time it's ever happened.
NORRIS: So it's not a precedent, but not all that common.
Mr. OETTINGER: Not setting the precedent. The precedent arguably at least was set by another Californian, Taylor King when he was an eighth grader and he announced that he was going to go to UCLA. And Taylor King ultimately, about two years later on, changed his mind, rescinded his, quote, "verbal commitment"; he signed with Duke University.
NORRIS: So it seems like the University of Kentucky is taking on a little bit of risk here.
Mr. OETTINGER: Of course there's a risk. Obviously the risk includes the fact that you might have a serious injury, you may have peaked in terms of your growth. There was one California player who was a subject of a - an article in Sports Illustrated a couple of years ago named Demetrius Walker. He was in the eighth grade also and he was 6'3" at the time. And the Sports Illustrated article wrote about him as the latest phenom. Demetrius Walker is a senior in high school and now he's considered a kind of a marginal top national 100 player.
Mr. OETTINGER: So that's part of the risk too. Some people peak earlier than others.
NORRIS: Tell me about Michael Avery.
Mr. OETTINGER: Well, I think what he showed Coach Gillispie and others was he showed a great deal of poise. He showed a considerable amount of athletic ability, or what we call athleticism - speed, quickness, leaping ability, body control, those kinds of things.
And he also has the basketball skills that make him very advanced for his age, meaning dribbling, passing, shooting. Put all that together and obviously Coach Gillispie was impressed enough to offer a scholarship, and the young man or his parents jumped all over it. Again, remember, these are verbal commitments, they're not binding on either party.
NORRIS: Why would Coach Billy Gillispie makes so much of this then if he has a verbal commitment and if it's not binding?
Mr. OETTINGER: Generally when there's a verbal commitment, you try to get it on out there because while it doesn't necessarily keep anybody else from recruiting the kid, it does provide a little sort of moral pressure if you will on him to uphold, the player to uphold his end of the bargain.
So I think coach is like to have those verbal commitments out there, especially from talented players, and hope that in the process it will reduce the likelihood of the player changing his mind later on and reneging.
NORRIS: So it's almost like marking your territory.
Mr. OETTINGER: It's kind of - exactly. That's a good analogy.
NORRIS: But with that in mind, I'm wondering if we're possibly looking at the basketball equivalent of the butterfly effect by putting so much attention on this young man, if that changes the game in some way, changes his prospect, changes the person that he might grow up to be if he were allowed to just develop naturally without all the attention?
Mr. OETTINGER: Well, especially if it goes to his head and to the heads of people who are close to him. It could certainly make a considerable difference. If he doesn't commit to Kentucky or even of he did and it was private and nothing was ever said about it publicly, he might feel, perceive, a lot less pressure on him that he's no doubt going to feel playing in the ninth grade in high school ball this coming year.
NORRIS: Mr. Oettinger, thank you very much for talking to us.
Mr. OETTINGER: Hm-hmm. My pleasure.
NORRIS: That's Brick Oettinger. He's a recruitment analyst with PrepStar.com. He was speaking to us about Michael Avery, an eighth-grader from California who has a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky.