A question that weighs on the mind of some of the country’s top college basketball coaches is the same one on the lips of students who roam the halls daily at Christ Presbyterian Academy.
Where will Jalen Lindsey go after high school?
There’s no telling how often it is raised in the basketball offices at Florida, Louisville, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and the like or how many times it floats silently through the minds of the men who guide those programs and others like them. CPA students, though, can — and do — go directly to the source with their inquiry. Every day. Often.
“I’m so used to it by now,” Lindsey said. “I’m just like, ‘When the time comes, you’ll find out.’ I give everybody that same answer. I’ve heard it so much it’s just kind of in my brain.
“I know people are going to ask me about it. I’m always prepared for it.”
National Signing Day was last Wednesday and most of the top high school football players in the class of 2013 made their college choices official when they faxed in their national letters of intent. Three months earlier, many who intend to play basketball and other sports did the same during the fall early signing period.
As such, attention now turns to the 2014 recruits and that puts Middle Tennessee under an unusual amount of scrutiny.
Lindsey, a forward, and Beech High School running back Jalen Hurd are widely regarded among the best players available anywhere in their respective sports. Each has already received more than a dozen scholarship offers before the end of their junior year and they have done what they could to deal with the volume of phone calls, text messages and other avenues college programs use to sell themselves as the best possible destination.
It’s about to get worse.
Not only is theirs the next class in line — and, therefore, squarely in the crosshairs of the talent search in the two most lucrative college sports — it also is the first that will be courted under relaxed recruiting regulations approved last month by the NCAA to be put into practice later this year.
“I’m worried about that,” said CPA coach Drew Maddux, who has worked with Lindsey in some capacity since the player was 11 years old. “I think being a student-athlete and the pressures that come with that as you try to balance between the academics, your social and your athletics side … and then you add this whole component where it becomes almost overwhelming.”
The NCAA sees the new legislation as “common sense” action designed to eliminate restrictions that were virtually impossible to enforce in the first place. It also offers the idea that the rules reduction embraces the differences — size, geography, resources, etc. — that naturally exist between the more than 300 Division I institutions.
Critics, however, fear it will create chaos, particularly for those athletes coveted by those institutions that have the wherewithal to make the most of their newfound freedom.
For example, restrictions were lifted on the methods and modes of communication during recruiting. Coaches will be able to phone, to text or to send messages via Twitter or Facebook every hour on the hour — or more frequently — if they choose.
Also, recruiting activity no longer will be limited to coaches. While they are the only ones who may do so off campus, programs potentially can employ a dedicated staff to maintain contact with prospects from the comfort of their on-campus offices.
The frequency of allowable home and school visits has not changed, though the aim is to expand them eventually to include high school juniors and not just seniors. Plus, there no longer will be limits on the number of coaches who may be off campus recruiting at one time.
“I think it’s going to put a ton of stress on those young guys who are 17 or 18 years old,” Beech football coach Anthony Crabtree said. “They’re not going to have any idea how to handle it, especially if they don’t have a parent who’s experienced it before — either as an athlete or with another child. And how many parents have? … It’s going to be pretty ridiculous, in my opinion.”
Crabtree has 17 years of experience as a high school coach, the last eight as head coach at Beech. So he understands that players like Hurd, at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, don’t come along that often.
In his view, though, the recruitment of that caliber of player already is stressful enough for the adults involved. The idea that programs now will have unlimited, direct contact with the prospects during approved recruiting periods seems unthinkable.
“He has offers from a lot of schools,” Crabtree said. “But I think some of those people are still trying to feel out what kind of a chance they have to get him. Then there’s probably four or five that I can think of off the top of my head that are really trying to go through me and recruit him. I don’t know how many hits he’s getting from Facebook and that kind of stuff. As far as coaches who are calling me, and texting me, there are probably four or five who are pretty relentless about it.
“They can call me or text me and ask me, ‘Hey, if you get a chance can you ask Jalen to call us?’ or ‘Tell Jalen we’re asking about him.’ Then he can call them. … If he doesn’t want to call him, he doesn’t have to call him and no one can say anything. If they can text him and they can call him, that’s when it’s going to be bad because they’ll call and they’ll call and they’ll call until you answer the phone.”
At least one outlet ranks Hurd among the top 10 high school juniors in the country. His scholarship offers include ones from most of the nation’s top programs, including the two that played in last month’s BCS championship game — Alabama and Notre Dame — as well as LSU, Florida, Michigan, Stanford. Tennessee and Vanderbilt also have made offers.
There was no greater showcase for his ability than last season’s Class 5A state championship game. He rushed for 394 yards and seven touchdowns as Beech defeated Columbia 56-35.
“He’s a lot of fun to coach,” Crabtree said. “He’s not someone who wants to miss practice. He doesn’t come up with excuses not to practice. It doesn’t matter how many schools he talked to today, he still wants to go out to practice and try to get better. A lot of kids can use that as a crutch for, ‘Maybe I don’t have to practice.’ He’s definitely not that way.”
The recruiting letters first arrived in the Lindsey family mailbox when Jalen was in eighth grade. Then, he already was 6-foot-6, but a lean 160 pounds.
“It was surprising,” he said. “I had no idea stuff like that would be happening in my eighth grade year. I was still really learning the game, as I am now. To get offers and letters it really excited me to know I was doing well and I needed to keep working.”
Currently, Rivals ranks Lindsey, now an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier, as the 30th overall recruit in the Class of 2014. ESPN has him among its top 15 overall. His offers include all three of the top programs in the state — Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Memphis — as well as ones from other SEC schools and several from the ACC.
He was one of several Division I prospects, although none rated as highly as him, who led CPA to a 37-2 record and the TSSAA Class AA championship last season and is ranked No. 1 in the state this year. The hope is that his high school career will include a McDonald’s All-American honor.
“I’m definitely looking for a coach that will develop my game and get me to my dream, which is to play in the NBA,” he said. “I’m also looking for a family-type relationship with the team and coaches where we can go talk to the coaches whenever, they’ll always be here for the team. Also, academics is a huge part because you never know when basketball isn’t going to work out anymore and you have to find something else to do. So I think academics is a huge part in the process.”
By last summer the interest in him was so intense that those closest to him decided to take action.
His parents changed his cell phone number and colleges were forbidden to have the new one. Anyone who wanted to talk to Lindsey had to call his father, Walter, or Maddux, and if all agreed Lindsey would talk on one of the two adults’ phones rather than his own.
Last fall, Maddux, Lindsey and his parents — “Team Lindsey,” as Maddux calls them — began to employ a single-view spreadsheet that provides a dispassionate means of comparison between the schools that have shown the most interest.
“I don’t want this to be something that you get caught up in the emotion of the moment for the student-athlete and you make a knee-jerk reaction,” Maddux, who did the same thing with poster board and magic markers when he was a Division I prospect out of Goodpasture two decades ago, said. “This needs to be thoughtfully considered. There needs to be a lot of discussion, a lot of due diligence involved.”
A little less than a month ago, the list was narrowed to nine schools that best fit with the vision Lindsey and his family have for the future. Coaches at those nine schools were given his cell phone number. The others were told thanks, but no thanks.
“Now that he’s kind of narrowed his focus and his circle, we did allow that because you want the coaches and the student-athlete to build a relationship,” Maddux said. “You want both parties to feel good about the other person. So we want that relationship now to be healthy but not to be overwhelming and time-consuming for Jalen.”
Of course, later this year those coaches will be able to call or text that number more than ever.
On its website, the NCAA says that, among other things, “the goal of deregulation is to protect and enhance the student-athlete experience.”
Already, though, recruiting is a mixed bag for those who go through the most intense version of it. There is the recognition for one’s abilities and achievements, which anyone wants. Sometimes, though, the interest from college programs and well-wishers can feel a bit overwhelming.
“When you go to the Yum! Center and watch Louisville play Syracuse and sit with coach [Rick] Pitino afterward, obviously you enjoy that,” Maddux said. “When you’re speaking on the phone with Billy Donovan or Kentucky attends one of your practices and does an in-school visit, sure, those are fun. When you’re in the course of just normal activity, and you’re getting bombarded by over 100 communication attempts in a given day, that’s not fun.
“Yes, I do think it’s fun in those moments when it’s isolated, but in a general day I think it’s a necessary evil and something [Lindsey] endures. But I wouldn’t say there’s joy in the grind of a normal day.”
At least Lindsey and Hurd, five-star athletes in their respective sports, have the option to make a commitment before the new recruiting rules take effect, which those in future years will not.
Even that, though, is not likely to provide relief from the expected barrage of contact. Commitments are non-binding. Only when a letter of intent is submitted during a signing period does the recruitment of top talent end.
“I think you may see some of that from four- and five-star players who are trying to decide as early as they can,” Crabtree said. “Even when that happens, you’re still going to have three, four or five schools that still try to swing them. I guess it’s going to be interesting to see how it all impacts the whole recruiting process.”
Lindsey notes that just because schools will have the option for increased frequency and options to contact prospects does not mean the prospects have to allow it.
“I would say that you don’t need to worry about it too much,” he said. “I think you should come up with a game plan, as I did with my family and my coach, and think of a way to keep it under control. That way you can concentrate on school and working your game to get better. Also, it makes sure you keep it level-headed and you don’t get too much exposure to where you get ‘the big head.’
“My main thing was to keep it under control and keep working your game.”
And to stick to a single answer no matter how many times he is asked the same question.