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JUST PREPS | THE PREPS / ERIC SHEPARD

Athletes Get Off Recruiting Merry-Go-Round

September 26, 1996|ERIC SHEPARD

You're a gifted athlete whose skills are sharp enough to capture the attention of college recruiters.

As your senior year approaches, the attention increases. Letters from eager recruiters arrive by the dozen, and your phone rings early in the morning and late at night.

After figuring out the four or five schools you're interested in, you schedule the five weekend visitations allowed by the NCAA. And on these all-expense-paid trips, you prepare to get first-class treatment from coaches and players eager for you to join their team.

It's a process that was established years ago, and one many athletes look forward to.

But not all.

Consider Baron Davis, a 6-foot-1 senior point guard from Crossroads High in Santa Monica, who played so well in camps and tournaments over the summer that he is among the most coveted basketball recruits in the nation.

Roy Williams of Kansas and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke are two of the many coaches who asked Davis to visit their schools.

Last week, Davis said he will attend UCLA next year.

Davis is 2 1/2 months away from the beginning of basketball season. He can't sign a national letter of intent until Nov. 13, and he never even had a coach visit his home. Yet he decided his future is with the Bruins.

"I have a lot of respect for Coach K and Coach Williams, and I didn't want to lead them on or anything," said Davis, who has already met NCAA academic entrance requirements for a scholarship.

"When it all boiled down to it, it was, 'Do I really want to be away from home for four years, and live somewhere like Kansas or Durham?' I'm not saying they're bad places, but I'm from L.A. and I've been here all my life."

Davis isn't the first local basketball player to announce his college plans this year. Long Beach Poly's Mike McDonald, a highly recruited 6-1 guard, made a verbal commitment to Stanford last month.

After taking an unofficial recruiting visit to Stanford with his parents, McDonald decided he had seen enough.

"If you know what you want to do, do it before someone else beats you to it," McDonald said. "I won't miss the recruiting process because I knew what I wanted. I can always go up there on my own and hang out with the guys and coaches."

Another top prospect, forward Schea Cotton of Bellflower St. John Bosco, also bypassed the process by saying earlier this month that he will sign with Long Beach State.

Basketball players have the option of signing a letter of intent during a five-day period in November or waiting until mid-April.

The early signing period was established several years ago by the NCAA to lessen the pressure on players during their senior year. As a result, recruits are announcing their plans earlier and earlier.

Olujimi Mann of Santa Ana Valley announced during the middle of his junior year in 1995, for example, that he would attend UCLA. The 6-4 guard didn't meet academic requirements, however, and recently enrolled at Cerritos College.

"The recruiting process starts so much earlier than it used to that I think most top players are worn down by their senior year and just want to get it over with," said Steve Lavin, UCLA's basketball recruiting coordinator.

In football, the traditional letter of intent day in February is no longer a day of surprises. Nearly all players have made their decisions long before that.

Quarterback David Priestley of Brethren Christian in Cypress announced two weeks ago--three days before his school's first game--that he will sign with Ohio State. A week later, quarterback Austin Moherman of Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley, also said he will sign with the Buckeyes.

Priestley, 6-4 and 200 pounds, attended several camps over the summer and said he was treated well by some coaches and shabbily by others. Although he had the opportunity to take visits to such schools as Washington, California and Arizona State, he turned down their requests.

"A lot of the visitations are about fooling around, drinking and partying," Priestley said. "That is stuff I'm not interested in being part of on a recruiting trip, so I just followed my instincts and picked the place I felt the most comfortable."

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