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Early decisions can have fallout

July 26, 2008|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- If Kendall Williams follows through on his commitment and enrolls at UCLA in the fall of 2010, he'll be considered something of a rarity in recruiting circles.

High school basketball players such as the 6-foot-3 junior point guard from Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos are making oral, nonbinding commitments earlier and earlier as college coaches seek to reload their increasingly transient rosters and become the first to secure top talent.

The pledges often don't stick though. In some instances, players simply change their minds and go elsewhere. For instance, star prospect Taylor King reneged on a commitment he made to UCLA as a high school freshman and attended Duke.

In other cases, high school players don't develop as projected and are either quietly brushed aside by college coaches or informed that they won't get much playing time.

The earlier high school players commit, recruiting experts say, the less likely they are to honor their promise.

"If you went back over the last five to 10 years, of the freshmen and sophomores who committed, over half of them haven't held up," said Clark Francis, editor and publisher of hoopscooponline.com.

Williams committed to the Bruins in the fall of his sophomore year, and that was long after another player, Ryan Boatwright of Aurora, Ill., had committed to USC -- as an eighth-grader.

Boatwright, now a 5-10 sophomore guard in high school, has not yet proven to be a Pacific 10 Conference-caliber player.

"He might not be one of the top 20, 30 players in the state of Illinois in his class," Francis said. "If he was not going to USC and had not committed in the eighth grade, no one would know who he is."

Those close to Williams say they are confident that his commitment will work out for both sides.

"If you know where you want to go and you're the type of kid who doesn't waver and doesn't feel he's going to have any second thoughts about it, then I think it's a great decision," said Miles Simon, the former Arizona standout who is helping to coach Williams' team in the Adidas Super 64 tournament here.

UCLA coaches are forbidden from commenting on recruits until the players sign letters of intent, but they have maintained a presence at Williams' games this week, with Bruins assistants Donny Daniels and Scott Garson in the stands Friday morning at Las Vegas Desert Pines High.

Williams says he feels pressure to perform every time he steps on the court even though he has secured a scholarship offer from his dream school.

"Anything can change at any time," said Williams, who cannot sign a letter of intent for another 15 months. "Nothing's permanent, so I still have to prove that I'm able to play with the best."

There was a time not so long ago when Robert Williams might have bet that Durham, N.C., was a more likely destination for his son, who grew up with Duke posters on his wall.

But Williams told his father shortly before Christmas of his freshman year that he wanted to go to UCLA and become the next in a list of distinguished point guards that includes Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook. He announced his decision publicly last November.

Was Robert Williams nervous or excited upon hearing his son announce his commitment?

"Yes," he said, smiling broadly as he recalled the mix of emotions. "UCLA has always been my choice, but I wanted him to make the decision and make sure that was the place he wanted to go. . . . He wants to do something in the sports field, he wants to stay in L.A. and thought that UCLA would be a good place to get an education along with playing some basketball."

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

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ON LATIMES.COM

Basketblogging: Let Ben Bolch keep you up on all the on- and off-court action from the Las Vegas basketball tournaments in his dispatches on the Varsity Times blog.

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