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UK Gets Another Youngster: Now What?

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Another day, another commitment by a kid who still has yet to get a driver’s license. Today’s entry is of course the kid with the name straight out of the Sopranos, Vinny Zollo. Zollo is from Greenfield, Ohio and is listed at 6’8″ at this point (although height estimates on the kid do vary), with the possibility to grow into a 7 footer. He plays for the Indiana Elite AAU team, which is becoming fertile ground for the Billy Gillispie era, as it has also been home to 8th grade commitment Michael Avery. Zollo is a solid double-double kid, who some believe can turn into a star during his next three years of high school. He visited with Gillispie today and gave him his commitment, making Zollo the first member of the Class of 2011 for the Billy G era.

So what do we make of all this? Well put me firmly in the group of not sure what to think. I understand the pros and cons of such young commitments and unlike most, dont particularly have a strong opinion either way. If Gillispie is inclined to back out of a commitment if a kid does not develop (which my guess is that he is), then taking early commitments certainly doesnt hurt the program. There might be some minor loss in standing if families believe that a commitment wont be honored, but even the most naive parents must understand that a lot can change in 3 or 4 years. These commitments at this point are most certainly viewed by all sides as tentative and there really isnt a loss to the program by a kid taking such a commitment at a young age.

But I do admit that this style has taken a bit of the fun of recruiting out of it for me. Part of why I really enjoyed following the recruiting of the 2005-2008 classes is that you got to watch players develop and see schools go after players as they developed. While the time frame has moved up for virtually all recruiting, and the kid’s junior year has become what the Senior year once was, watching kids from the summer after their Sophomore year to the summer after their Junior year was actually quite entertaining. By that point, you had a feel for what the player was like, his strengths and weaknesses and you had a notion as to where he would fit on the next level. With guys as young as KC Ross-Miller and Dakotah Euton last year and Michael Avery and Vinny Zollo this year, that is simply not possible. It is not that you cant have a notion that a kid may not be a star….we have all seen ten year-olds play and have heard predictions of stardom at that age….but the fun of seeing the kid burst on the scene and decide what school he will attend has somewhat gone away….at least temporarily. Now we hear the name of a player that virtually no one has ever heard of…and a few minutes later he has committed. No time in between to learn about the player, compare strengths and weaknesses and figure out how he fits into the greater scheme.

Of course none of this means that the strategy by Gillispie isnt a good one. Gillispie may be on the outer edge of this recruiting trend, but he isnt alone….as USC and Arizona have embraced it as well. But, it certainly makes the sport of it less entertaining. I find myself much more interested in what Josh Harrellson will bring next year than what Vinny Zollo will bring in three years. In fact, with Zollo and Avery, I have almost no interest whatsoever in their commitments. It will be so long before they take the court that even the oldest one, Zollo, will be Freshman when guys that havent even put on a UK uniform yet (Miller and Liggins) are Seniors. I simply cant get worked up or excited about that…..and without that excitement, the whole purpose of following recruiting is somewhat lost to me.

I have often said in various interviews and conversations with people about the internet and college sports, that recruiting was what built this medium’s importance. Whereas the mainstream media ignored recruiting, the internet focused on it and now has become a major player in the sports news world. The internet forced the Courier Journal and the Herald Leader to focus on recruiting and now all media outlets, mainstream and internet, follow it religiously. But I do get a sense that the passion this summer in following the recruits has waned a bit. On the Barnstorming Tour, most who mentioned recruiting to me, talked about Josh Harrellson and only mentioned the younger guys to chuckle at the thought of recruiting an 8th grader. There are still those who are passionate about following every guy who UK may get, but I get the sense that their numbers are slightly fewer. As one man came and said to me in Northern Kentucky, “I can justify knowing all the High School Seniors and Juniors….but when it comes to Freshmen and 8th Graders, I am just too old for that stuff.”

I am starting to agree with that sentiment as well. While I understand the strategy of Coach Gillispie and can see why he is undertaking it, that doesnt change my interest in it. I will still follow recruiting on this site and Thomas and Evan are going to give plenty of updates on the 09 and 10 guys in the days to come. But I simply cannot make myself care about guys that are currently in middle school deciding where they are going to college. I appreciate the success of Coach Gillispie in the last few weeks, but of all the most recent commitments, only 2010 stud Dominique Ferguson even registers on my radar. We are in a new day in UK basketball, and maybe even college basketball, recruiting…..one that seems to me to be decidingly less fun. Bomani Jones always makes fun of me for “chasing these high school kids around” and following recruiting so in depth. Now that “high school” has changed to “middle school”, I may have to take Bomani’s advice and look for something more productive to investigate, like I dont know…..

Josh Harrellson’s jean shorts anyone?

and oh yeah…Harrellson will be on my show tonight at 8:20…check it out.

Article written by Matt Jones