Friday, 07 November 2014 13:54

When is Too Soon, Too Soon?

By Damian Fantauzzi | Sports

There is a soon-to-be 13-year-old seventh grade girl, Deja (Dasha) Kelly from San Antonio Texas, who has verbally, committed to the University of Texas women's basketball program.

Yes, I said 13. 

Wait a minute, how can that be? Doesn't the NCAA have restrictions about that? Well, yes and no.

At 11, as a fifth grader, Deja had multiple colleges express an interest in her, and last year as a sixth grader, her dream school, the University of Texas, came on to the scene. Because of her age, her commitment could only be verbal, which is non-binding, and that's a good thing.
I have seen video footage of this youngster and she is the real deal, and with her skill level, she's in a league of her own.

She's a very mature kid who looks older than her years. In an interview with NBC's Janet Shamlian on the Today Show, listening to her talk during the interview, you would think she was a 20-year-old. But, she's a middle school "KID" in the seventh grade, and at her age there are so many things that lay ahead for her.

Her dad, Darren Kelly, was a point guard at Texas and her mom, Theresa Nunn, who is her AAU coach, is a former Division II college player. Her parents seem OK with this process. Her dad did express that he would like to see her go through the recruiting process, with other schools in the mix, as she moves forward into the end of her high school experience. 
What is the problem with this scenario and where do I start? Even though Deja is a story of exception, I feel what is happening in youth sports is that the kids are becoming, at a much younger age, too focused on the target of grandeur in the success of athletics, or stardom!

It’s admirable that this kid is that mature, but for whose sake and at what cost? Is this exploitation by colleges and universities or an obvious fault in system of college recruiting— or maybe both? Should this be allowed? Personally, I don't like it! 

It used to be that college coaches and scouts would go to high school games around a prospect's junior year. Then, and only then, the universities could make personal contact with the players. Now that AAU has exploded onto the scene, and I do mean exploded, players are being seen and are coming under the scrutiny and consideration of college coaches, while some are still in elementary school.

There are a number of college coaches who don't even bother to go to high school games to recruit. Most head coaches will send their assistant coaches to the many AAU tournaments across the country, where on a weekend there are literally hundreds of kids playing basketball. It's like a candy store of basketball players. Many of these college coaches are over-stimulated by their sweet tooth for sugar-coated basketball players. This, unfortunately, has become the new norm.

So that means potential superstar Deja Kelly plans to become a freshman at UT by the year 2020. Oh, what could happen between now and then? A lot!

For one thing, she can change her mind, and that's on the upside because her commitment is non-binding. Maybe Geno Auriemma, UConn's extremely successful women's basketball coach, who has nine national championships, can sweep her off of her feet to play for UConn. Options are always good.

My quarrel with the NCAA asks the question, “Where's the integrity of ‘big time’ college sports?”

It has become such a money game for these schools that they have gone too far by looking at "little kids" as prospects for the future of their athletic programs.

The integrity of collegiate sports is flawed when you look at what was just revealed about the University of North Carolina, where there was a period in time when some athletes were getting good grades as no-show students (a topic I will be addressing soon). The shame! Believe me when I say that UNC is not the only school fudging grades for their athletes.

Think how we used to feel. It was crazy watching these little girls in gymnastics competing in the Olympics. The OCC has an age limit. I'm sure it's 13, with rumors of China and Russia forging birth certificates. Thirteen? Color me surprised!

Winning has become the most important thing in the world of sports and I can't shake the idea of "winning at all cost.”

There's more to playing sports than that. How far down can these college programs fall into the rabbit hole? Whatever happened to the revered philosophy, “do the right thing”?

Giving these starstruck "little" athletes the idea that they are already big time prospects— is that fair to them and their families?

Sounds crazy, and in my opinion, it is! Believe it when I say the parents can be as starstruck as their children. These kids might still like watching the Disney movie, “Frozen,” and then be expected to commit to playing basketball, or whatever sport, at a big-time University, like Texas! 

This just doesn't seem right, and at the ages of 12 through 16, or 17, shouldn't these young players be enjoying the process of playing sports for the fun of it?

There are so many stories about kids who burned out from over-play, accompanied with the abusive tactics of some coaches who have personal goals and/or parents who are living their dream through their child. All this because of the unnecessary pressure put on these youngsters to excel in a sport.

This is fundamentally wrong and these college programs need to rethink their method of recruitment. I find this scenario disturbing and I see it as another black mark against collegiate sports. 

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