Carl Tinsley planned to finally start cashing in his wife's gift of 30 sessions with a personal trainer. The former Oregon City (Ore.) High girls basketball coach had scheduled a workout last month for early one afternoon. The night before the workout, Carl's son, Brad, a star point guard at Oregon City, received a release from the Letter of Intent he signed in November with Pepperdine.
The next morning, Carl Tinsley's cell phone exploded.
Carl ended up canceling the workout -- and just about everything else he'd planned for that day -- as he fielded phone calls from dozens college coaches. Brad Tinsley, who had picked the Waves from a group of finalists that included Cal and Utah, suddenly was getting interest from North Carolina, Kentucky, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Oklahoma and just about everyone else.
"It kind of hit me in one big wave," Brad Tinsley said. "It got really crazy really fast."
Tinsley didn't expect any of this. He planned to play for Vance Walberg -- who had hired longtime family friend Mark Campbell as an assistant -- in Malibu, Calif. But Walberg resigned on Jan. 17, leaving Tinsley wondering what he should do next. After praying hard over the decision for about two weeks, Tinsley decided to ask for his release. Once he got it, he realized he was a wanted man.
Carl Tinsley, who now runs a company that organizes amateur girls basketball tournaments, believes his son got swept into a perfect recruiting storm. Brad had several suitors before the LeBron James Skills Academy last July, but his play there caught the attention of plenty of coaches. By that point, Carl said, Brad already had narrowed his choices. After Brad received his release, coaches already intrigued by his play at the LeBron James camp had three months since the early signing period to evaluate their rosters and determine their needs for next season. Plenty realized they could use a point guard who can manage the game and shoot from outside. Those schools, Carl Tinsley said, joined the previous schools who tried to recruit Brad the first time around.
"Now that he's opened it back up, there are other schools -- like Wake or like Oklahoma -- who are looking at him because he now fits a need," Carl Tinsley said. "He's top 100 in the country and still available. There aren't many of those left."
The experience has made Carl Tinsley rethink his opinion on college basketball's early signing period. Carl, who helped dozens of girls earn basketball scholarships, said he always recommended his players sign in November instead of April.
"I always thought it was best for our kids to sign early," Carl said. "I have found that maybe that isn't always the best thing. Just rushing to get a scholarship so you can play your senior year with no pressure, I think there are some really good things about that. But I also found that Brad was under-recruited a little bit."
It's an interesting quandary for a recruit. A player can sign in November and be guaranteed a scholarship and a less stressful senior season, but the player then runs the risk of the coach he signed with getting fired. Choose to sign in April, and all the scholarships might get taken by players who were willing to sign in November. I thought it would be interesting to see how a coach would interpret the situation, so I asked Florida coach Billy Donovan what he would recommend if his own child was the one being recruited.
"If you're going to wait to sign in April in college basketball, then you have to be willing to live with the fact that the school that's recruiting you could possibly get someone who plays your position," Donovan said. "I've been on both sides of it.
"Travis Ford, when he transferred to Kentucky, he was going to take all five of his visits. He was going to go at his pace. But his favorite schools, because of his delay, took other people. I would look at it as, if [my son] could go to a place he loved, that's where he wanted to be, his mind was made up and he was 100 percent sure that's what he wanted to do, I'd have no problem with him signing in November. The flip side of it? The coach may not be there."
While Donovan calls choosing a signing date an "inexact science," Brad Tinsley knows what he would recommend. "If you feel comfortable with a coaching staff and feel that school is best for you," he said, "I would say go ahead and sign."
To keep pressure off his son as Brad tries to lead Oregon City to a state title, Carl has handled most of the phone calls. For example, USC coach Tim Floyd left a message on Brad's cell phone one day last month. Brad jotted down Floyd's number and handed it to his dad to return the call. Brad has nothing against Floyd; to be fair to all the coaches recruiting him, he feels that if he answers one call, he'll have to answer them all. Then he'd never get anything done.
Brad said he can't help but notice the assistant coaches in their school polo shirts at his games. He'd love to block them out, but he occasionally gazes into the stands during a dead ball or before he shoots a free throw. Last week, North Carolina coach Roy Williams was supposed to attend an Oregon City practice, but travel delays kept him from coming. The Tar Heels haven't offered Brad a scholarship, but they might, so they remain on his list.
Tinsley's Rivals.com profile looks different than those of his 2008 classmates. While most players have four or five schools listed, Brad has 21. Carl said the actual number of schools actively recruiting his son is between 30 and 40. So while Brad tries to win a state title, Carl will keep making index cards that break down the pros and cons at each school recruiting his son. Carl said the $64,000 Question is whether his son will leave the west coast.
When Brad's season wraps later this month, father and son will narrow the list. Brad can take four more official visits, and he may use them. Carl plans to offer advice, but he wants Brad to make the final decision. Then, when the ink is dry on Brad's second Letter of Intent, Carl may finally get to use all those personal training sessions.
Here's a quick update to my story from Friday about Daniel Smith, the Boise, Idaho, senior who is suing the University of Hawaii because, he claims, Warriors coaches yanked his scholarship offer after a 10-month commitment. There have been at least two similar cases in the past eight years, both involving basketball players, but the schools in question settled before either case could go to trial.
In 2000, Andrew Coates sued Northwestern, claiming then-coach Kevin O'Neill had breached a contract by offering a scholarship and then yanking the offer after Coates played poorly at a camp. By the time the offer was pulled, Coates claimed, other schools had already given away their scholarships. Coates ended up playing at Penn, which does not offer athletic scholarships.
Coates originally filed the suit in his home state of Washington, but it was moved to federal court. Northwestern settled the case in 2001, but terms were not disclosed.
In 2003, basketball player John Bedford sued Davidson, claiming Coach Robert McKillop had committed fraud by offering a scholarship in writing only to revoke the offer after he found better players. Bedford, who went on to play at Amherst, filed his suit in his home state of New Jersey.
Bedford's mother, Rita Driscoll, said Monday that Davidson settled the case. She said a confidentially agreement barred her from revealing terms of the settlement. Driscoll also said the NCAA is truly to blame for allowing the current system to exist.
"It's disgraceful that there isn't a law or a bylaw in the NCAA that restricts these letters and these promises," Driscoll said. "The coaches understand the game. It's the kids who don't know the rules."
So what does this mean for Smith's case? It's hard to say, because both Coates and Bedford received written scholarship offers. Smith said he received a verbal scholarship offer, and he'll have to prove that he did. Several sports law scholars interviewed for last week's story said they'd be interested to see what might happen if such a case ever reached a jury. But judging by the results of the two basketball cases, it seems schools would prefer the system of verbal commitments didn't receive the scrutiny a trial by jury would bring.