LAS VEGAS -- In today's intensely scrutinized world of college basketball recruiting, it is rare that a teenage phenom fails to generate a buzz commensurate with his talent. That, however, is currently the case with Andre Drummond, a 6-foot-11 man-child from New London, Conn.
Drummond is young for a high school graduate; he will turn 18 on Aug. 10. He may be well-known among basketball junkies and recruitniks -- he's ranked No. 2 in the senior class by both Scout.com and Rivals.com, and ESPNU has him first -- but the casual fan has heard very little about him. After seeing him compete this week for his Connecticut Basketball Club at the adidas Super64 tournament in Las Vegas, I can report that Drummond is a special, special talent. I'd go so far as to say he's the best big man I've seen come out of high school basketball since Greg Oden six years ago.
Drummond is a bona fide freak. He's built like a man, yet he has great control of his body. He runs the floor like a gazelle, and just when he starts looking lost with the ball, he'll fire a pinpoint, no-look pass from almost anywhere on the court. From a skill standpoint he is far from a finished product -- his free throw shooting is so atrocious he launched two air balls during one game -- but that is curable. As I sat with a bunch of college coaches with our jaws agape, we conducted a running debate over which NBA player Drummond reminded us of the most. The most popular answers were Amar'e Stoudamire, Dwight Howard and the young Shawn Kemp.
So why isn't Drummond generating more buzz? In a word: uncertainty. People who have watched him far more than I have question his competitiveness. Those folks are more likely to compare him to Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry and the old Shawn Kemp. (For what it's worth, Drummond played very hard in the three games I watched. He also showed a great attitude, at one point standing on the bench and cheering for the scrubs who were getting major minutes at the end of a blowout.) But the greater uncertainty surrounds Drummond's future plans.
For the last two years, Drummond attended St. Thomas More, a prep school in Oakdale, Conn. After graduating this spring, he is academically qualified to play in college this fall. Yet, Drummond has not chosen a college and says he is contemplating returning to prep school for a postgraduate year. But if he does go back to prep school, he is not sure whether he will return to St. Thomas More or go somewhere else.
You follow me so far? There's more.
Regardless of where Drummond plays next season, he will be eligible for next year's NBA draft because his high school class will be one year removed from its graduation. (That rule could change depending on what happens with the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement, if ever there is one.) Drummond says he will finalize his plans in early August, but he has no idea what those plans will look like. "I know what I'm doing," he told me between games in Vegas, "but I just don't know exactly what I'm doing."
Drummond's uncertainty makes him the ideal poster child for the Class of 2012, which is bucking recent recruiting history. One of the major trends over the last decade has been the tendency of top players to announce their college choices earlier and earlier. It has gotten so bad that the National Association of Basketball Coaches had to ask its members to stop accepting verbal commitments before a player's junior season of high school.
Yet, out of the top 25 players ranked by Scout.com in the Class of 2012, only three have announced their college choices (They are 7-foot Isaiah Austin to Baylor, 6-9 Cameron Ridley to Texas and 6-3 Rasheed Sulaimon to Duke). Most of them have not even narrowed their lists to digestible sizes. The player often cited as the best player in the class, 6-5 Las Vegas native Shabazz Muhammad, still has 15 schools on his list (though most believe UCLA is the favorite). And he is far from unusual.
It is tempting to declare that this is the start of a new trend, but I'm not going to do that just yet. Nor do I believe that this has anything to do with the NBA lockout. If the rule is changed to allow high school kids to go straight to the league (which I hope it is), players can enter the draft regardless of whether they have signed a letter of intent. Regardless of the cause, the upshot of all this uncertainty is that we are in for a fascinating few months leading up to the November signing period. We could also have an unusually eventful spring signing period in April if players continue to put off their decisions.
In Drummond's case, this is all a surprising development. Because he has an August birthday, he and his family originally planned to put him in St. Thomas More for three years so he could begin his freshman year of college as a 19-year-old. Yet, in June his parents met with his coach at St. Thomas More, Jere Quinn, to let him know they were re-evaluating that plan. "It was an awkward meeting," said Quinn, who has been the head coach at the school for 34 years. "If he's going to college, it doesn't appear that they're talking to any colleges, because no one has called me about him. That's different than any other kid I've ever been associated with."
Quinn speaks highly of Drummond's character, but right now he's as confused as anyone. "I'm trying to get answers like everybody else," he said. "He's a wonderful kid. The folks from his [summer] team are getting involved, which was never the case in the past. He seems to be in a tennis match and isn't sure what direction he wants to go."
The only certainty right now is that Andre Drummond will be one of the top picks -- if not the top pick -- in the 2012 NBA draft. What happens between now and then is anybody's guess, but you can be sure that the outside world is going to start paying a lot more attention. A player this good can only stay under the radar for so long.