Rush to Judgment
The early-signing period has increased, not eased, pressure on
The NCAA created the early-signing period for high school seniors
in 1982 to ease the stress on recruits who were ready to commit.
Instead, it has forced an increasing number of schoolboys to make
An unprecedented number of top-flight prospects will sign
national letters of intent during this Nov. 11-18 period, and
that seems to have increased the pressure on high school stars
to commit earlier and earlier. Eighty-one of the top 100 players
ranked by Bob Gibbons, publisher of the recruiting newsletter
All Star Sports, had made verbal commitments to schools by Oct.
28. Many of those commitments were given before the school year
even began. "It's like a stampede," Gibbons says. "One ACC coach
called me recently and said, 'I need to sign some players. Who's
left?' I said, 'There is no one left. If you don't have them by
now, you'd better start scrambling.'"
The trend reflects changes in the recruiting process that have
focused attention on younger kids with each passing year. "You
open up these basketball magazines and you see a list of the
best sixth-graders in the country," says Providence coach Tim
Welsh. "It's just not healthy, and coaches have created a lot of
it. I'm complaining about it, but if I don't put pressure on a
kid to commit early, I'm going to lose out."
Recruits such as Tony Robertson, a top-rated 6'3" point guard
from East Providence, are feeling the heat. Robertson took a
visit to Connecticut at his own expense on Aug. 15, saw the lay
of the land--that UConn coach Jim Calhoun was courting three
other top-ranked point guards--and gave a verbal commitment to
Calhoun on Aug. 20. "I just wanted to make sure I had my Number
1 choice before someone took my scholarship," says Robertson,
who claims the Huskies had been at the top of his list for some
time. Still, he might have changed his mind had he taken his
planned official visits to Kansas, Kentucky and Florida in
September and October.
Robertson's signing caused other dominoes to fall. Robertson
informed his friend Majestic Mapp, a 6'2" point guard from New
York City who was also considering UConn, that he had committed.
"He was kind of shocked," Robertson says. A week later Mapp
scheduled an unofficial visit to Virginia, which prompted
Cavaliers coach Pete Gillen to call another recruit, 6-foot Todd
Billet of Lincroft, N.J., to try to press Billet to make a
decision. Billet decided to make like a point guard and pass. "I
just didn't feel that [choosing under pressure] was a good way
to decide on a college," he says. Mapp committed to Virginia on
his visit. Billet is still sifting through offers from five
The way coaches and recruits are forced to make increasingly
hurried decisions might help explain why there appears to be an
increase in transfers the last few years, especially among elite
players such as Jason Collier (who moved from Indiana to Georgia
Tech), Mike Chappell (Duke to Michigan State), Luke Axtell
(Texas to Kansas) and Loren Woods (Wake Forest to Arizona). "The
early-signing period is kind of obsolete now with all these
[verbal] commitments," Billet says. "The system needs to be
altered somehow so we can see the schools and get more
comfortable with the coaches."
Rating the Recruiting Hauls
The Rich Are Getting Richer
Because very few top high school seniors will be available when
the April signing period begins, college coaches will try next
week to get as many as they can while the gettin's good. Here
are the schools that apparently will clean up during the
1. KENTUCKY. The Wildcats locked up commitments from two players
who will be on most top 10 lists: 6'4" Keith Bogans from DeMatha
High in Hyattsville, Md., and 6'10" Marvin Stone from Huntsville,
Ala. The Cats also expect to have the services of 7-foot,
290-pound John Stewart from Indianapolis, who could thrive once
he loses some weight.
2. DUKE. The Blue Devils have commitments from 6'2" Jason
Williams of Metuchen, N.J., who blends an explosive first step
with superb court vision, and 6'10" Casey Sanders of Tampa, a
slashing power forward in the Marcus Camby mold. If Duke can add
either 6'5" Michael Dunleavy Jr. from Portland or Alaska's 6'8"
Carlos Boozer (who says he'll wait until spring to sign), many
experts will rank this the No. 1 class in the nation.
3. KANSAS. A year after missing out on several top targets, coach
Roy Williams scored with 6'9" Nick Collison from Iowa Falls, 6'9"
Andrew Gooden from El Cerrito, Calif., and should also sign 6'3"
Kirk Hinrich from Sioux City, Iowa, who originally committed to
Florida, Virginia and Connecticut are also poised for first-rate
recruiting hauls. North Carolina will move up the charts if
Dunleavy and 6'4" Joe Forte, Bogans's backcourtmate at DeMatha,
opt for Chapel Hill.
Jeff Ruland's Turnabout
Do As I Say, Not As I Did
Iona senior forward Kashif Hameed swears he is telling the
truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but he is
wilting under cross-examination. His coach and prosecutor, Jeff
Ruland, is grilling Hameed about a report Ruland received that
the player has been insufficiently diligent about attending
class. "You're scamming me," Ruland says, as Hameed attempts to
draw a Clintonesque distinction between late and absent. Then
Ruland abruptly cuts off the questioning. "Let me put it this
way," he says. "I'm gonna get you." Just like Rambo, only Ruland
has bigger biceps.
What makes this scene noteworthy isn't so much the inquisition
as it is the inquisitor. Ruland was a two-time All-America when
he played at Iona from 1977-78 to '79-80, but he is the first to
admit that he majored in cutting class (with a minor in
bar-hopping). "I hated school, I really did," he says. Entering
his first year as head coach at his alma mater, the 6'10",
290-pound Ruland is giving no slack when it comes to his
players' academic obligations. During the first week of practice
he kicked 6'5" guard Devonaire Deas, a blue-chip transfer from
Florida State, off the team because Deas kept blowing off
classes. "I'm just trying to get these guys to skip some of the
mistakes I made," Ruland says. "If somebody had said to me, 'If
you don't go to class, you're not going to play,' that would
have gotten my attention."
That isn't lip service. Ruland played for six years in the
NBA--making the All-Star team twice--before injuries forced him
to retire at age 28, but when he decided to get into coaching,
he hit a snag. He didn't have a degree, having bypassed his
senior year to turn pro. So in January 1990, Ruland, who lives
in Medford, N.J., with his wife, Maureen, and their three
daughters, reenrolled at Iona. For the next 18 months he sat in
class with other undergraduates and worked to earn the 70
credits (out of 120) he needed to get his sheepskin. He
graduated in June 1991.
"I still hated going to class," he says. "But for all of the
things I achieved in basketball, getting my degree has been,
next to my family, my greatest accomplishment." Ruland served
three years as an assistant at Iona before assuming the top spot
last April after Tim Welsh left to become coach at Providence.
As an assistant Ruland used to put the entire team through 6
a.m. wind sprints if one player so much as missed a class. He's
still very much the enforcer, peering into classrooms, staying
in touch with teachers, monitoring study hall. With the Gaels
bringing back two all-league selections, Hameed and junior
forward Tariq Kirksay, from last year's MAAC champions, Ruland
has every reason to look forward to his inaugural season as
coach. "I'm right where I want to be," he says.
No doubt his players will be where he wants them to be, too.