What's Life Like for an Elite High School Basketball Recruit?
With the top two high school men's basketball recruits in the ESPNU 100 set to declare their college decision tonight at 7:30 ET on ESPNU, it's the perfect time to take a step back and examine what these kids have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Take Nerlens Noel, the No. 1 recruit in the ESPNU 100, who's deciding among the University of Kentucky, Syracuse University, and Georgetown University. In an ongoing blog on ESPN.com, Noel's been describing his recruiting process since reclassifying from the class of 2013 to the class of 2012.
For some of this stuff, you have to read it to believe it.
Noel was down in New Orleans for the All-American Championships the same weekend of the Final Four, and as you might imagine, Kentucky fans were out in droves. Here, Noel describes his experience on Bourbon Street:
"I literally got stopped hundreds of times and took dozens and dozens of pictures. The fans were showing me so much love out there, and I definitely have to say that most of the fans were from Kentucky.
Now, of course that had a lot to do with the fact that they were playing there, but I'm always just shocked at how dedicated Kentucky fans are. One man asked me if I wanted to take his wife home with me."
Surprised at the level of celebrity these 17- and 18-year-olds have already attained? Their Twitter followings are more proof. Noel's handle, @NerlensNoel3, has more than 20,000 followers, while the Twitter account of Shabazz Muhammad, the No. 2 recruit in the ESPNU 100, has 30,000-plus followers.
For a frame of reference, the Twitter account for the Philadelphia Inquirer currently has just under 30,000 followers. Yes, a high school basketball player is more popular on Twitter than a major metropolitan newspaper.
The Downsides to Fame
It's not all about accumulating Twitter followers and being offered spouses for these top recruits. There's plenty of negativity surrounding the process, too.
An anonymous highly rated recruit, going by the moniker "Recruit X," recently blogged on ESPN.com about what limits coaches have during the recruiting process.
Apparently, there aren't many.
"I had a coach ask me one time how many minutes I would want to play and what offense I would want to run and then said he could make it happen. They will do and say anything to get us.
Fans don't like to believe stuff like that about their school, but trust me I've got lots of schools on me and every coach pretty much makes promises.
The other thing they do is straight dis other coaches.
Any coach who says he doesn't do that is lying."
For Noel, the price of fame has been especially troubling, if you're to believe a New York Times article from March. Noel's rise to the top was accompanied by "fringe figures hoping to latch on to a player seemingly more viewed as a commodity than a teenager," Pete Thamel wrote.
George Wright-Easy, one of Noel's many mentors, told Thamel, "I feel like the kid is a piece of meat right now, and he's going to be used. ... Grown men are fighting over a kid."
Noel denied many of the claims in the Times article in one of his blog posts, saying, "The negative things in that article just aren't true. I'm a positive guy and I want to move forward in a positive direction with positive people."
In a few hours, Noel and Muhammad will each announce their college decision. They'll likely receive countless tweets over those next couple days, either praising their decision (by fans at their new schools) or tearing their choice apart (by fans at the schools they passed over).
Just another typical day in the life of a top high school basketball recruit.
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