Written By Ian Begley AND Ebenezer Samuel
NY DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITERS
Under new NCAA guidelines, unsigned high school seniors like Tyreak Johnson (14), Rasheem King (20) and Isiah Stokley (10) can no longer spend April playing in front of college coaches.
The clock is ticking, and Rasheem King knows it.
The 6-4, 180-pound senior from Xaverian is chasing a Division I basketball scholarship, but like many unsigned seniors, he's struggling to generate interest because of the NCAA 's new recruiting calendar.
In previous years, King and others would spend April traveling to grassroots tournaments around the nation, playing before top college coaches in hopes of securing scholarship offers.
But the NCAA voted to cancel this year's spring "live period," essentially banning Div. I college coaches from attending April events. The next live evaluation period won't occur until July, well after the spring signing period (April 15-May 20).
That's left the city's many uncommitted players frustrated. Some, like CHSAA Player of the Year Sean Johnson, are weighing options, and others, like Molloy's Russ Smith , have elected to attend prep school this fall.
But there are many like King, whose ability places them right on the cusp of a Div. I scholarship. King led the Clippers to the CHSAA ‘AA'Intersectional quarterfinals and grabbed all-league first team honors. Yet less than three months before graduation, his college plans remain murky.
"It seems like I don't have any options," he says. "I ain't going to lie. I am upset."
The NCAA says it had its reasons for ending April's live period. According to an e-mail from spokesperson Jennifer Kearns , the NCAA hopes to address the "significant amount of class time missed by prospective student athletes ... to accommodate travel to and from events." Kearns adds that the decision was backed by the National Association of Basketball Coaches .
None of that helps uncommitted seniors. While a few in the hoops community agree that the NCAA has academics in mind, many believe the rule erases a key chance for players to earn Div. I scholarships.
In past seasons, prospects used April tourneys to springboard from anonymity to Div. I hoops. College programs gave scholarships to top-tier prospects during the high school season and simply tracked the performance of lower-level players.
When the April tourneys began, college coaches with open scholarships canvassed the nation, filling roster holes, waiting for seniors to prove themselves. Two years ago, former Providence assistant Steve DeMeo traveled to tourneys in Texas , Ohio and Rhode Island .
"You had a chance to see everyone in one place," says DeMeo, now an assistant at Central Florida. "Hundreds (of players)."
Now coaches watch only a few players at a time during high school workouts. With colleges tightening recruiting budgets, some coaches are less interested in researching unsigned, unknown seniors.
Last season, most of the city's top players made college commitments long before April. But that was a banner season for city hoops. This season, the Big Apple seems full of mid-major talents, and most players are still searching for scholarships.
"Last year's class was very deep," says Billy Turnage, the coach of Wings Academy. "This year's class has more mid-majors."
According to scouting analyst Dave Telep, it's those players who will struggle to draw late attention under the new recruiting restrictions.
"It's the opportunities for mid-major kids that are lost," Telep says.
"Who's going to a workout at Forest Hills High School or Edison ?" asks one Colonial Athletic Association assistant. "The way things are, you have to know the kids you're going after by now."
That leaves King and many others in a bind. Rice's Jonathan Williams has collected Div. II offers, but his mother Lorraine says he'd hoped for more. "He wants to go to a Division I school," she says.
Edison's Isiah Stokley has drawn interest from a handful of schools, but he has no offers. He plans to spend April mailing out highlight tapes.
Stokley believes he could have helped himself more if he'd had this month to impress colleges. "I think about (college) every day," he says.
"But what can I do?"
The NCAA claims it wants to eliminate athletes'over-reliance on one month in their pursuit of a college scholarship.
Kearns says the NCAA has watched April for quite some time, and it's struggled to decide how to handle the month. In 2006, officials
increased the month's evaluation time from two weekends to three, before slashing the period entirely this year.
The NCAA maintains that travel tourneys had come to dominate April in recent years. Some players missed classes to head to tournaments on Thursdays or Fridays, then returned to the city tired on Mondays.
"I would love to know the percentage of kids who come from an AAU trip who show up to school on Monday," says Jefferson HS coach Lawrence Pollard . "These kids ... jump right into AAU, and academics take a backseat. At the end of the day, I understand what the NCAA is doing."
The rule, however, won't preclude players from attending April tourneys. Grassroots events such as the King James Shooting Stars Classic in Akron , Ohio, and the Houston Kingwood Classic will go on without Div. I coaches. "Kids want to play," Xaverian coach Jack Alesi says. "They have to play to get better."
Additionally, some players still hope make names for themselves at grassroots tournaments. AAU coaches and prep school coaches will still be in attendance, and college coaches may call them for advice. One AAU coach says he fielded a plethora of calls following a recent New Jersey tournament.
"You have to trust the people around you more," says DeMeo.
Coaches also will deal with the situation. Some say they may rely more on internet reports. And as the CAA assistant says, coaches must "pound the pavement," likely watching more high school games during the season.
"It's hard to get out during the school year ... we're in our seasons," adds Xavier University assistant Emanuel Richardson . "But you have to put yourself in the best position possible."
That's what many uncommitted seniors are working to do, too. Many are pursuing scholarships using outlets outside of travel tournaments. Some, like Stokley, are focusing on grades. In the end, everyone expects to adapt.
"The NCAA made the rule," says Wings Academy coach Billy Turnage . "We just have to follow it."