SEC Coaches Criticize

FAYETTEVILLE — Whether they like it or not, Southeastern Conference basketball coaches are realizing that they can no longer wait to recruit a talented high school player

"I've gotten calls from high school coaches and AAU coaches that say we (the Volunteers) are falling behind on the sophomores," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said Monday during an SEC basketball teleconference.

A recent trend has seen some players commit to colleges long before their senior year of high school, and that has caused several college coaches to hit the recruiting trail earlier than usual.

Over the past two years, University of Southern California coach Tim Floyd has offered scholarships to a pair of eighth-graders, who each gave a verbal commitment to play for the Trojans.

The idea of recruiting younger and younger players was the hot topic Monday when the SEC coaches took questions from reporters.

"This whole trend is making me a little queasy on a lot of different levels," Georgia coach Dennis Felton said. "I think the earlier the kids commit, the less committed they really are to that commitment.

"You're seeing more kids de-commit, so now it's starting to become more acceptable."

Pearl said offering scholarships to teenagers who still have a few more years to play before college could "stunt" their growth.

South Carolina coach Dave Odom isn't a fan of the trend, either, and he said he doesn't want his assistant coaches to get into the practice of offering scholarships to underclassmen.

"I don't pay much attention to eighth-grade commitments, ninth-grade commitments or 10th-grade commitments for that matter because there is so much basketball to be played," Odom said.

Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said he can see the downsides to offering scholarships to young players, but he's not entirely against it.

"I have seen a couple of eighth-graders that are going to be freshman, and if they wanted to commit to Arkansas, I'd certainly let them," Pelphrey said with a slight laugh.

High On Vols

At this time last year, Florida was undeniably the team to beat in the SEC. The Gators were the defending national champions, and they were returning their entire starting lineup.

But with Florida in somewhat of a rebuilding mode, there is some uncertainty as to which team is the favorite to win the SEC this upcoming season. For now, Tennessee — with the return of league leading scorer Chris Lofton — is the popular choice.

"I certainly think that Tennessee will be the favorite with all that they have coming back," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "I think they probably lost less than anyone else in the division.

"So I would say they would be the favorite and then after that I don't know — depending on your view."

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