Joker Phillips on soft commits

"It is a different world. Commitment means you know who your competition is now," Phillips said. "If somebody commits you know who the competition is and sometimes not much else.

Once upon a time when a high school athlete verbally committed to a school, that is where he was going to go.

Now we have the hard commit — a player is near certain he will attend the school he says he will — and the soft commit — the player immediately makes it clear he will take visits and look for other scholarship offers.

"I am not sure how that came about. I remember when if you said you committed, that is where you were going. But I also remember the days of everybody doing exactly what their parents told them to do, too," said Kentucky coach Joker Phillips.

So how does a coach like Phillips handle the soft commits where players verbally commit but then list other schools they'll visit and still might consider signing with?

"A so-called soft commit, we don't consider that a commit," Phillips said.

That would mean the 14 verbal commitments UK has in its 2011 recruiting class would only translate to about 10 commits on Phillips' personal list because several players have indicated they are still open-minded about their recruitment.

"We continue to recruit and let the chips fall where they may. If that is a soft commit, we have to continue to recruit that position," Phillips said. "Somebody might get left out, too. That is the game kids play when they consider themselves a soft commit and actually advertise it is a soft commit."

That's the way it should be. If it is okay for a player to continue to look around, then the school that took his soft commitment has to keep recruiting to protect itself. If that would eventually mean a scholarship offer might be withdrawn from a soft commitment, that seems only fair to me.

Phillips doesn't know how it could be any other way.

"My first response is that if you are going to look, then we are going to look," Phillips said. "First we try to make it where we change it from a soft to a hard commitment, but we also have to take care of Kentucky.

"We have a program to run and sometimes we have to tell kids if they want to look, we have to look and do what is best for the program. There are no hard feelings. We just have to take care of this program. That's No. 1 for our side." Phillips has told players in the past Kentucky could not take a "soft" commitment. He did that with talented South Carolina athlete Jerrell Priester last year. Priester had verbally committed to Vanderbilt but wanted to switch to Kentucky. However, he didn't want Phillips to tell anyone, including then UK head coach Rich Brooks.

"He wanted to commit and I wanted him to make sure that is what he wanted to do. I actually told him no a couple of times to see how persistent he would be and he was persistent," Phillips said. "I told him if he still feels this way in a couple of days, we will take it. He called back and we took his commitment finally.

‘It is a crazy business and the recruiting game has got really outrageous. There are a lot of games played on both ends. We try to stay away from games. If a kid commits to us, we try to be as firm as we can with them.

"The other thing is that sometimes an injury might come into play that we did not know about. We do not want to be mis-informed. That allows us to get out of commitments if that happens. But as long as somebody as been upfront with, we consider ours a hard commit if the kid is sincere about wanting to sign with us." Phillips says he's had to become more flexible in recruiting during his coaching career.

"It is a different world. Commitment means you know who your competition is now," Phillips said. "If somebody commits you know who the competition is and sometimes not much else. "If other guys committed to other places are soft, we continue to recruit as long as we know they are soft. If they are hard commits, then we go away. If we feel like a kid is putting feelers out there, we have to keep recruiting just to protect ourselves just like the kids feel like they have to do."


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