Reading the Tea Leaves

The recruitment of Detroit (MI) Renaissance blue-chipper Malik Hairston has drawn attention from all around the country. After months of weighing his options, taking visits, and doing what he could to make an informed decision, Hairston will announce his college choice tomorrow. Kyle Lamb checks in with some final thoughts today on where things stand.

Did you really think it would happen so simplistically? Months of agonizing, gut-wrenching, heart thumping anxiety in final anticipation of a Malik Hairston announcement that could be released at any moment, but really, did you honestly think it was that easy?

It's only been one year of monitoring Hairston, but doesn't it feel like an eternity? Even Oregon and Oklahoma fans who have only followed along for a few months, have started to wilt under the immense pressure associated with Indecision2004.

So here we are, Wednesday, just about 24 hours away and counting. An empty Renaissance school building will make home to the final chapter of a strange and bizarre recruitment that always appeared on the verge of ending but always defied logic.

And Al Gore thought he had it rough?

Unlike the 2000 presidential election, there will be no recounts, no Supreme Court hearings with Hairston. However, it apparently took a monumental compromise not even Gore or George Bush seemed willing to make to reach a finale.

But don't think everything is 100 percent certain just yet, for all the twists and turns, even a relieved Hairston seemed prone to remotely possible regret.

"I still need to marinate in my decision," a worn down Hairston told Bucknuts Monday evening.

Fortunately, this decision will not be counted by hand, and will not be influenced by the interpretation by what constitutes a hanging chad.

So as the Hairstons prepare to inform four of the six schools this evening that their tenure in recruiting Hairston has come to an end, the question now remains—who will it be?

Perhaps guessing the hairstyles of a Hollywood actress would be a more accurate representation than picking the brain of this indecisive 17-year old. However, Hairston has given some clues.

"I guess I can say Kansas is one of the last two or three," he told KUSports.com last night.

Hairston commented on the (unknown) school of his choice.

"This school is the overall (best) pick basketball-wise, connections to the future, everything," he further told KUsports. "I thought about it for a very long time. I used all my resources. It was a very difficult decision, one of the hardest made in my life. I think I have a very informed decision."

So we now know Kansas is one of the final three at very least, but will that be anything more than just a consolation? Even most close to the Jayhawk program suspect a call will be coming from the Detroit area this evening.

Who else are candidates?

Before you go any further, you can't at least fail to mention the home school in this process, Michigan.

Michigan is the sentimental favorite simply because they are the easiest for Hairston to pick. His mother would most certainly enjoy him being just a half hour away, and he's very fond of current Wolverines Dion Harris and Lester Abram.

However, if Hairston and his father Richard were trying to prepare Michigan fans for a letdown, they did a fine job.

The Hairstons used criteria in which to help guide and select a final school. The criteria ranged from playing time, to comfort level, to relationship with the coaching staff, and team chemistry amongst many other things. Michigan finished dead last in these rankings.

Another conspicuous issue shadowing Michigan, as well as Kansas, is playing time. Reportedly playing time has played a key role in the decision-making process, and even the Hairstons have acknowledged these two teams being behind the eight ball in regards to that.

A few weeks ago, Hairston told InsidersHoops.com analyst Dave Telep that Kansas and Michigan had the least to offer by way of playing time.

The other four schools, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, and UCLA, most certainly have more playing time available to appease the Hairstons. UCLA found more time available when Dijon Thompson announced his intentions to explore the draft. However, Thompson still could return to UCLA pending his position.

The other impending factor working here is proximity. Although Hairston himself always said he would pick the best school regardless of proximity, many people around him said it was unlikely he would stray far from home.

Last week, his father strengthened that argument.

"I've started to see lately that Malik does definitely have something in him where he wants to be home or close to home, and by close to home I mean Ohio State," Mr. Hairston told Bucknuts. "He loves his mother very much, he likes his girlfriend, and he's very close with his brothers and brother-in-law."

And don't forget about those rankings.

Try as you may to suggest otherwise, with all of this talk about Hairston saying he used all of his resources, and making an "informed" decision, you cannot minimize the importance of their very own criteria which ranked the schools by order of importance and having the "most to offer."

Although Mr. Hairston himself issued the qualifier that the choice could come from a team not at the top of the list, it stands to reason the teams at the top stand a lot better chance of being selected.

Not just once, but twice the Hairstons formed rankings to help guide their decision. Both times Ohio State was first, and both times Kansas was second. Additionally, both times Michigan was at the bottom.

What does that say?

It says that two clear-cut favorites emerged by the Hairstons' own way of scaling down the list. It also says the sentimental favorite had a few additional obstacles to overcome.

But, before we assume it's down to those three, there's always a catch. It would be extremely premature to fully eliminate the other three teams just yet.

Hairston told OUinsider's James Hale that Oklahoma, as recently as last night, had still been involved in their discussions. The Sooners received the honor of being freshest in Hairston's mind, and they are the Midwest alternative to having more of what Hairston was looking for by way of playing time.

Oregon and UCLA are long shots, if nothing else, because of distance. However, neither is without their advantages.

UCLA was the glamorous choice for Hairston for two or three months. He loved Southern California, and has as good a relationship with (assistant coach) Ernie Zeigler as anyone else. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the star seemed to dim late in the process.

Pressures from home and the thought of moving thousands of miles away appear to be the nail in the coffin. Oregon is facing the same problem, but having made a later push, they are foremost in Hairston's mind.

Oregon has a minority coach and plays an up-tempo style of basketball. That, and the fact Hairston enjoyed his visit, gives Oregon still an outside chance. Those close to Hairston say he's spoken highly of them often.

Mr. Hairston has indicated he wanted Malik to go to Kansas, Ohio State, or Oregon. Mrs. Hairston reportedly wants her son to stay close to home, with Michigan being the first choice.

Reportedly the final decision has come from one of those teams based on a factor of the family being torn from individual preferences.

So the votes are in, well, in more relevant terms, the presser has been set. Tomorrow the world will know of the final tally.

Would the press conference be significant for Michigan? Perhaps, but then again, Mr. Hairston didn't stop short of telling the world Michigan was dead last in the rankings of six teams, so choosing a school from out-of-state might not be of concern to him.

So now it's time to decide. Is it the sentimental choice (Michigan), the logical choice (Ohio State), the safest choice (Kansas), the glamorous choice (UCLA), the freshest choice (Oklahoma), or the privately talked about choice (Oregon)?

There's always a chance the final decision could leak out this evening after all of the runners-up have been informed. On second thought, no, nothing has been that easy.

You've gone this far, what's 24 more hours? With the Hairstons—an eternity.


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