For a week's time, Rakim Sanders felt like one of the guys. In New Jersey at the Reebok ABCD Camp, he was teammates with Ohio State commitments Greg Oden, Mike Conley, and Daequan Cook on a team that finished the camp 8-0.
After the week of basketball together that Sanders' high school coach, Mike Hart, called "refreshing," Hart proclaims Ohio State would be an ideal place for his pupil to play his college basketball.
Sanders is a 6-4 wing in the class of 2007 rated as the 12th-best at his position in the nation by ScoutHoops.com. Last year at Barrington (RI) St. Andrew's, Sanders averaged 17 points a game.
Ohio State has entered the picture for Sanders, and Hart says that's his personal favorite.
"I would love for Rakim to go there," he said Friday afternoon. "I would be extremely happy with that choice."
But that won't necessarily be easy.
Ohio State, according to Hart, is in the thick of the race for Sanders. However, he says there are still a few schools notably involved before going to the next step later in the fall.
"I would say that everyone is chasing Providence (right now)," Hart explained. "Ohio State, Providence, Syracuse, and Boston College are the teams right there. Connecticut, St. John's, Florida, and a few others are in there as well."
It's all a moot point for now though, according to Hart.
Later this fall, they will sit down and talk their plans over which could include trimming the list, taking visits, or even flat-out committing to the school of Sanders' ultimate choice.
"After October, he's got to make some decisions," Hart said further. " After October, we're going to sit down and I want him to tell me the truth. I have a lot of friends in the business, and I don't want to string anyone out that doesn't have a shot. The only parameters I gave is that I have to know the coach where he's going."
So how does Hart know Ohio State head coach, Thad Matta? And why is Ohio State such a personal favorite?
"I'm very close with Thad and (Ohio State assistant coach) John (Groce)," Hart explained. "We met in the early 90's at Herb Sendek's Miami of Ohio camp. Those guys are some of my best friends in this business."
"It's Rakim's decision and he has to make up his own mind, but Ohio State is in there and I would definitely like to see him get away from here and go there to Ohio State," he added. "I know that Rakim would be in great hands with Thad at Ohio State. They would go to class, they would improve as players and as people, and they would succeed."
Hart says that he does have a lot of friends in the coaching ranks.
For that reason, Ohio State, Providence, Syracuse, Boston College, and the many other colleges chasing Sanders would make Hart more than happy. Those personal relationships and trust are the biggest motivating factors for Hart in his recommendation to Sanders.
"I know it's his decision, but I'm just wanting him to go some place that I feel comfortable with the coaching staff, and some place that you have a level of trust for them," Hart said. "I knew Thad and John when no one knew them, and they are the same people now as they were back then. That is why they get these kids. They are passionate, they are sincere, and they honestly care about people."
Hart indicated that Sanders' experience at the ABCD Camp playing with Oden, Conley, and Cook was also a significant one.
It gave Hart a lot of lasting impressions based on the way they all played together, as well as their personalities.
"It was refreshing (to watch them play) because it was old-fashioned basketball in today's me-first world," Hart described of the team's play together in New Jersey. "Those guys (Oden, Conley, and Cook) are what is right with college basketball. They are great kids, and you just want the best for them and want them to succeed."
And what about Sanders' role with the three?
"He was the new guy. He figured it out relatively soon though and they played such great team ball," Hart added.
Hart said he wants to see them play together in college too.
"I know Greg, Daequan, and Mike pretty well…I've known them for a couple of years," he said. "They are great kids. They know Rakim pretty well now, and they think he would fit in well there (at Ohio State)."
Hart says that Sanders has been offered a scholarship by Ohio State. A visit is a possibility, as are visits to Providence and some of the other schools, but that will all be decided in October.
He did, however, give some unsolicited advice to Ohio State fans about their coach.
"Don't worry about Thad," he said. "I think he's going to be there a long time. I think this is going to be his last stop."
"I've seen the way he and his wife and kids operate, and I think they are very happy and very comfortable there. I really don't think Thad Matta wants to leave that place. That state is loaded with talent the next couple of years, and there are all the resources in the world to win basketball games. They have a lot of integrity as a staff, they work hard, and they are passionate. I think Ohio State and the players that play for Matta are in great hands for a long time," Hart concluded.
The Friars should be tough to beat for Sanders, but if Hart has his way, Ohio State will be in the thick of the race for his star pupil who is known as a good shooter with a quick first step and a scorer's mentality.
But Sanders was just one of the guys.