Stalemate in the Capital

Your nightly news is routinely filled with reports of stonewall tactics and standstill negotiations inside the Beltway. But there is another stalemate in the Washington D.C. area this week that is gripping headlines for Stanford Basketball recruiting. Davis Nwankwo is heavily leaning toward a final decision for his college choice, but an immovable force stands in the way...

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The plot has thickened, and taken an unexpected twist in the last 24 hours.  The week started with emotional and emphatic pronouncements by the Stanford power forward recruit that he was sky-high from his official visit to Arizona, and was leaning toward a commitment to the Wildcats.  Those words have intensified, but a barrier stands in his way.

"I want to commit to Arizona," he says.  "But my parents are shaky on the commitment.  There has kind of been some high drama in the house the last few days.  There is some serious friction."

The clinching event yesterday was supposed to be an in-home visit from Arizona assistant coach Josh Pastner, but he instead met with Nwankwo and his high school coach at Georgetown Prep.  "I told him that I want to go to their school, but my parents right now are keeping it from happening," the recruit relays.  "It's just a gut feeling for me right now.  But my parents want it to be Stanford.  I mean, who wouldn't want to go to Stanford?  No school can measure up with Stanford.."

Pastner's strategy is a peculiar one, to say the least.  He traveled across the country and had a chance to close the deal for Lute Olsen, yet he did not set foot inside the Nwankwo home.  He may have strengthened the son's current resolve to attend the UofA, but a concomitant message was sent to the parents that they are being circumnavigated in this recruiting process.  And that will not win the war.

In the meantime, Mike Montgomery is making his own stand.  "Coach Montgomery has called and said that he wanted to check on how I'm doing," Nwankwo tells us.  "He said that schools like that will roll out the red carpet for you.  He told me I'm still the guy and they really want me bad."

The parents currently are strongly in Stanford's corner, which is ironic when you recall how this recruitment played out.  They initially were very hesitant about letting their son go so far away and preferred local destinations like Georgetown and Maryland.  The younger Nwankwo was intrigued with Stanford back to their recruitment early last fall, and was finally encouraged to take an official visit in March.  He was so smitten by the experience that he returned home and began the task of selling his parents on Stanford.  They slowly came around, and the deal was sealed for them when Montgomery came into the home for a powerful visit in April.  Four months later, the son is trying to pry his parents away from the same school he pleaded and begged them to condone.

How this plays out the next few days is anybody's guess.  As much as we pry, this currently boils down to an in-family debate.  And the internal dynamics are beyond our comprehension.  There is, however, a very intriguing parallel battle that we followed in Stanford recruiting just nine months ago.

Then it was another Nigerian recruit who had told family, friends and the media that he was set on attending Stanford, though in this case Michael Okwo was a prized recruit on the gridiron rather than the hardwood.  As Signing Day came closer and the recruiting pressure heated up, Okwo quickly changed course and decided he would have a better fit at UCLA than Stanford.  His father resolutely put his foot down in much the same way that the Nwankwos are doing, and would not allow a temporary emotional flare to keep him away from the academic dreamland.

Where these two stories likely differ is that Okwo was brought back on course by an extra unofficial visit to Stanford, where he felt better at ease and came to peace with a decision for the Cardinal.  A long delay in his application timeframe kept him from being accepted by Stanford Admissions until Signing Day itself, and the drama in those final hours was intense.  Nwankwo does not live in California, though, and there has been no discussion of an addition visit to Stanford to soothe his soul.

The value of an extra visit would be measurable for Nwankwo, though.  You have to remember that his strip to The Farm came at the end of February and beginning of March, in fact during the Friday and Saturday of a Pac-10 homestand.  He was able to see students on campus and meet with professors, but the interactions with Stanford basketball student-athletes was limited compared to what can be achieved during the off-season.  In contrast, he just took his trip to Arizona, where he took part in two valuable days of pickup basketball games.  While that may sound superficial to fans, do not underestimate the extent of bonding and depth of understanding that comes for a recruit in that setting.  Nwankwo had the chance to shake hands and exchange pleasantries with Stanford's players, but he was able to sweat and bang bodies with some of the guys at Arizona he could call future teammates.

Another important difference between Stanford and Arizona right now is that only one has been able to offer the recruit.  Until he can gain admission to Stanford University, the Cardinal coaching staff is unable to extend a full scholarship offer.  The "options" he is weighing are entirely unequal in this sense, and the transformation that actually occurred with this Arizona visit is that they rose up above all the other schools who have offered.  With all offers being given out, Nwankwo not only would be committed to Stanford right now, he would have done so half a year ago.  Remember that he was so head-over-heels enamored with the Cardinal that he cancelled spring official visits he had planned to Michigan and Georgetown just to take standardized tests.  He completely put off those schools, and he did so because he was consumed with a singular desire to go Stanford.

But he is still left peering through the looking glass today; Stanford is still not quite within his reach.  Nwankwo's most attractive offer is Arizona, and they pulled well ahead of Virginia and others this week.  In that line of thinking, it is probably in Stanford's best interest for the recruit to take another visit as soon as possible to Charlottesville or some other college campus.  The narrower that gap becomes, the more likely he is to wait things out and take the ACT and SAT again in the coming weeks.

In the absence of such a recruiting event, the only thing keeping Davis Nwankwo from taking the Arizona offer is his parents.  And just as was the case with Michael Okwo last winter, none of us have a clue how that will play out.

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