Pearl on recruiting tots

Back in the good old days (the early 2000s), when Dick Vitale called a college basketball prospect a "diaper dandy," everyone knew he was exaggerating. Now you can't be too sure.

Southern Cal coach Tim Floyd has offered scholarships each of the past two years to EIGHTH-GRADERS. We're talking about kids who are 13 or 14 years old ... kids whose voices haven't changed yet ... kids who aren't shaving yet ... kids who can't drive cars, let alone drive through a lane packed with 6-foot-9, 260-pound men.

Has college basketball recruiting come to this? Apparently so. Twenty-six months ago Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl got a commitment from Cordell Passley of Indianapolis, who was finishing ninth grade at the time. Passley has since reneged but Pearl understands that the competition for recruits is getting so intense that coaches are having to make their sales pitch earlier and earlier.

Speaking on a recent Southeastern Conference teleconference hookup, Pearl conceded that the trend toward recruiting younger and younger players puts "more pressure" on coaches. Still, the Vol skipper noted that "It's the nature, I guess, of our business. You've got to be able to adapt and change."

Obviously, the more time a coach has to watch and assess a prospect's development, the more comfortable he'll feel in offering him a scholarship. Thanks to cradle-robbers such as Tim Floyd, however, the days of waiting until a high school prospect has completed his junior year to offer him a college scholarship may be coming to an end. More and more recruiters appear to be pursuing commitments from sophomores, freshmen and even eighth-graders. Pearl finds this trend a little alarming. He believes the average high school sophomore has enough on his plate without having to face high-pressure recruiters.

"I really would prefer my focus as a college coach (be) to encourage that sophomore to have a really good sophomore year," Pearl said, "and really work hard in that 10th-grade geometry class and do what he could to help the seniors win a state championship."

Many 10th-graders are not mature enough to choose quality friends, much less choose a quality college. Nor are they mature enough to keep their egos in check when slick-tongued recruiters are telling them they could be the next Greg Oden or Kevin Durant.

"The thing I always want young people to be is hungry and humble," Pearl said, adding: "I think recruiting can stunt a player's growth."

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