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Star Tribune photo illustration by Tom Wallace and Billy Steve Clayton. Text recruiting of young athletes.

 

Recruiters fawning over Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones required the nation’s top-rated junior point guard to implement a new move of misdirection to his repertoire.

Upon each request for his phone number, Jones recites 10 digits that belong to his mother.

“They don’t need to call all day or night. Nothing over the top,” said Jones of college basketball coaches eager for his attention. “I definitely give out my mom’s phone number a lot.”

A change in NCAA rules in October 2011 reformed men’s basketball recruiting practices to allow unlimited contact with players beginning June 15 after their sophomore year. The deregulation unleashed limitless phone calls, text messages, e-mails and private messages on social networks to elite high school athletes such as Jones and other highly sought players.

The NCAA, which believed the changes would help coaches and recruits build stronger relationships and reduce influence of third parties such as AAU coaches, is also considering such deregulation in football and women’s basketball.

To manage the attention, star athletes sometimes utilize parents or coaches as intermediaries, or try to manage when and how often they can be contacted. But with cellphones as indispensable commodities, these teenagers often end up dealing with buzzing and ringing that they either have to answer or ignore.

“All … the … time,” said Rashad Vaughn of the frequency of incoming messages. The Cooper shooting guard, who has yet to narrow his college considerations, said he has received up to 30 messages in a single day. One night in January, he heard from coaches at North Carolina, Louisville, Florida, Iowa State and Baylor.

“It’s nice, I guess,” Vaughn said of the attention. “Sometimes it’s overwhelming.”

Reid Travis of DeLaSalle — a forward who, with Jones and Vaughn, is rated among ESPN’s top 40 recruits in the Class of 2014 — gets an average of five texts and three calls a day. Those rates are rising. Sometimes his phone responds with “no longer accepting calls at this time.”

“I try to get back to them on Sundays,” Travis said. “It can be overwhelming. But it’s just there.”

Debbie Jones was ready for the attention directed at her son.

“We had a plan, and that included calling coaches and telling them one text message or one phone call a week is enough,” she said.

Changing recruiting rules?

For now, NCAA Division I football and women’s basketball maintain limitations on when athletes can be contacted. But attention even during periods of approved communication can be intense. After an AAU tournament in Minneapolis last summer, Savanna Trapp — a 6-9 center on the Esko girls’ basketball team — spent the two-plus-hour drive home on the phone with college coaches.

Hopkins girls’ basketball All-America forward Nia Coffey was quickly turned off by persistent coaches and immediately involved her parents.

“The recruiting process is stressful enough and now that you can talk to players 24/7, it is even worse. It can be a bit much,” Coffey said. “There definitely should be rules to control that.”

The NCAA had been considering proposals to extend unlimited contact using various types of communication for football and women’s basketball recruiting, originally saying it had received only positive feedback since making the change to men’s basketball. But examples of communication overload similar to that experienced by Minnesota’s elite athletes now has the committee rethinking things.

In a March 20 news release, the NCAA said it now plans to reconsider the football and women’s basketball proposals, as well as the legislation allowing unlimited contact in men’s basketball recruiting. The review will begin at a May 2 board meeting.

“Suspending these proposals for continued review will provide our coaches, administrators and student-athletes the additional opportunity to have their voices heard,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement.

Critics expressed concern that further deregulation might lead to a “recruiting arms race that could overwhelm prospects,” the NCAA news release said.

There is concern at the national high school level as well.

“I’m not sure if free access is good any of the time,” said Theresia Wynns, the National Federation of State High School Association’s director of sports overseeing boys’ and girls’ basketball. “The great athletes are going to be inundated with texts. We need to look at how they might interfere with the student’s life. He or she is in class and a text comes up. All these things relate to academics and get involved with other parts of a student-athlete’s life.”

Player protection vs. bonding

Wynns has even heard about highly pursued athletes using two phones — one for recruiting, one for personal life.

Veteran Hopkins boys’ basketball coach Ken Novak Jr. recommends players have a parent or mentor’s phone number to provide protection from intrusions.

“If a kid loves being catered to, and doesn’t have any direction, it can be a problem,” Novak said. “We try to educate our players.”

Hopkins junior guard Jake Wright and DeLaSalle sophomore guard Jarvis Johnson support unlimited contact.

Wright, a midlevel Division I recruit, said: “I’m probably at two coaches a day right now. It feels good to know a coach is interested in you.”

Wright caught a glimpse of what it’s like to be the most recruited point guard in the country. After last year’s Nike Elite Youth Basketball League’s Peach Jam tournament, Apple Valley’s Jones recapped his postgame message load with Wright — checking in were Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Kansas’ Bill Self, Kentucky’s John Calipari and more.

DeLaSalle’s four-star point guard is excited for June 15, the day college coaches can “blow up” his phone.

Johnson will play with Jones, Travis and Wright this summer on the EYBL tour, which is considered to be the most heavily recruited AAU circuit.

“I think it’s good, because you get to know the coach better. It becomes a bond type of thing,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to get ready for the process. But I want my phone to blow up. It’s part of the basketball life and part of the process.”

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