We all know by now Billy Gillispie never takes a break from recruiting (I hope he sleeps well on the plane). His philisophy for procuring players for UK seems to be "recruit often, recruit early, and recruit aggressively". Just last week UK received a non-binding verbal commitment from 8th grader Matt Avery (Tru did a wonderful job of laying out the pro and cons of this practice in a post Saturday). Dominique Ferguson, a sophomore from Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis also recently verbally committed to UK.
What I can only describe as Gillispie's "forward thinking" recruiting style produces another possible verbal from Greenfield McClain High School's Vinny Zollo. Zollo, a 6'9' 220 lb. hybrid forward seems like he's leaning Lexington's way in a fight with Tennessee and West Virginia for his services in 2011. Zollo is a player with an extremely high talent ceiling. He's experienced some growth, and has become a big man who handles the rock pretty well. He also has an exceptional perimeter shot. Another plus is that he's competing with, and against very talented players while hoopin' it up for Indiana Elite on the AAU circuit.
I must admit I am very impressed with Zollo's maturity level. He seems to be a very serious-minded young man, which for a high school freshman is as rare as a Christian Laettner sighting within the borders of the Commonwealth. I highly recommend listening to Marc Maggard's interview with young Mr. Zollo (the interview is 18 minutes long). I think most will find Zollo very astutely aware of what is important when it comes to winning basketball games.
By my count Gillispie has received verbal commitments from the following "undergraduate" high schoolers (current grade in school listed): Matt Avery - 8th grade, Dominique Ferguson - sophomore, KC Ross-Miller - sophomore, GJ Vilarino - junior, and Dakota Euton - sophomore. If Zollo commits as expected, add another freshman to the list.
If the current rate of early commitments continues Gillispie will have stuck his nose, and his relationship with UK fans, out on a very tenuous branch overhanging a bottomless pit. I like his guts, and I love his style. I just hope the "Texas Tornado", who as of late practices revolutionary "forward thinking" recruiting, knows what it is he does.
Recruiting high school seniors is a very unpredictable task, much less players who are 14 and 15 years old. Recruiting and coaching players are unpredictable, fluid undertakings (see Legion and Jasper). Attempting to determine now what will happen in three, four, or five years is terribly unreliable prognosticating. I feel though that Gillispie knows this, yet is confident enough in his own abilities to overcome any negative repercussions he may have to endure. After all, if committed players don't develop as he envisions, a Plan B may need to be implemented. So obviously HAVING a Plan B at the ready is vitally important.
There is though something to be said for knowing what one has in store in the future as far as positions filled, versus positions needed. Right now Gillispie has "promised-out", at minimum, five scholarships for 2010 and beyond (Zollo would make six). As a fan, I am trusting my coach to deliver what he feels is the best team he can field for UK. If Gillispie has determined that "forward thinking" recruiting is the most expedient way to return UK to the top of the college landscape, then I'll support that philosophy, until I'm proven wrong.
He must remember though that UK is not a place to conduct a market test. This is the big time. What we as fans have going for us is that Gillispie didn't arrive at his lofty perch through mis-evaluating prospects. But the flip side of that very conflicted coin is the fact that he hasn't offered mid-teens scholarships in his previous head coaching positions. Ergo, he has no track-record for his current actions. How is one to accurately judge whether Gillispie's recruiting activities are being intelligently carried out? We can't because he's breaking new ground even as I type. It's exciting in a roller coaster kind of way I suppose. We love to be flung around, and upside down, but at the same time we're praying that the wheels don't come off the track.
Like most UK fans I love the aggressive attitude Gillispie brings to the recruiting trail, but is there such a thing as being too aggressive, too early? The variables at work in this particlar recruiting dynamic are many. Too many to attempt to break down or evaluate. Which is what makes this whole scenario of super-early offers and commitments so unsettling as a fan. Fear of the unknown is the best way I know how to describe how some fans feel at this juncture. So my advice is to hold on tight and hope for the best. Gillispie will continue to receive this fans support until I have a reason to not support him.
"Forward thinking" recruiting -- Is it the wave of the future? I think so ... unless it's proven ineffective. For the sake of UK fans everywhere, and Coach Gillispie, I hope Lexington isn't ground zero for the reason this philosophy becomes debunked.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!
Update [2008-5-5 22:29:18 by Ken Howlett]: Vinny Zollo committs to UK. Thanks to Zoso and bluenva for the heads up!
Update [2008-5-6 18:51:34 by Truzenzuzex]: Sports Illustrated has a pretty good and reasonably objective article looking at the Avery commitment and the trend toward younger players committing.