All summer long, Kentucky fans have been subjected to a constant drumbeat of criticism over Coach Gillispie's acceptance of verbal commitments from players who have not yet reached their junior year in high school. Evidently concerned about the perception that coaching was getting out of control, the NABC issued a statement which strongly opposed accepting commitments from high school players before June 15th of their sophomore year.
Billy Gillispie agreed to abide by the decision, even though he argued repeatedly that he saw nothing wrong with accepting young commitments and even managed to get UK president Dr. Lee Todd on board, at least to some degree. But even after the NABC statement, commentary has continued to appear critical of the practice in general and Gillispie in particular.
Comes now Florida head coach Billy Donovan to join Gillispie, USC's Tim Floyd, NC State's Sydney Lowe and North Carolina's Roy Williams (among others) to the party. Yesterday, Donovan accepted a commitment from Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Glenn "Doc" Rivers. To Donovan's credit, he isn't being a hypocrite or an iconoclast here -- he has accepted early commits before:
Rivers, a 6-foot-3 guard from the Orlando area, has an older sister, Callie, who plays volleyball for Florida. In Donovan's 12 seasons as coach, Rivers is the fourth player to commit to Florida before completing his sophomore year.
The other three all enjoyed successful college careers: Teddy Dupay, Mike Miller and Nick Calathes.
Donovan has so far not commented on the Rivers case, but he has said before that he sees nothing wrong with the practice, and that a decision to commit to a school should be a "family decision."
I think Donovan is right. Others have argued that the pressures of living up to that commitment are more than a player should have to deal with at that tender age, and that players are simply not experienced enough to make such important decisions. They also argue that coaches simply aren't good enough to accurately evaluate talent or academic quality at such an early age.
I have discussed this at length here and here, and in this writer's opinion, accepting an early commitment has no demonstrable negative impact on the recruit -- in fact, if Donovan's three previous early commits serve as examples, one can easily dispense with the "Coaches can't accurately evaluate players that early" argument. Donovan clearly can. And while it's true that early commitments pose possible repercussions for the school should the recruit fail to develop, as long as the school is willing to honor its commitment, it is a no-lose situation for the young player. College coaches, on the other hand, get paid to take risks.
As far as decisions go, recruits deciding early are much more likely to carefully consider family input at younger ages than they are when they get their driver's license and begin to conclude they already know everything. And with respect to "academic qualifications," this is simply a red herring -- the kid either will qualify academically or he won't, and if he fails to do the work, it isn't as if he would be mindless of the consequences. His college coach will surely remind him -- that is, unless he doesn't have one. If you want a refresher course on the absurdity of the academic argument, read this post.
So now comes my next question -- will we see the media come out in force condemning Billy Donovan for violating the NABC's "moratorium" on accepting early commitments, or will we hear crickets? My bet is the latter, because what we clearly have here and have had for some time is a double standard. The media clearly knows that Gillsipie wasn't the first to do this, but they have, in general, studiously avoided mentioning coaches like Roy Williams and Billy Donovan. Why? Because it's much easier to make Gillispie the fall guy. Everybody knows Gillispie has a couple of alcohol-related incidents in his past, and painting a flawed person as an ogre is much easier than manufacturing one from clean-cut Billy Donovan or sweet Ol' Roy.
Gillispie has to accept responsibility for placing himself in the situation to be made into a bad guy, but he has done that with amazing aplomb and a lot of class. I expect Billy Donovan will handle the criticism, should any ever actually arise, with equal dexterity. But in the final analysis, the media and academicians who essentially shamed the NABC into their statement are the ones who are full of it.
These same academicians make up the NCAA, and they'll have the last word on all of this. But I'm thinking I'll have the last laugh.
UPDATE 09:55 AM: Guess how old Austin Rivers is? If you said 15, the same age as Michael Avery and Vinnie Zollo, you win 1,000 ASoB bucks.