Rashard Griffith's first exposure to a basketball recruiter taught him exactly what he means to those caring, sharing flesh peddlers with their big rings and bad haircuts. Two years ago the phone rang in his home on Chicago's South Side, and a voice asked Elaine Griffith, Rashard's mother, to speak to Joe. "I told him that no Joe lives in this house," she says. "Then he asked if anybody in my house was 6'10" and attended grammar school."
Rashard was only 13 years old at the time. His dimensions were quantifiable and his potential incalculable, but to every lunkhead with a clipboard, he was just a guy named Joe. "They didn't even know his name," says Elaine.
The phone call would have been downright insulting if not for the honor it represented. "His grade school coach told me, 'One of these days coaches are going to be pounding down your door,' " says Elaine. "But I expected them to recruit him when he was graduating from the 12th grade, not the eighth." That's when calls from high school recruiters began coming in "every hour on the hour," says Elaine, who now has an unlisted number.
"Eighth-graders are well-known commodities now," says David Kaplan, whose scouting service tracks high school players in the Chicago area. "Every kid on a varsity roster as a freshman is on the college mailing lists."
Landon Cox hadn't even seen Rashard the first time he tried to get him to register at Martin Luther King High, where Cox coaches what is generally recognized as the best high school team in the nation. Cox was enlightened by Rashard's seventh-grade coach, Bennie Parrot—who is also an assistant coach at King, as fate would have it. Cox has also been a guidance counselor at King since 1981, the year before Chicago instituted a system of open enrollment that allows students to choose their own high schools.
Rashard, now a 6'11" ninth-grader, says he had always intended to attend King—six other high schools are closer to his house—because of the close relationship between Parrot and Cox. That freed Cox from accusations by opposing coaches of any wrongdoing. But one Catholic school coach was so furious about losing the recruiting battle over Rashard that he called Elaine to chew her out.
Even more appalling than recruiting by high school coaches is the appearance of the college bird dogs at elementary school games. "You don't have any business trying to recruit kids that young," says Cox. "The colleges are trying to make them skip a step."
Kaplan says kids remember the first coach who recruited them. "No college coach can allow himself to be outworked," he says. "Recruiting is like shaving. If you don't do it every day, you look like a bum."
Maybe some of these guys should try looking in the mirror.