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I've always liked my son. He's a super kid; a bright, sensitive, good-natured person whom I respect a lot. When, at the age of 14, he passed me in height—I'm six feet—and kept going to 6'9", I maintained my admiration, albeit with some degree of intimidation.
The breach in our relationship came last year when he was discovered by college basketball recruiters. While they pulled him in one direction, I pulled him in another. Family life went to pieces. The adjustments that had been made to divorce, remarriage, a working mother and frequent economic insecurity were pieces of cake compared with the trauma brought upon our house by basketball recruiting.
My 15-year-old daughter Karen developed a case of sibling jealousy unrivaled in family history. My husband and I battled constantly about one another's ignorance or arrogance, feminism or chauvinism and other issues that had lain dormant for most of our five-year marriage. Friends, relatives, co-workers, teachers, schoolmates, teammates—everybody got into the act as recruiting became the main issue in our lives. Even the dog was remembered in a letter from one coach.
This story does have a happy ending, however. My son, Tom Leifsen, is now a center at a major university. He's happy. His coaches are happy. I'm happy. For nearly a year it wasn't that way. Recruiting turned our household upside down.
You see, nobody in our family had ever been recruited for anything except the Army. We were accustomed to rejection and to struggling with our bootstraps. When colleges began competing for one of ours, we were naturally quite thrilled.
According to Bob O'Neill, Tom's coach at Longwood High School on Long Island, approximately 200 letters of inquiry about Tom came from schools in the East, South and Midwest. A college was rejected early in the game unless Tom was interested in its basketball and academic programs. About two dozen schools received serious thought, and when Tom was ready to make his decision, he was considering six colleges. I considered only two.
When recruiters began visiting our house, I was polite and objective, determined to be a good reflection on Tom. I offered coffee and cookies and listened attentively. I was aware that the object of the home visit was to win the parents, especially the mother.
I remember the first visit vividly because Fred Barakat of Fairfield University sat in a flea-market chair I had just repainted; when he left, there were blue stripes on the back of his blazer. He later told me he'd had to discard the jacket. I offered to pay for it, but he laughed and said, "Just send me your kid."
Barakat and his associate coach, Brendan Suhr, used a routine popular with cops who interrogate witnesses: one played the heavy, while the other followed up with gentle persuasion. Barakat frequently banged his fist on the table for emphasis. He asked us to turn off the stereo. Suhr mopped his sweaty brow and smiled while drinking Cokes. The Fair-field team is nicknamed the Stags, and it was often said to us that season, "The campus is in the grip of Stagmania."
Coaches' visits soon became routine. Recruiters sat on the couch. The coffee tray was placed on the table in front of them in an effort to protect the table from too much emphasis. Our Old English sheepdog, Sasha, a respected member of the household, sniffed the visitors and then sat at their feet until the talk put her to sleep. She sometimes snored.