Proponents of the off-season leagues argue that players would be on the courts year-round even without organized leagues. That's true, but many of these leagues are plagued by a meat-market atmosphere, which makes it hard to believe that once upon a time, players got together on their own in the summer and played pickup games. For fun.
Robbing the Cradle
Jason Kidd and Konecka Drakeford are household names—at least in the households of college recruiters. Jason, a 17-year-old, 6'4" junior, and Konecka, a 15-year-old, 5'10" sophomore, are among the best male and female high school players in the country, respectively. Not surprisingly, they are also good examples of how early players can become the focus of recruiting battles.
Jason, a guard at St. Joseph Notre Dame High in Alameda, Calif., is considered the nation's premier schoolboy junior. He received his first recruiting letters shortly after completing the eighth grade, at age 14. "I hadn't even taken my first high school class yet," says Jason. "I was flattered, but I was thinking, Already?"
Konecka, a forward at Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C., was even younger when the competition for her attention began. As a 12-year-old she was named MVP of the 13-and-under division at the 1988 AAU Junior Olympics in Shreveport, La. The letters started arriving almost immediately.
It's easy to see why both players are considered such prizes. Jason is an exceptional ball handler and passer who at week's end was also averaging 25.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, 8.9 assists and 5.1 steals for the 20-3 Pilots. Konecka was averaging 42.3 points a game for the 20-4 Chargers, despite being triple-teamed regularly.
Recruiters aren't the only ones trying to get close to Jason, who has narrowed his list of college possibilities to 14. He has gained the kind of fame on the high school scene that's usually reserved for rock stars. "Little kids mob Jason for autographs before and after games," says his coach, Frank LaPorte. "And he gets letters from people of all ages all over the country: 'Jason, I just want to tell you how much I admire you.' 'Jason, will you send me an autographed picture?' Girls have T-shirts with pictures of him."
Konecka hasn't yet begun to reduce her list of schools. She estimates that she has heard from more than 300. "The intensity of recruiting in the women's game is just about equal to that of the men's game," says Providence Day girls' coach Barbara Nelson. "The bottom line is that if you're a talented player, boy or girl, you're probably going to be approached by colleges before you get to high school."
Last Chance High
Glen Mills School, the defending Pennsylvania Class AAAA champion, brings in players from all over yet will never be accused of recruiting. That's because the Bulls players, like all of the all-male student body of 710, were sent to Glen Mills by the juvenile courts.