Alex is 17 years old. He stands along a white cinder block wall in a hangarlike building outside Philadelphia that has been divided into five full-sized basketball courts. Balls thud. Sneakers squeak. Shouts and grunts and referees' whistles fill in the gaps. College coaches line the perimeter—rock stars in khaki shorts and logo golf shirts. Alex seeks out Dan Hurley, the former Seton Hall star, now coaching at Wagner. For six days Hurley has attended every game of a certain 6'5" high school senior. It's an intense vigil that reflects how much Hurley wants the kid. Hurley senses he's close. Alex Kline already knows what will happen.
He'd love to give Hurley some reassurance, but he's got more immediate problems. Alex needs to plug in. It's 11 a.m., and his BlackBerry Curve's battery is running low. As the games of the Hoop Group Summer Classic rumble past, his thumbs flash across the keyboard. "About 30 mid- to high-major schools watching team final," he types, sending a pulse of light to more than 10,000 points in the Twitterverse. The recipients include 140 Division I head and assistant coaches.
There's no way around it: Alex Kline is the world's first teenage recruiting guru. He has brought more than youth to the party, though. He's innovated. He is the first to make widespread use of social media—Facebook, Twitter and Skype—to connect with and report on recruits. His latest tweet hits, and the information is retweeted dozens of times, reaching thousands more. It's posted on recruiting message boards across the country: According to Alex Kline....
Before Alex can consider the chain reaction he has set off, the BlackBerry pings the arrival of a new message. The high school coach of one of the players he mentioned has tweeted a response. As Alex reads it and smiles, a text message buzzes in from an Iowa State assistant sitting across the court who saw Alex's tweet and realized they are watching the same game. He has a scoop: His boss, Fred Hoiberg, is about to extend a scholarship offer to a player the Cyclones have been following for some time.
Alex tweets the news out to the world as a man in a white shirt with ROBERT MORRIS on it walks by and shouts out a hello. "Hey," Alex answers, looking up. An awkward moment lingers as Alex stands frozen, wondering if the guy will stop or keep going. This is the hardest part. Alex wants to greet everyone—he doesn't play favorites—but he doesn't want to make a nuisance of himself either. If the guy wants to talk, Alex is happy to, but he doesn't want to push himself on anyone.
"How've you been?" says another guy, this one in a green shirt with MANHATTAN emblazoned across the front. They talk. Alex texts and tweets. The BlackBerry's battery indicator continues to shrink.
At last the game Alex is watching ends, and he disappears into the thicket of bodies on the court. Rondae Jefferson, considered a top 25 recruit and likely All-America in the class of 2013, reaches out and catches Alex in a bro shake. Alex greets a few other players and slides onto the bench next to Jefferson, a 6'6" small forward from Chester, Pa. Alex pulls out a small notebook and begins firing off questions. This is where he extracts the lifeblood of his enterprise: Who's recruiting Jefferson, who's offered him a scholarship, where he has visited, and, the big one, is he leaning toward any particular suitor?
The NCAA tournament is not won on a temporary court built in a football stadium in March but in sweaty gyms where kids who know Michael Jordan only as a small-market team owner work through the tropes of basketball success—hardship, effort, tricked-out Escalades—and adults hang on the decisions of high school juniors.
Alex has joined the pack of AAU tournament chasers who try to divine for fans which phenoms are worth pining for and to provide nuggets of data about them, often from the mouths of the prodigies themselves—quotes that can be studied and deconstructed by hopeful boosters and message-board junkies everywhere. Most of them, the Twitter followers and readers of Alex's website (therecruitscoop), don't realize that he's not yet out of high school himself. Maybe that's because he's been through so much already.
Go back. Alex is 16 now. He looks the same. His face is a triangle opening out from the point of his chin, complete with patches of acne and a row of braces. His heavy eyebrows seem to rest in a permanent arc, which along with hair that pushes up in front gives him the surprised expression of someone forever asking, Could you repeat the question?