College coaches scout, recruit young players

Tyus Jones of Apple Valley is 13, in eighth grade and already on the Gophers’ radar.

Michael Rietmulder

The desire to gain a competitive advantage in collegiate sports has led coaches to begin scouting and recruiting student-athletes even before they reach high school. One youngster who is already on University of Minnesota menâÄôs basketball coach Tubby SmithâÄôs radar is Tyus Jones of Apple Valley, Minn. Jones is an eighth grader at Valley Middle School who began playing with the Apple Valley High School varsity team this season. Apple Valley head coach Zach Goring said Smith walked into the gym to get a look at the 13-year-old point guard 15 minutes into JonesâÄô first practice with the team. âÄúI think it kind of caught all of us off guard,âÄù Goring said. As the season progressed, Goring said the initial shock of Smith scouting an eighth grader dissipated after seeing the success Jones has had at the varsity level. Jones averaged 16.5 points and approximately 9 assists per game for the Eagles during the regular season. âÄúI donâÄôt think thereâÄôd be anything that would surprise me anymore with the publicity heâÄôs gotten,âÄù Goring said. Smith and other staff members have been at two or three of their games, Goring said, and Jones has been behind the bench at several Gophers games. âÄúWith his skills and size, if nothing goes wrong and he doesnâÄôt get hurt and he continues to develop, heâÄôs going to be a Division I player,âÄù Goring said. Smith, who recalled seeing O.J. Mayo and Alonzo Mourning play at an early age, said that only in some cases can coaches tell when a player this young has the ability to play at the next level. âÄúThatâÄôs the abnormal âÄî thatâÄôs not the normal situation,âÄù Smith said. The University is not the only school to take an interest in Jones. Jones has received letters from the University of Iowa, Ohio State University and the University of Southern California, JonesâÄô mother, Debbie Jones, said. While Tyus Jones has yet to receive a scholarship offer, a few eighth graders have recently made national headlines for doing so. Last month, Jahlil Okafor, 14, received a scholarship offer from DePaul University. The 6-foot-7 eighth-grader towers over his peers in a team photo at Rosemont Elementary School in Illinois. Okafor, a distant cousin of NBA center Emeka Okafor, is projected by his doctor to grow to be 7-foot-3. Smith said he is not an advocate of taking verbal commitments from players before their sophomore year because many things can change over their high school career. âÄúItâÄôs happened many times; kids commit [and] they donâÄôt develop,âÄù Smith said. âÄúNow the coach has to make a decision, and thatâÄôs not healthy at all. It certainly is not healthy for the kid as well.âÄù Though more common in basketball, the practice of recruiting athletes at a younger age is not exclusive to the sport. On Feb. 4, newly hired University of Southern California football coach Lane Kiffin extended a scholarship offer to 13-year-old quarterback David Sills. Red Lion Christian AcademyâÄôs varsity coach Eric Day, who has watched Sills play for the schoolâÄôs eighth-grade team, said that the way Sills sees things on the field cannot be taught. As talented as Sills may be, Day said he was surprised when he first learned of the scholarship offer. âÄúTo be honest with you, my first reaction was, âÄòAre they allowed to do that?âÄô âÄù Day said. The NCAA has a plethora of regulations governing how and when universities can contact and offer scholarships to prospective student-athletes. However, according to NCAA guidelines, a player is not considered a prospective student-athlete until he or she is a freshman in high school. Sills, who has verbally committed to USC, has been training with private quarterbacks coach Steve Clarkson. Clarkson has worked with former USC quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Matt Cassel, as well as USCâÄôs current starting quarterback Matt Barkley. âÄúHe does a tremendous job not only in coaching the kids, training the kids and marketing the kids,âÄù Day said. On Feb. 26, Clarkson kicked off what he dubbed âÄúThe Steve Clarkson Dreammaker TourâÄú at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Ca. For $150, young quarterbacks can compete in a series of drills that test their abilities. In reality television show fashion, five youth and high school semifinalists will be chosen from each city, and at the end of the tour, one champion from each age group will be crowned. As for the blooming Apple Valley star, Debbie Jones said she has spoken with her son about the importance of keeping the right people in his life and surrounding himself with family. âÄúHe knows full well some people are out there for the wrong reasons,âÄù she said.