Jaden Newman was a starter on the girls’ varsity basketball team last season, an accomplishment by any measure. It meant she was in the minority among high school athletes. She averaged 15.1 points and 8.1 assists per game, confirming the point guard was hardly out of place.
Her undeniable talent and uncanny court sense is available for the world to see on YouTube. She was a dribbling whiz with an ankle-busting crossover. She showed the quickness to gain entry into the lane along with the ability to stop and shoot from the outside while playing for Downey Christian School in Orlando, Fla.
The University of Miami was impressed enough to begin the recruiting process earlier this week. USA Today reported that assistant coach Derrick Gibbs was schmoozing with Jamie Newman, the girl’s father and coach. Miami sent her an informational packet. She even made an unofficial visit.
It was all pretty cool for Jaden, if not downright remarkable, considering she just completed fourth grade. She’s not just a pre-teen. She’s a pre-ten. She’s being recruited by a Division I university even though she’s 9 years old.
And that raises this question:
Have we lost our minds?
It’s one thing to show interest in a high school freshman, which is still too young in my book. It’s another to start the sales pitch with a fourth-grader whose scoring average is in double digits but her age is not. What’s the next stage of insanity, scouring sonograms for the next Derek Jeter?
My gripe isn’t with her father, who apparently drilled the game into Jaden and her brother. Julian Newman played varsity ball when he was 12. They were talented beyond their years and had the passion to practice. They developed with help from their dad and proved they could play at high levels for their ages.
Nine-year-olds seem more suited for Spongebob than the spider-dribble, but I’m not raising the Newman children. Certain kids can’t get enough. You feed them when they’re hungry and hope they never lose their appetite. Tiger Woods was that way. So was Patrick Kane. So was Bryce Harper.
Here’s hoping Jaden stays hungry.
My beef is with the NCAA and Miami, with one allowing the other to start recruiting players at ages when they should be working on the school play, not working on playing for a Division I school. It’s yet another example of people putting way too much emphasis on sports.
The money has spiraled out of control at the professional level. College costs soared during tough economic times. Students are leaving school with more debt than ever. Athletes who once played purely for the love of the game are feeling pressure to ease the financial burden by earning scholarships.
Trust me, I get it. I’ve watched it. I’ve been there.
There comes a certain point in which the people running sports need to intervene in the name of common sense. The NCAA has more rules than it needs when it comes to recruiting. Every time you turn around, some program is in trouble over some obscure recruiting violation that seems petty in the big picture.
Division I teams can wind up on probation for buying a kid a coffee at the wrong time, or in the wrong place, but the NCAA hasn’t restricted the age in which kids can start receiving information from coaches about their precious programs?
The recruiting process is sleazy enough with all the false promises and lying that takes place among coaches, athletes and athletes’ parents. We don’t need big-time programs infiltrating innocent minds of kids who are five years removed from tying their shoes, haven’t learned long division and couldn’t name their state senators if they walked into the classroom.
And people wonder how parents get swept up in the process and why kids make early commitments they later regret.
In a perfect world, we would let the kids be kids. We would restrict recruiting until they have played at least one year at varsity level AND completed their freshman year of high school. Parents would stop looking at their children and seeing dollar signs. Instead, they merely show they aren’t, in fact, smarter than a fifth-grader.