REPOST FROM THE NY TIMES
The expectations surrounding Kendall Marshall grew more quickly than his legs. Six years ago, when he was 5 feet 2 inches and 90 pounds, he was rated the No. 1 sixth-grade basketball prospect in the country by the recruiting analyst Clark Francis.
Anne Sherwood for The New York Times
Kendall Marshall said being rated the No. 1 sixth grader in the country six years ago fueled jealousy and started rivalries.
Stuart Villanueva/The Eagle
Jon Allen received a recruiting letter from U.C.L.A. when he was a 6-foot-2 seventh grader. Now in high school, he is the same height.
Marshall said jealousy over that ranking ended friendships and started unusual rivalries.
“Some people despised me because of it,” Marshall said. “And there were people who thought I should dominate every game.”
Marshall is now a 6-3, 175-pound junior guard here at Bishop O’Connell High School, and he dominates often. He is no longer the top-ranked player in the class of 2010, but he is among the top 30 and has committed to play for North Carolina.
Marshall sprouted more than a foot after sixth grade. He maintained a work ethic that included daily 5:30 a.m. ball-handling sessions in his family’s garage. He was not bothered by hype.
But he might be an anomaly. Amid the clamor to find the next basketball wunderkind, the evaluation of sixth graders remains an uncertain pursuit. Francis, who runs the Hoop Scoop recruiting service, said the process involved much guesswork.
The players can stop improving, stop caring or stop growing. They can become irrelevant as college prospects before they reach high school, raising questions of whether they should be rated at all.
“To rank a boy at that age sets up a dynamic of possible failure,” said Dr. Ellen Braaten, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. “I think it’s a tremendous amount of pressure to put on a child. Some are resilient, but there’s definitely the potential for others to develop depression or anxiety disorders.”
Four years ago, Hoop Scoop rated Jon Allen of College Station, Tex., the second-best sixth grader in the country.
He was a 6-2 center who wore size 12 ½ sneakers and was unstoppable in the post. During several A.A.U. tournaments, parents of opponents asked to see his birth certificate.
Allen said he received a recruiting letter from U.C.L.A. when he was in seventh grade. But then his growth spurt sputtered.
“At some point we realized he wasn’t going to become a 7-footer,” Allen’s father, Jud, said. “His friends still call him Big Jon, but now he’s pretty much a normal-size kid out there.”
Allen is now 16 years old, still 6-2, and his awkward transition from center to shooting guard has gone mostly unnoticed by college basketball coaches and recruiting services. There have been no more letters from U.C.L.A.
“The thing can turn into a tragedy because these rankings give kids false hopes,” said Tony Squire, an A.A.U. coach in Virginia who coached Kevin Garnett and Amar’e Stoudemire. “A few of the kids pan out, but most of them you don’t hear anything about.”
Francis, who charges $499 a year for a subscription to his recruiting service, said he would rather not rank sixth graders, but since he was one of the few analysts who did, it made his business stand out.
He said it was not his job to determine which players could be negatively affected by his reports. He does not scour elementary schools, but when a sixth grader attends an A.A.U. tournament or a showcase camp, Francis considers him eligible to be ranked.
“A lot of people are horrified that we watch players at such an early age,” Francis said.
“But plenty of college coaches want to know.”
They might want to know about Perry Dozier Jr.
Last summer, Perry Dozier Sr. was sitting in the bleachers at the Adidas Jr. Phenom Camp in San Diego when one recruiting analyst after another told him his son would be the top-ranked player in the class of 2015.
Dozier Jr. is a 5-6 sixth grader at E. L. Wright Middle School in Columbia, S.C. He signed his first autograph when he was in fourth grade. He has a Web site, perrydozierjr.com, that displays his highlight videos.
Last month, Dozier was selected to play for the junior N.B.A. national team in an exhibition during All-Star weekend in Phoenix. He stayed in the same hotel as Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins, and when he met the former stars they told him humility would be his greatest asset.
Dozier Sr. wonders if the rankings and the spotlight are creating an impossible standard for his son.
“There might be expectations that are unreachable, or there are worries about getting injured or anything that could possibly take this game away,” said the 6-11 Dozier Sr., a former South Carolina center. “But he’s a very mature young man.”
Dozier could thrive like Marshall, or he could be burdened by heavy expectations like Allen. Whatever happens, it will not be because of a lack of exposure.
For the next six years, the rankings and ratings will follow him to tournaments and games and camps.
Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt would rather not hear about players like Dozier until they are a few years older.
Each year, Hewitt saves lists of top-ranked high school seniors so he can check how many became stars. He is always struck by how many did not.
Hewitt said that if those projections could be so off-base, projections of elementary and middle school students should never be made. He said young players should develop at their own pace, without expectations.
But he knows his sentiment is not shared by all.
“Ranking these kids has become a sport of its own,” Hewitt said. “And let’s face it, it sells.”
In January, the N.C.A.A. lowered the school year a basketball player was considered a prospect from ninth grade to seventh grade.
Though the change seemed curious, it closed a loophole that had allowed college coaches to gain a recruiting edge by inviting middle school players to private camps. Those middle school prospects are now protected by the N.C.A.A. the same way as high school recruits.
For now, elementary school students are not included in this new rule. An associate commissioner of the Big East, Joseph D’Antonio, the chairman of the N.C.A.A.’s legislative council, hopes there is no need to change that.
“I think the seventh- and eighth-grade endpoint is a place to begin, because that’s where the problem has been identified,” D’Antonio said. “Whether or not we see bylaws in the future that lower the age even further is going to be driven by what the coaching involvement is.”