By Roy & Harv Schmidt
Other analysts have already hinted that D.J. Richardson's decision to leave Peoria Central for Findlay Prep in Nevada makes for another dark day with respect to Illinois high school basketball. However, we will take it a step further and as is often the case say what others are afraid to say--we think it is yet another classic example of why the NCAA needs to implement further academic reform. In this blog, not only do we tell you why we say that, but we also outline a proposal that we think could go a long way in this regard.
For the second year in a row the top-ranked high school basketball player in the state of Illinois will be attending a West Coast prep school instead of finishing his senior year of high school. This became the case today when D.J. Richardson announced that he is leaving Central High School in Peoria, IL to attend Findlay Prep in Henderson, NV. Richardson had established himself as the top player in Illinois from the class of 2009 after outstanding performances throughout the spring and summer, most notably at the NIKE Peach Jam in North Augusta, SC last month.
Last year DeAndre Liggins, who at the time was the state's #1 ranked prospect from the class of 2008 decided to leave Washington High School in Chicago in order to attend Findlay.
Richardson and his family have stated that the reason why Richardson is making the move is to improve his academic situation. While we have no doubt that this is true, when one looks at the circumstances under which this is being done, the prevailing thought running through our minds is that the world of high school basketball is once again in need of some serious reform.
We feel a need to elaborate on what we mean by this seeing as though the administrator of one internet site chose to call us out in light of the comments that one of us made regarding Richardson 's transfer on the Chicago Sun-Times high school sports web site. In doing so this person jumped to conclusions about us that are totally unfounded, going as far as to say that the only reason for our opinion is that "we want to profit off the kids."
Never mind the fact that the person in question didn't even have the guts to contact us before stating his feelings, instead choosing to be a complete ignoramus. It is therefore not the least bit surprising that this administrator doesn't even make his contact information available on his site. Hence the reason for this article--so that we can lay out our thoughts in a simple language that even he can understand.
Simply put, we believe that the Richardson situation sends the wrong message to high school athletes and students in general when it comes to facing an adverse situation, in this case the need to improve one's academics. It says that one can run away from the problem instead of tackling it head on. And yes, we believe that is the case with Richardson--he is trying to escape his current academic situation at Peoria Central just as much as he is trying to help it by enrolling at Findlay.
For those who believe we are wrong, we ask the following question: Why did it take until now for Richardson to do what he believes is in his best academic interests? Certainly he and everyone who is close to him had to be well aware of his academic deficiencies long before now. With that being said, it seems to us that if academics are as big of a concern for Richardson as they appear to be, that perhaps this move should have been made quite some time ago.
Furthermore, Richardson's father was quoted as saying that D.J.is "fine with grades, we just want him to have the best grades possible before he enrolls at Illinois." While this can be interpreted several different ways, the bottom line is that if this is true then why does Richardson need to leave Peoria Central and what can Findlay do for him that can't be accomplished at Peoria Central?
People who support Richardson's decision will tell you that Richardson will receive more individualized instruction at Findlay which will enable him to concentrate on improving his ACT score as well as his grade point average. While that may be true in theory, it is not a guarantee that it will enable Richardson to qualify academically as a freshman at Illinois under NCAA guidelines.
Look no further than Liggins, who like Richardson, waited until just prior to his senior year of high school to transfer to Findlay. As of this writing, there has still been no confirmation that Liggins has qualified to play college basketball as a freshman at the University of Kentucky. Ironically enough, Findlay head basketball coach Mike Peck has said that at the present time he doesn't know if Liggins has qualified or not. Furthermore, Findlay's basketball team will play a national schedule next season that will include games in as many as nine different states, meaning that Richardson will be spending a considerable amount of time away from Findlay.
What all of this cries for is the need for further academic reform, which would be best instituted with the implementation of a new rule courtesy of either the NCAA or various state high school associations. Obviously, we believe that an NCAA rule would carry much greater weight than anything put into place by a state high school association, but the bottom line is that something has to be done to prevent high school athletes from simply being able to slide by when it comes to their academic situations.
Simply put, we believe that a rule should be put in place stating that any high school athlete who has failed to meet a minimum level of expectations academically by the spring semester of their junior year in high school is prohibited from transferring to any school under any circumstances unless it can be proven that there was gross negligence on the part of that high school. This would include maintaining a minimum overall g.p.a, being on pace with respect to the completion of all necessary core classes, and achieving a predetermined minimum ACT/SAT score as deemed acceptable by the NCAA clearinghouse (yes, that would mean that a high school athlete would have to initially take either test before the final semester of his junior year). Otherwise, if it becomes apparent that the player won't be able to meet those expectations within that time frame, then he is free to transfer wherever he wants as long as it is before the final semester of his junior year.
The purpose of such a rule would be to get high school athletes to recognize the importance of applying themselves academically from the moment they enter high school as opposed to waiting until their final year to do what is necessary solely so that they can meet freshman eligibility requirements in college. Hopefully it would get them to tackle academic problems head on instead of trying to run away from them.
Yes, we are Illinois high school basketball fans first and foremost and therefore from a selfish perspective we would like nothing more than to see the best players in Illinois remain in the state instead of leaving for prep school. However, above everything else the most important thing is what is in the best interests of the kids. Therefore, if a high school player does decide to opt for prep school under our proposal and ends up bettering himself academically by doing so, then we are all for it. To us that is a far greater reward than any "profit" that we can possibly make off of the game itself, as this one internet administrator puts it. The prep school route becomes a problem when it becomes apparent that an athlete has exercised that option for the sole purpose of trying to get by.
Getting back specifically to Richardson, his decision to attend Findlay will have absolutely no effect on his recruitment whatsoever, as he is firmly committed to the University of Illinois and we fully expect him to sign his letter of intent with the Illini in November. And before anyone tries to say otherwise, Richardson's situation also has no correlation to why Illinois is recruiting 6'2 guard Chris Colvin from Whitney Young High School in Chicago. The bottom line is that Illini head coach Bruce Weber and his assistants have intensified their recruiting interest in Colvin ever since the beginning of the spring and therefore would be recruiting him regardless of Richardson's academic status.
Here is to hoping that Findlay enables Richardson to do what it takes academically in order for him to be eligible as a freshman at the University of Illinois.