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Thinking out loud: Division I college recruiting game is crap-shoot

04.14.17 at 6:00 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud…while wondering whatever happened to my favorite Centerfold?

— The Division I college recruiting game is such a crap-shoot. Sure, coaches scout and recognize talent, then try to convince a 17 or 18-year-old kid that his (or her) school is the place they should spend their formative years. And if the kid doesn’t end up meeting the coaches’ expectations?

— Nothing, really. The kid gets a free ride to school, and if the coach misses on more than they correctly guess upon, the coach is often looking for another job. 30, 40 and 50+ year old adults constantly, year after year, put their fate squarely on the shoulders of 18-year-old kids who have a hard-enough time deciding between burgers at In-N-Out and Shake Shack.

— What does this say about coaches? And for the record, I’ll take In-N-Out, animal style. But Shake Shack is coming on strong.

— At any rate, Providence received a verbal commitment from a pretty good basketball recruit this week, 6-2 point guard Makai Ashton-Langford. The “experts” say he’s one of the best in the country at his position, and that he could be the best player to pick PC since Kris Dunn (and Ricky Ledo) chose the Friars in 2012.

— Sounds great, amiright? If, of course, he lives up to the heavy burden of expectation which is presently being placed upon his shoulders. Fair or not, that’s what happens when kids hyped-up by these so-called adult experts eventually land on a campus. Not everyone winds up living happily ever after.

— But Friar fans could also end up being very happy that Ashton-Langford landed on THEIR campus, after once telling UConn he was first headed to Storrs. Time will tell, of course.

— What’s the trickle-down effect? More (and better) recruits coming your way is what a program hopes for. But unless you’ve been one of the true blue-bloods of the college game, where your brand and logo mean as much as your talent level, it’s difficult to maintain a competitive advantage when everyone has playing time to sell to elite athletes.

— That, and new digs. Facilities matter. Kids like splash. The new science lab or business lecture hall? Not so much. That Providence finally has the Ruane Development Center under construction may mean more than any single recruit to come their way over the next few years.

— But Ashton-Langford is a good start. Combined with freshmen-to-be commitments Nate Watson (6-8 forward) and Dajour Dickens (6-11 center), PC’s incoming Class of 2017 now ranks 13th nationally, 2nd in the Big East behind Xavier. Ed Cooley knows programs are built – or broken – by recruiting. But it also takes a little splash to make programs last.

— Xavier seems to be preparing for life after Trevon Bluiett. While Bluiett was reportedly arrested on a marijuana possession charge earlier this week, it’s still uncertain if he will return for his senior season. He has not signed with an agent as he attempts to swim NBA draft waters.

– Meanwhile, 6-10 grad transfer Kerem Kanter from Wisconsin-Green Bay – and the younger brother of OKC Thunder center Enes Kanter – will play next fall for the Musketeers.

— Creighton’s Justin Patton has also confirmed the inevitable. He’ll attempt to make his way into the NBA after a strong season as a redshirt freshman. He could go anywhere from 10th to 20th in June’s draft, thanks to his mobility and play around the rim.

— Could Patrick Ewing have trouble navigating college basketball’s landscape 32 years after he played in it? He apparently knows his shortcomings, as he begins to surround himself with those who know how to get around. Former Friar assistant coach (under Pete Gillen) and ex-Seton Hall head coach Louis Orr is reportedly joining the Georgetown staff.

— Really? The Celtics are the top seed in the East? By default, Boston has the top spot largely because Cleveland quit at the end of the regular season, under the guise of “resting” players. Let’s see how that works for them?

— Still, for the Celtics to come from an NBA bottom-feeder just a couple of years ago to the top seed in the East? Even if they really aren’t the “best” in the conference, it’s an impressive accomplishment. It will be even more impressive if they can gain the conference finals – but don’t hold your breath.

— If you’re one of those who believes MLB is withering on the vine, go find another myth to chase. Forbes Magazine reported this week the average major league team has increased its value more than 19 percent over the past year.

— The Yankees remain at the top of the value list, worth $3.7 billion. The Red Sox come in at #3 (behind the LA Dodgers) at $2.7 billion – but a cool $1 billion behind New York in overall value.

— Only five teams lost money last year, one of those being the same LA Dodgers worth nearly $3 billion. Even the Miami Marlins are worth $1 billion. Why? Local TV deals, and Advanced Media (like streaming rights). Providers need content, and baseball still takes a lot of time off their hands.

— Worried at all about your Boston Flu Fighters? The Globe’s Nick Cafardo said this week the Sox lead the majors in sick days over the past six seasons. Just what exactly are the Red Sox telling their players and instructing them to do when someone gets sick in the clubhouse?

— A problem from last year is still a problem this year. The bullpen. Still no Carson Smith. No Tyler Thornburg. And Craig Kimbrel continues to show he’s not exactly Boston Strong when it comes to a clean closing performance. Heath Hembree is being used like a dish towel, mopping up messes every day.

— Great gesture by the Pawsox this week, with the recent warm weather springing up. For the rest of April, any kid (age 12 or younger) accompanied by a paid adult will get into McCoy Stadium for free. That’s seven more opportunities, beginning Saturday, for the remainder of the month. Play ball!

— Before the NHL playoffs began, I thought Ottawa would beat the Bruins in 6 or 7 games, even though the Senators may be the single-most boring team to watch in all professional sportsdom. Still haven’t changed my mind. But maybe the B’s figure out a way to score enough?

— If you could ever get excited about watching the Jacksonville Jaguars play football, perhaps now is that time? But only because the Patriots will open another anticipatory Super Bowl march in August against those same Jaguars. Just sayin.’

— Two big Patriots’ signings were announced this week – literally. Both Alan Branch and Cam Fleming return from free agency to the New England sideline. Branch is the middle stopper on the defensive line, Fleming is a valuable swing player on the offensive line.

— But what about Butler? As of this moment, Malcolm Butler remains in limbo. He can’t be traded unless he signs his tender, at $3.91 million. And if he doesn’t sign soon, he could put even that money in jeopardy. Butler also needs to consider a potential star class of free agent corners he’ll compete with in the marketplace for next season, too.

— The knuckleheads at Football Outsiders say the Patriots will have the easiest schedule next fall? It just shows you how interpretation is everything, facts-be-damned. The King of the Hill will always have peons taking potshots.

— Eli Manning involved in a scheme with the NY Giants to defraud his adoring public over game-used memorabilia? First, let’s hire a league lawyer to get to the bottom of this. Ted Wells available? Next, let’s assume this attacks the integrity of the game – he is accused of lying, right?

— Then, fine the Giants $1 million, strip some draft picks and suspend Manning for what, four games? Oh, and asterisks. We need asterisks on his alleged Super Bowl wins. If he cheats here, goodness knows what he’s capable of on the field. We’re talking integrity here, people.

— ICYMI, female athletes recently scored big for equality. The US women’s national soccer team reached a new collective bargaining agreement with the US Soccer Federation, seeking comparable compensation to the men’s team. The US women’s ice hockey program also recently reached a similar deal, then went out and won a gold medal in the world championships.

— We mentioned here a few weeks ago about the plight of Hall of Fame hoop coach Bob Hurley at St. Anthony’s in New Jersey. The school will close at the end of this school year, the building shuttered and then razed, the land sold. After almost a half-century presiding over arguably America’s greatest prep powerhouse, it’s over.

— A coach without a team, a teacher without a school. My hope is somehow, he overcomes – just as he did for years with kids who had no one else, and no place else, to turn to.

— Still wondering when – or even if – North Carolina gets hammered for alleged academic fraud in the wake of the men’s basketball team winning a national title. University of Maryland president Wallace Loh said this week he thinks UNC could get the death penalty. Whoa.

— Not for nuthin,’ but I maintain that since the SMU scandal in the ‘80’s, no school will receive a death sentence from the NCAA. No one has the stomach for meting out such a punishment again, as SMU’s football program still suffers today from the stigma of the NCAA’s heavy hand back in ‘86.

— It didn’t happen at Penn State, with the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and it simply won’t happen here. But they’ll get a spanking, and they should. 30+ years of sham classes for student-athletes? Come on. But life will go on.

— The NCAA is expecting UNC to answer a third Notice of Allegations they issued to the school, and a March response was expected. We’re still waiting. Maybe the silence speaks volumes, and we’re just not listening?

— But listen to this – an actual NC house bill reached their legislative floor this week, calling on UNC and NC State to BOTH leave the ACC if the conference continues to boycott the state as a potential post-season NCAA tournament host. Wow. Talk about a sense of self-righteous importance. Think they could find a home in the, oh, I don’t know, the Big East?

— I mentioned last week about the University of Buffalo cutting four sports to stay “alive” in the primary revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball. This week comes news of North Dakota’s Division I sports losing money – all of them. In 2016, every sport played at UND and N. Dakota State lost money, including the two top national-caliber sports of UND hockey and NDSU football.

— There was a small part of me that was happy to see Sergio Garcia finally win a major event, with his claiming the Masters title last week in Augusta, Georgia. There was another part of me, however, that immediately wondered “who do we get to pick on now, for being a classic underachieving whiner?”

— He’s not a whiner in true Sergio-sense, but Lee Westwood now qualifies (with 18 top 10 major finishes but zero wins) as the best golfer on the planet to not have won a major tournament. Even though he’s had – and continues to have – a great career. We judge people, and athletes, only by end results.

— As you set about catching (or maybe running?) the Boston Marathon on Patriots’ Day, consider the fact the Boston Athletic Association turned away approximately 3000 runners who qualified to run, but missed out on a timely registration. Same thing for more than 5000 runners a year ago. The field is capped at 30K.

— 95 countries will be represented in the race, even though we pretty much know where a potential winner will come from. More than 50 runners will cheat in some form or fashion, and more than 600 (!) cheated to qualify to run in the first place.

— Sorry to break the bad news to you, but we cheat. The pressure to improve performance – and to win – is as great as it has ever been. Some of us cheat a lot more than others, because money is there to incentivize the cheating. Looking at you, Tar Heels. Oh, and Eli Manning, too.

— Let’s see…no more form-fitting leggings, no more screaming while being beaten and dragged from the airplane. And you’ll charge me how much for baggage? For pillows, blankets and earbuds, too? And the plane will be full or oversold, complete with screaming babies? Got it. Thanks, United.

— Whatever happened to “fly the friendly skies?” Seems like long ago, doesn’t it?

— Three words solve most of the airline problems we seem to be having today – stop overbooking flights. Just sayin’.

— My buddy Bernie sez his pastor noticed a little boy standing in the foyer of his church last week, staring at a large plaque on the wall. The plaque had several names listed on it, with American flags mounted on both sides. The boy stood there, studying the plaque for some time when the pastor walked over to find out what had him so curious. Wanting to know what the plaque was, the pastor told him it was a memorial to the men and women named who had died in the service. Suddenly, the boy started trembling and with a barely audible voice asked, “which service? The 8:00 or the 9:30?”

— John Geils, also simply known as “J.” Another great musician gone too soon, passing away this week at age 71. As a guitarist, songwriter and singer, he formed the “J. Geils Band” in Worcester while a student at WPI in the late ‘60’s. In the recesses of my head, his band’s hits “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold” were the stuff of adolescence-turned-into-adulthood for me in the early 1980’s.

— For my money, the J. Geils Band should be considered, at least, a Top Five Boston-based band. You? I’ll take Aerosmith (Walk This Way), Boston (More Than A Feeling), the Cars (Good Times Roll) and a shout out to New Bedford’s Tavares (It Only Takes A Minute), along with J. Geils, in my personal playlist any time.

— Now, as for that memorable centerfold that Geils once crooned about (or imagined) in his famous 1981 hit single, Barbie Benton was it for me. Didn’t go to school with her, like Geils wrote about in the song, but I recall repeatedly being stunned by the fact there was this wholesome-looking, girl-next-door type adorning the middle pages of Playboy Magazine as early as 1969, and again as late as 1985. She appeared on the TV series “Hee Haw” in the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s and even once dated Mr. Playboy himself, Hugh Hefner. She’s married, has two adult children – and she left behind one heck of an impression (back in the day, of course) in this still often-adolescent memory bank.

— Jason from Providence tweeted at me this week, on PC’s newly-signed Makai Ashton-Langford: “What do you think about MAL? His 1st step is impressive and has great ball skills. Fearless going to the paint.” Jason: I haven’t had the pleasure of watching him play in person, yet, but from everything I’ve seen on video, Ashton-Langford finishes as well around the basket as any guard I’ve seen in some time. Impossible angles find a way to go in. A finisher – and another pure shooter – are two things next year’s team can use. Could make the Friars a real threat as a Big East favorite, unless you believe ESPN’s Joey Brackets and see this team squeeze into the NCAA’s as a play-in again. Really, Joe? I know it’s early, but hey, a little more homework here would be nice.

— Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to john.rooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke …

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